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?
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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Chicken Marbella, once a staple of trendy dinner parties, is now a mainstay recipe for Passover’s festive meals