The very act of retelling the Passover story, says Rabbi Evon Yakar, is what makes us Jewish.
The Hebrew word for tradition, or mesorah, comes from the Hebrew root word for communication, limsor. The very act of telling the Passover story is what makes us Jewish, he writes in his Haggadah (one of the many on our table last night).
We could eat the food. We could gather together. But if we don’t engage in the traditions of our families every year, we have lost the essential core of what it means to be a Jew.
Last night, I led my family in our annual observance of the Passover Seder, really for the first time. I didn’t even realize until the middle of yesterday afternoon how many details I was forgetting and so I scrambled to get it in order so that I could successfully lead my family on a fun and personal journey of our tradition.
Seder refers to the story we tell of the Exodus out of Egypt in biblical times and we recite the same story every year as commanded in our tradition. The word seder literally means order.
At my table, we sat with a variety of Haggadahs (the book that recounts the story and the order of the celebratory meal) and my parents, my children and a friend took turns reading from our little booklets. We also took turns offering insights and metaphors gleaned from the other books open before us.
I offered an insight from the Nathan Englander/Jonathan Safran Foer Haggadah about how the Four Children can also be symbolically represented as the Four kinds of Parents – wise, wicked, simple and without the ability to even ask a question. We laughed so loud, it was a high point of the night.
My grandfather led the seder for most of my life, and we always ended the meal with a negotiation to return the Afikoman, the broken middle matzah, without which we cannot finish the meal. As a kid, I received silver dollars and gift certificates to bookstores or music stores.
Yesterday, I bought books for everybody gathered around my table. My children knew to negotiate for our guests and even their grandparents, and then I watched delightedly as my lovely family opened their gifts and beamed with joy.
When we finally put the kids to bed, after our guests were gone, it was after ten o’clock. Late, by our standards, since we started at 6 p.m.
This morning, my father called from the road to say, “Good food, good company, it was a great night. Thank you. I didn’t even realize how quickly the time flew.”
Such a different experience than yawning through boring religious practice.
We were engaged. We were alive. We were vibrant with the knowledge of who we are and why we do this thing called tradition.
From where I sit, I’d say it was the best Passover yet.