Archive for Sunday, April 15, 2012

Faith Forum: What is the most important message to take away from Passover?

April 15, 2012


Rabbi Neal Schuster, senior Jewish educator, KU Hillel, 722 N.H.:

Passover has just ended, which makes this week’s question of what message we can “take away” from Passover, even more fitting. As the festival fades in the rear-view mirror of our holiday calendar, we can remember that the message of the festival does not end when the holiday ends; it is only just beginning.

One of the reasons why Passover continues to be one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays is because of the compelling and universal nature of its message of freedom, liberation from oppression, and the beautiful call for “all who are hungry” to “come and eat.” At the Passover meal — the seder — we recall and retell the story of our redemption, our escape from suffering and slavery in Egypt, but that is not the end of the story any more than the end of the seder is the end of the holiday.

This is reflected in the fact that when Moses tells Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” it is never the end of the sentence. It is always, “Let my people go... so that they may serve God in the wilderness,” or some variation thereof. The purpose of getting out of Egypt was not simply to be free; it was to enable us to stand at Sinai, the place of covenant and commandments. This is why, beginning on the second night of Passover, we count and bless every day for 49 days, and on the 50th day we celebrate the festival of Shavuot, during which we commemorate receiving the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. Freedom is not an end unto itself; it is only a means to living lives of purpose and meaning; holiness and righteousness. As Passover ends, our message is to live our lives in a way that makes our freedom a treasure worth having.

— Send email to Neal Schuster at

David Berkowitz, past president, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland Drive:

Passover is the most popular of the Jewish holidays.

More Jews attend a Passover seder than attend services on the High Holy Days. Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, when God redeemed us from slavery to freedom. Indeed, freedom is the theme that permeates the Haggadah (prayer book for the seder service).

Even the food that we eat during Passover reminds us of our slavery and our freedom. Matzah, known as the bread of affliction, is made of unleavened dough because of the need to hastily leave Egypt. Horseradish and haroset are eaten together, the first symbolizing the bitterness of slavery and the second the sweetness of freedom.

Towards the beginning of the service we say a prayer that states, “Now we are all in chains. Next year may we all be free.”

I originally thought this was a rather strange thing for me to say at Passover. Clearly, as an American Jew, I was free to practice my religion and exercise my rights as a citizen.

It is even stranger when you consider that at this point, for the first time in almost 2,000 years, nearly every Jew lives in countries under similar circumstances.

How then can we say, “This year we are all in chains. Next year we will all be free” with any meaning?

The answer, I believe, is quite clear: No one can be truly free as long as anyone is still in bondage. As long as there are tyrants ruling over people. As long as there are people that cannot freely and openly practice their religion. As long as there are people who live in countries where the basic human rights and the opportunities to succeed are not present, then none of us can truly say we are free. This is the most important message to take away from Passover.

— Send email to David Berkowitz at


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