“Why is this night different than all other nights?”
This question is central to the Passover seder, the annual feast that Jews throughout the world will celebrate with friends and family on Monday night, April 14.
The haggadah (guidebook to the seder) does not provide a straight-forward answer to that famous question. Why? Because Judaism values questions much more than answers. And questions, especially the most profound ones, never have an easy answer.
Nevertheless, let me offer some possibilities.
Passover night is different because it recalls the exact time (according to the Torah, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan) when God delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage and sent them forth in freedom.
Passover night is different because, in commemoration of that moment, the Jewish community invites both Jews and non-Jews alike to partake in a delicious meal including richly symbolic foods like matzah — a flat, poor person’s bread that did not have sufficient time to rise as the Hebrews fled Egypt — and maror — bitter herbs that bring tears to one’s eyes. It is a night when guests recline like royalty and yet, at the same time, strive to remember and even taste a bit of the bitterness of our ancestors’ degradation.
But, perhaps most importantly, Passover night is different because it is an all-too-rare opportunity for one generation to sit down and talk directly with “Generation Next.” In today’s harried world where many people are more connected to their cell phones than to people, the seder nudges participants to put all else aside, look at one another in the eyes, and share their stories. The emphasis, of course, is on the Torah’s version of the Exodus with the older generation bearing the responsibility of passing on its details to the generation to come. But, if done well, there is also an opportunity for guests to bare a piece of their hearts. Each person, in his/her own way, has lived an “Exodus” story — a time when an oppressor, whether real or metaphorical, arose to restrict one’s life. That holy, personal story may be shared as well and, in doing so, Passover moves from being an legendary tale to a contemporary example of how real people can rise up to challenge injustice.
As an advocate and ally of the GLBTQ community, I have sat in my office with congregants, young and old, who have shared with me their journeys of “coming out.” Often, their public admissions are shared despite resounding fears of how their inner truths might be received by others. With strength and bravery, these courageous souls have taught me the true meaning of redemption. They made the daunting choice to walk out of their own kind of Egypt, conquer the Pharaoh of homophobia and charge forth towards a life of freedom and integrity knowing that they, too, are made in the image of God.
For those who have come out, the Passover seder can be a time for celebration, remembering and sharing of their stories. They can do so, both for the people sitting around the table and for future generations who will find the path to freedom easier in the years to come because of their bold example.
So, in the end, why is Passover night different than all other nights? Because it is a night for an honest sharing of journeys, both past and present. I believe that is not only a gift to those physically present but also a source of joy to the Holy One, who is at the center of the greatest story ever told. : :
— Rabbi Eric Solomon is the spiritual leader of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, N.C.