By Rabbi Mark Blazer
Spring is in the air, and the celebration of Passover (Pesach), which begins the evening of April 14, celebrates the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The name Passover is taken from the Exodus story: During the tenth and ultimate plague inflicted on Pharaoh to break his will, God passed over the Israelites and struck down only the Egyptian firstborn. That night Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go; and ever since then, we gather together on Passover at our Seder meal to commemorate that time, and to contemplate the meaning of freedom.
The central meaning of Passover is liberation, and hence, it is also called zeman heiruteinu—the season of our liberation. We understand liberation, politically—the move from slavery to freedom, as well as through spiritual transformation—the transition from the idolatry of our ancestors to the religious liberation eventually experienced through the Exodus and the giving of Law at Sinai. At the root of both of these liberation experiences is God. In Judaism’s view, slavery draws legitimacy from idolatry; democracy is ultimately grounded in the God-given dignity of every human being. Totalitarianism, the total worship of any human creation, is the idolatry of our time. The God who created and loves us gives us freedom as our right and denies absolute authority to all human governments and systems.
Another name for Passover is hag ha-aviv—the holiday of spring. Following the bleakness of winter, spring marks the rebirth of the earth with the bursting forth of green life. Pesach is a celebration of rebirth and hope that annually reminds us that no matter how terrible our situation, we must not lose hope.
A favorite song during Passover is a litany called Dayenu. This rousing liturgical piece is a list of the miracles that God performed from the Egyptian Exodus through the restoration of the Israelites in their homeland.
On one level, Dayenu reminds us of the cumulative manifested power of God during this experience of liberation, but on another, it also reminds us that there were stages in this historical drama. Taken further, Dayenu, reminds us that even in our own lives we need to take one day at a time. All change takes time, and occurs incrementally, a little bit each day. Whether its rehabilitation from illness, recovery from addiction or reaching any of our personal goals, after each step we say Dayenu—this was a good day and I’ll take it.
But, we never forget our final vision. We can’t be trapped being self-congratulatory, and we cannot make our steps, our transitory stages, our final stop. We must always remind ourselves that for all our successes, we haven’t completely realized our dreams. And that’s why the last words of the seder are always “L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim-Next Year in Jerusalem.” Tomorrow will be even greater.
Temple Beth Ami will be celebrating a FREE community Seder the second night of Passover, Tuesday night, April 15 at 6:00 p.m., led by Rabbi Mark Blazer and Cantor Kenny Ellis. Call (661) 255-6410 for information and reservations or visit www.eventbrite.com/e/santa-clarita-community-seder-free-tickets-2509100788.