As we sit down at our Seder tables this year we repeat, as we do every year, the words that remind us that it is important for us to remember the exodus from Egypt as if we, ourselves, experienced it. If we engage in the ritual of the Passover Seder as more than just another family meal, we find a whole toolbox laid out in the manual we call the Haggadah, that can help us to do this. There are tastes, there are words and stories, there are questions and (sometimes) there are answers (but it is the search that is more important than the answers themselves). There are songs and, if we choose, there is storytelling through acting, reminiscing, the young asking the old, and the old asking the young.
The haggadah tells us that we have to find a way to make the experience of gaining freedom from slavery come alive for each and every generation. This is not only to ensure that we don’t forget our heritage and our story; it is also because some of the early generations of Rabbis who crafted this ritual understood that the way Jews related to this story in one generation or in one era would be different to the ways that it worked for Jews of another time.
The meaning and the purpose of Passover has changed over the centuries – it fulfilled a different need for us at different times. Once it was an agricultural celebration. At other times it was a story of hope when we were oppressed and discriminated against. In the last generation in the USA it became a vehicle for Jews now living freely to speak about their obligations to help free others from their shackles, giving birth to Haggadot that focused on civil rights, women’s rights, the environment, and more.
What will Passover mean for the next generation? What ‘job’ will it do that adds significant meaning to their lives? It might have something to do with autonomy or the ability to feel like they can still make a difference in an era of powerful corporations and the undue influence of money. It might be the freedom to make different kinds of lifestyle choices. It might mean a psycho-spiritual kind of freedom that comes from within. It might inspire them to engage in local or worldwide social justice actions to help free others. We don’t know what the next generation will dream.
But, while the Passover has traditionally always been a time when the youngest ask the adults the questions so that they will understand where they come from and the inheritance that is theirs, it is essential that we adults ask our children questions too. If we want them to imagine that it is they, themselves who are leaving the slavery of Egypt, we need to ask them what that means to them.
You can do this with children of any age, but I especially encourage those with teenagers or young adults at their Passover table this year to ask the question, as I will be doing this year at my Seder. I am confident that your Seder will be transformed into an interesting and important conversation, and I’d love to hear what you learn from our next generations.