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What’s the Point of Passover?

Do today’s Seders exist to remember the past, or did past events occur so that they could be remembered later?

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(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Related Content

Dayenu? Enough Already.

If there were such a thing as a perfect Jewish joke, it might just be ‘Dayenu,’ the Passover punch line that is never enough

Platonic Form

What makes the seder night different? Its Greek roots.

At the first taste of their traveling meal, the Israelites already know that year after year they are to put that same taste in their mouths, awakening the visceral memory of being about to leave Egypt, about to be free. They are to pass that taste down, along with the story, so that the memory is as real for the children as for the parents. Every generation will taste what it means to be poised on the brink of freedom.

***

The Haggadah is the product of the mishnaic period, after the fall of the Temple, when the rabbis were working out how to be Jewish without the sacrificial rites. Thus, it leaves out the main course of the original Seder meal: the paschal lamb. Instead, the Haggadah evokes the road from slavery to freedom with expansive words and with the evocative flavors of symbolic foods. Near the beginning of the telling it says:

Now we are slaves, next year may we be free.

A few lines later, it says:

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord our God took us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

Which is it? Are we slaves on our way to freedom, or are we free people who were once slaves? At the Seder we taste both slavery and freedom. Through what goes into our mouths and what comes out of our mouths, we learn and re-learn every year that we are travelers out of Egypt. We are neither enslaved nor free. We occupy a world that is poised between slavery and redemption, and our challenge is to live a life infused with both realities.

The tool we have to meet this challenge is the story. It changes us by bringing a collective past into living memory, teaching us gratitude for redemption. From another angle, the value of the past is that it gets the story started. It is only by living inside this story that we can become people on the road to redemption.

***

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George Klein says:

The story about leaving the slavery in Egypt is interesting, but there is absolutely no historical evidence about any of the Israelite tribes being slaves in Egypt. Israelites had traveled to Egypt for the purpose of commerce, but they never became slaves, real history has no proof of it. And that’s what counts for me to believe in.

Michael says:

The “guy” who wrote the sentence didn’t really think so deeply, couldn’t think as deeply as what was made out of it. The interpretations you are writing about came later and reflected the various situations that existed at the various times when the story was told.

This is religion at its best to distort reality, to mess things up. There never was any exile from Egypt, this what you should tell at the dinner table. The interpretations were made by religious personnel to support fantasies sold to people who listened (probably, were forced to listen) and this tradition continues through those who remain confused as to what is real in this world.

Michael Tupek says:

Regarding the historicity of the Exodus, and the rabbinic treatment of scripture, I offer this excerpt from my book, “Torah of Sin and Grace”:

An important corollary to this observation is the evidential historicity

of the Torah document. The sheer facts that the Pentateuchal narrative

entails include not only the unheard of account of a purely theocentric

origin for the establishment of the Israelites as a covenanted society

with absolutely no credit to the Hebrews themselves, but also the sad

and shameful conclusion of that very people’s failure to be a respectable

covenant-keeping nation!

Can it be seriously contemplated, according to modern criticism,

that this people group would fabricate the glorious tale of their God, who

lovingly rescued them from slavery and oppression because of covenantal

promise to their patriarchs and gave them the highest ethical standards,

including the condemnation of false testimony? Would they then continue

the tale with their inability to love their God in return, as demonstrated

in appalling rebellions and covenant-breaking, as the final conclusion to

the most important document of their existence? And would this very

tale be faithfully maintained throughout this people’s collective memory,

copying it as their sacred scriptures, generation after generation, with the

damning recollections and rebukes through the noble office of Prophetism?

Then ultimately, would they close the developed canon of Hebrew

Scriptures with yet renewed and continued rebellions and covenant-breaking?

No! Only a people who had been really dealt with, as described

in the scriptures, and the honesty of the sanctified few prophets, can possibly

wish to maintain such a disappointing story of their origins.

So what is your source for the ‘true’ history of the jews??

To expand on the meaning of the statement, “It is because of this….”

There are 4 sons mentioned in the hagadah. The wise one asks what are the laws and the commandments? You explain to him the laws of Pesach. He is wise so he asks concerning the commandments. He does not need pointed out to him- it is because of ‘this’….

