A primer on Passover

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Passover , the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday, is this Saturday night and falls on the 15th day of Nisan, which in 2021, means March 27th. The celebration lasts for eight days, which is translated to seven days in Israel time zones. Jews all over the world take part in the holiday by hosing seders to commemorate the story of Exodus. Photo courtesy of North Star Moving.

Passover, the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday, is this Saturday night. The holiday falls on the 15th of Nisan, which in 2021, means March 27. Passover lasts eight days — seven days in Israel because of time zones. Jews all over the world take part in hosting seders to commemorate the story of Exodus, remembering, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”  

“Passover’s message is for everyone,” Dr. Frederick Roden, coordinator of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Life of Stamford campus, said. “We read its story as if personally experiencing the struggle for freedom from bondage. We reflect on our individual and collective ‘prisons’ and in compassion awaken to liberating ourselves and others, whatever their oppression may be. The narrative speaks to all times and places, which is why we have welcomed all people to our past humanist/interfaith Human Rights Passover Seders at the Stamford Campus.”  

“Passover’s message is for everyone.”

Dr. Frederick Roden, coordinator of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Life of Stamford campus

Many of those observing Passover, both in diasporic countries and in Israel, count the Omer, a 49-day period of mourning leading up to my favorite holiday, Shavuot.  

During the first day to the 33rd day of the Oomer, strict adherents to the practice abstain from cutting hair, shaving, listening to music and buying or wearing new clothes.  

It isn’t an entirely somber tradition;: Each day has its own mystical meaning, correlating to a different combination of the seven emotional emanations of God.  

Both the seder and the Oomer commemorate the struggle of the ancient, enslaved Hebrews. During the seders, people read the Haggadah, or books giving instructions for this ritualistic meal. In the maggid, or story, section it recounts the tale of the Jewish people’s ancestors. There is also discourse from Talmudic sages — sages from the Oral Torah —interpreting the laws of the seder. Additionally, the haggadah includes an account of the sages staying up all night, participating in the seder, where they almost missed morning prayers.

Passover tells the story of Moses, an adoptee who overcomes his disability to lead an entire nation of people ; the story of Miriam, a prophetess who dances with other Jewish women and their tambourines; and the story of Yitro, a man so holy he is one of the three non-Jews to get a Torah portion named after him.  

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Moses parting the Red Sea. Passover tells the story of Moses, an adoptee who overcomes his disability to lead an entire nation of people. Photo courtesy of blogspot.

Another lesser-known story of Passover is that of Nachshon ben Aminadav, who wades into the water, completely submerging himself until the Red Sea splits. His name appears in the Torah, but this event was instead recorded in other Jewish, canonical traditions: the midrash and Talmud. Some people interpret Nachshon ben Aminadav entering the Red Sea as a call for social justice, an imperative to stand up in the face of injustice.  

Passover is a powerful holiday. Young or old, religious or atheist, Jewish people unite all over the world to take part in this millenia-old connection to their heritage. In the age of COVID-19, many from non-Orthodox communities have proclaimed, “next year in person,” a variation of what is said at the end of the seder, “next year in Jerusalem.”  

It may be lonely not celebrating with others, all together in one room, but there is a sense of togetherness, knowing that millions of other people are doing the exact same thing. 

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