Passover 2016: A Jewish Perspective

Matzah, Red Wine
Passover 2016: A Jewish Perspective

About the Author

Stephen Wise

Stephen Wise

Rabbi Wise has focused much of his rabbinate in striving passionately to connect Jews of all ages to their Judaism. Whether its through prayer services, learning or social action, each presents a gateway to stronger Jewish identity. Rabbi Wise has worked recently developing programming for young adults in their 20-30's, starting ongoing successful groups in NYC and Florida, reigniting their connections to Judaism. Rabbi Wise is the spiritual leader for Oakville's Jewish community, and his congregation is Shaarei Beth-El on Morrison Road.

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One of the most celebrated Jewish holidays arrives just as springtime finally arrives. While mother nature seemed to take her time with a few snowy days in April, this worked well for the Jewish community who don’t officially welcome spring this year until April 22nd which is the first night of Passover.

On that night Jewish families around the world gather to celebrate with the traditional Seder. We gather to share the story of our people, that we were slaves in Egypt and God heard our cry and with a strong hand and an outstretched arm took us from slavery and brought us to freedom.

At the Seder we eat special foods symbolic of slavery and freedom, celebrate with 4 cups of wine to remember our redemption and sing songs of praise to God. In one particularly wonderful part of this ordered meal, using our Haggadah (which means “the telling”) we let the children come forward and ask the question – “what makes this night different from all other nights”.

We eat unleavened bread, we eat bitter herbs, we recline and relax, and we dip our foods many times – how come? From a pedagogic perspective it makes sense to include our children in this event and through their questions we can begin the story and celebration. Moreover, it helps everyone, adults and children alike, because it allows for give and take, for asking questions and posing problems.

This is what it means to be Jewish, to delve into our customs and rituals, to challenge and explore, to argue and tease out answers and engage in both our ancient texts and modern issues that can arise from it. When we discuss our history as slaves in Egypt, we are reminded that each one of us should think of ourselves as having been freed from slavery. This engages each Jew, as a participant in our people’s story. But we also are forced to consider who are slaves today. Where is there injustice? Who is seeking freedom? How can we help those who suffer to overcome oppression?

Whether it’s the needy in our communities -the Halton Poverty Roundtable has done excellent work reminding us that there is food inequality right here in our region – or the suffering in other countries of our world -especially the refugee crisis in Syria- it is up to us to think about these issues of the day and consider our role in tikkun olam (fixing the world) and making it a better place for all.

That is the message of Passover, the redemption of our people centuries ago, and the ongoing revelation that where there is injustice today we must stand up and fight against it – for our ancestors, for our fellow human beings, and for our God.

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