The wicked and shy you point out to them- it is because of ‘this’ i.e. the commandments, that Hashem redeemed us, and go on to explain the commandments relevant to that night- the Pesach sacrifice, matzah, and maror. I think that the ‘this’ refers to all the commandments, that Hashem redeemed to us to observe all the mitzvot, but the Pesach eve has specific commandments for that day so it is what is discussed.

The simple son you simply tell the story, you say with an outstretched hand God redeemed us from Egypt, but do not mention the commandments. I guess in this context we figure he is not going to connect the dots but is still part of the community.

Michael says:

Archaeological findings, writings by academicians and historians in a professional setting at western institutions, interpretations (by non-Jews preferably) of current events, United Nations reports, major news networks. No single source revelations and analyses are trustworthy, no matter how popular and widely held by the public. Jewish history is especially complicated because there is no clear agreement as to who is a Jew. Change the definition a little and you are starting a new ‘true’ history of the “jews.”

First of all I think you’ll find many of the strongest advocates of a non traditional interpretation of jewish history are in fact jewish. I’m surprised you would make that comment.

Secondly I can point to many archaeological findings that confirm what is in the bible. While it may be said that certain events have no archaeological evidence, do you have archaeological evidence which conclusively contradicts what is in the bible? You write “the interpretations you are writing came later” Do you have any evidence for that? I imagine you are a proponent of the documentary hypothesis… do you have any evidence of the Torah existing as separate documents composed over time by different authors? I doubt it, these theories are speculation by people with a modest understanding of jewish history, little understanding of Torah, and generally speaking, a personal and professional gain to advocate these ideas.

United Nations reports?? I would LOVE to see what you are talking about…

As for your remarks regarding who is a jew… give me a break. It is no wonder you deny the Bible. You deny modern jewish history. Jewish communities who are descended from Israelites have lived around the world for the past couple thousand years. Sure there may be intermingling amongst communities, but the practices are uniform for the most part throughout.

You say Israelites had traveled to Egypt for commerce, but there is no evidence that they were slaves…. what evidence is there they traveled for commerce? I would think your source for that is the bible…

Michael says:

Very briefly because you and I are on different wavelengths completely. 1. No archaeological evidence has been uncovered proving that Jews were in Egypt in ancient times, that Moses existed, that there was an exile of Jews from Egypt. The entire Pesah story is mythological.
2. The torah and history have very little in common. Torah started as a collection of legends, imagined stories with very little reality in it.
3. Jewish religion is little bit relevant to defining who is a Jew. It is all in Jewish culture which does have some historical links to Jewish religion and torah. The link is through efforts of religion to subjugate the uneducated Jewish common man.
4. And so on, and so forth.

Yeah I guess we are

1) As I said, some events from the bible have archaeological evidence and some don’t. However lack of evidence does not prove lack of existence. Not every event that ever happaned has archaeological evidence. Some things in the bible may be myth, but lacking evidence does not prove it’s a myth.

2) you saying it again doesn’t make it more true. I asked you in my last comment for evidence of your theories.

3) oh a little bit relevant? True jewish culture does sometimes stray from torah, and many jewish people do not follow torah. Torah has been the center of jewish life for as far back as anyone knows. And no form of judaism without torah has lasted for more than a couple generations.

Since the times of the greco persian wars jews have been known as the followers of the torah. That is basically the beginning of recorded history. And preceding that point there is no evidence that jewish life was centered around anything except torah. So while you may not believe what is written in the torah is true, you certainly do not have any proof it is not.

cipher says:

“Can it be seriously contemplated, according to modern criticism, that this people group would fabricate the glorious tale of their God…

“No! Only a people who had been really dealt with, as described in the scriptures, and the honesty of the sanctified few prophets, can possibly wish to maintain such a disappointing story of their origins.”

Childish reasoning, typical of frum apologetics. You’ve no idea of how the human mind works.

cipher says:

“Since the times of the greco persian wars jews have been known as the followers of the torah. That is basically the beginning of recorded history.”

That would come as a surprise to the Sumerians and ancient Egyptians.

Moreover, there is plenty of archaeological evidence that contradicts the Torah and the Bible in general. One has only to do a little Googling – but of course, you won’t. Why should you read something that challenges your cozy, supremacist worldview?

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What’s the Point of Passover?

Do today’s Seders exist to remember the past, or did past events occur so that they could be remembered later?

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