Dear Members of Congregation B'nai Torah,
At sundown tonight, in the light of April's full 'pink moon,' we will celebrate our great Festival of Freedom. We will sit at our home seder tables with family members and friends - together with the strangers we invite into our midst - to recall our bitter oppression in Egypt and then to recount the story of our miraculous redemption into freedom. We augment our own saga of suffering and deliverance to include the plights of others who, even today, are broken from physical or spiritual bondage.
The Rabbis remind us that the message of Passover rests not only in the ways that Egypt changed us forever, but also, in those aspects of our identity as a people that remained the same through the long and difficult journey from slavery to freedom and beyond. The 18th century German Rabbi, Moshe Sofer, known as the "Chatam Sofer" taught: "We were led out of Egypt because we kept three things intact: our name, our clothing and our language."
What was so significant about these three things that the simple retaining of them led the Children of Israel to be rewarded with freedom from Egyptian hardship?
The Chatam Sofer believed that throughout time, our names, clothing and language are symbolic of who we are as a people; of our collective Jewish identity; of those fundamental and unchanging characteristics that define us and give us our character as individuals and as a community.
He explained: Our names are linked to our history...We preserve our connection to the past when we keep the memories of loved ones alive by naming our children and grandchildren for them.
He continued: During many times in Jewish history, clothing differentiated people from one another and served as a reminder that distinct groups should take pride in their uniqueness.
The Chatam Sofer concluded: Language is the medium through which Jewish thought and philosophy are communicated and passed from one generation to the next. The Hebrew language continued to be spoken and studied in Egypt as a means to maintain the values-based foundation on which Jews and Judaism are built.
The Chatam Sofer teaches us that despite the continual forward movement of time and the inevitability of change, there are certain basic, immutable values that make us who we are and that provide continuity for future generations. We treasure our names, we take pride in those things that make us unique, and we view the Hebrew language as emblematic of our identity as a people with a unique history, heritage and direction.
What do we want to impart to our children at the Seder this year? What messages of continuity will we transmit to those who sit at our tables this year? What legacies will we choose to maintain from the past and how will the next generation transform them so that they remain relevant in the future?
Each year, Passover offers us the opportunity to teach our children and grandchildren about continuity, being true to themselves, and preserving something of the past for the sake of the future.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
Because on this night, we use our own history to guide and support the unique histories of others;
Because on this night, we choose to balance continuity with innovation;
Because on this night, we share our story as a means to encourage those at our Seder tables to tell their own;
Because on this night, we rekindle our belief that miracles can happen and do happen...if we watch closely, listen carefully and maintain hope.
With every good wish, from our home to yours, for a zissen Pesach - a sweet and peaceful holiday.
Rabbi Lisa S. Eiduson