Passover: Festival of questions and freedom

by Rabbi Marcelo Kormis

Congregation Beth El

The Jewish holiday of Passover revolves around a festive dinner called a Seder. Seder in Hebrew means “order,” as during the night we follow a ritual of 15 steps involving various readings, blessings, food, and symbols.

The purpose of this ritual is to arouse the curiosity of children and invite them to ask questions about this particular celebration. The answer to their questions is the story of the Exodus from Egypt and how the Jewish people were freed by God after hundreds of years of slavery.

The celebration of this ancient meal has a number of elements that are central to our modern society. First is the value of the question over the answer.

In a world where answers are at the palm of our hand and just a click away in our smartphones, the Passover Seder reminds us of the importance of questions. It is a call to curiosity, to intellectual challenge and higher inquisitiveness. But not only children are encouraged to ask why the Passover night is different. Through the night, the invitation is extended also to us, adults, to ask ourselves what has changed in our lives since the last Passover, what has changed for you this year and how it is manifested in this night of celebration surrounded by your family, friends and community.

The second central element on the night of the Seder is the celebration of freedom. We celebrate not only how a nation of slaves was redeemed from Egypt thousands of years ago but also our own individual freedom. Around the festive table we reflect upon our own Pharaohs, those who keep us slaves and do not allow us to move forward on the path of our lives. During this festive meal we also identify ourselves with those who are still suffering and can’t get rid of their own chains. We identify ourselves with those who have been displaced, humiliated, silenced; we join their suffering and their quest for justice and freedom.

The Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples was a Passover Seder. Following Jewish tradition, in Christianity, the Matzah became the Host and the Seder the Eucharist.

Jews and Christians have in common the mission to find the paths that lead to the dignity of the individual in a society that seeks peace and justice. It is around this festive table that we declare that “in each and every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as though he actually left Egypt.” As it says, “You shall tell your son on that day, it is because of this that God took me out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8).

It is around the Seder table that we join together as individuals and humanity, created in the image and likeness of God, to work for a better world in which future generations will be able to fulfill their dreams and achieve their highest aspirations in life.

Rabbi Marcelo Kormis is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield.