Israelis celebrate Passover in one of two ways: either by closely sticking to laws of Pesach related to hametz and the Seder, or by hiking in nature and joining family for a relaxed festive meal. This year experience the family Seder meal as a celebration of a new beginning, and find personal meaning in the story of Exodus from Egypt.
Bringing the Seder to life- there is one custom which is very common today among Jews from Islamic lands, which uses drama in order to arouse the interest of children and bring the Exodus to life.
In addition to providing the origin of this specific custom, I will give the sources for the custom of sprinkling or spilling drops of wine while reciting the Ten Plagues, the reasons that have been given for the custom, and the various permutations of the custom.
Did the story of the exodus really happen? Did the entire Israelite people suffer slavery in Egypt before arriving in the land of Canaan? Many historians question this. They point to the lack of solid archeological evidence. More traditional scholars argue that the lack of evidence is an argument from silence. It is only natural that the Egyptian kings and scribes would fail to document the humiliating story of the Israelite rebellion and exodus. There is, however, a third alternative to the question of the exodus’ historicity.
The splitting of the Red Sea and the Children of Israel’s rescue from Egypt in Exodus 13-16 is the climax and conclusion of the long episode of the Exodus from Egypt that starts in Exodus 4. The Children of Israel’s escape from the Egyptians is described as a double miracle – God “split” the sea to enable the Children of Israel to cross it and then brought the waters down to finish off the Egyptians. The Children of Israel are commanded to observe this double miracle in order to testify to future generations about the Divine salvation they were privileged to experience. They respond to the event by singing the “Song of the Sea”, which expresses the greatness of the miracle, the survivors’ joy and the praise for God in their hearts. Jewish, Christian and Muslim artists throughout history dealt with the splitting of the Red Sea. The great interest in this episode surely stems from its inherent drama and visual elements. But as we will see below, artists interpret the event very differently emphasizing various themes.
When recalling my Jewish childhood, the first memory that comes to mind is from Seder night – the immaculate house, the set table covered with a white tablecloth, the taste of the holiday foods, and primarily the feeling of contentment after long days of hard work and preparation. The stars of the evening were the children, for whom the Seder was fashioned as a unique and fascinating experience, engaging all of the senses in order to allow us to absorb both the explicit and hidden messages of the Haggadah. The telling of the story was led by my grandfather, who would stand and hold the full Seder plate over the heads of the participants, as a symbol of abundance, blessings and success, while those seated would sing with great fervor, “This is the bread of our affliction… all who are hungry may come and eat…next year we shall be free.”
Why do Ashkanazic Jews refrain from eating rice, beans and kitniyot on Pesah? Is there any way of doing away with this custom which causes much hardship and also divides Jewish communities and even members of the same family?
The fall holidays are primarily interested in relations between man and God, between the Jewish people and the Creator. Not so the spring holidays. There is a common denominator that unites these holidays – the unity of the Jewish people.
Every year, the days between Passover and Independence Day are a period of rumination for me regarding the purpose of personal, familial, and national memory. Twenty-four years have passed since my son Uriel Yitzchaq of blessed memory, an infantry officer in the IDF, passed away, and I wonder what elements of my family story, prototypical of the Jewish-Israeli narrative of this generation, shall be remembered in my family in the years to come? What part of the heroic account of the “Holocaust and Renewal” generation shall remain in the collective memory of later generations?