The celebration of Passover begins this night. To my Jewish friends, may the miracle of Passover live in your hearts forever. Chag Pesach Sameach!
As Jewish people mark the beginning of Pesach/Passover which begins with a Seder (a special meal with various rituals), the youngest Jewish child present will ask the same question which has been asked for centuries by Jewish people in times of despair, in times of joy, in times of knowing, in times of unknowing: “Why is this night different from other nights?” “Ma nishtanah ha-laylah ha-ze mi kol ha-leylot?” And then the same child will then ask the Four Questions which emerge from that first question.
Each of the answers to those questions will explain why something is done differently this night. Why is there no leavened bread, only matzoh? Why are only bitter herbs eaten this night? Why are the vegetables dipped twice, not once, in salt water? Why is eating done reclining on one elbow?
The same answers will come each year on this night … matzoh because there was no time for the dough to rise … bitter herbs as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery … vegetables dipped in twice as a reminder of tears shed … eating while reclining on one elbow to symbolize freedom.
I found myself wondering …“Can anything be learned for all people (Jews and non-Jews) from other religions? If so, what?” As I thought about that, I reflected on the Season of Lent and Holy Week for Christians that is drawing to a close. I thought about Passover that is about to begin for Jewish people this night. And then some answers began to emerge.
First – we can learn to ask questions. I love the tradition of having a child begin the Passover Seder with a question. Children love to ask questions but as we grow older, many stop asking questions and take what others believe to be their truth. Not asking questions has sometimes led to broken relationships, wars, and even death. Why don’t we ask more questions? Curiosity is a wonderful attribute!
Growing up in a non-Christian religion, when I had questions, the teachers at the church said “All answers are in our two books. Look there.” I did. I didn’t see answers; I saw more questions. The teachers gave the same response every time, year after year, after year. When I was fifteen, I spoke with my parents, telling them that I wanted to leave the church. “Why?” they asked. I told them that not only wasn’t I finding the answers I was seeking (in the two books), I was not being allowed to question at all, and as I believed God had given me a brain to use, I believed that I was refusing a gift from God: my intellect. My parents agreed. Wise in so many ways, while my mother continued in that church for many years, I was given permission to leave that religion.
I am a life-long learner. I have never stopped asking questions. I hope I never will. I ask questions of religion, the Bible, God. I ask questions of myself. I ask questions of political leaders, social media journalists. Sometimes I get answers. Sometimes my questions lead me to more questions. And sometimes, my questions lead me to answers. But without the questions …
Second – we can learn to face life’s challenges. The Christian Season of Lent and the Jewish observance of Passover speak of people long ago who faced challenges. As difficult as they were then, those challenges were profound teachers. Today, each of us face challenges in our lives. As difficult as they are for us, they too can be profound teachers. Facing challenge – not always easy, but a profound way to learn about life, ourselves, God, this world where we live.
Third – we can learn to take action. The life and story of Jesus became a motivator of action for ‘love of neighbour’ by people who followed Jesus. That story continues to motivate people today into a broad action of advocacy. Action. The Israelites left Egypt in such haste that they could not wait for their bread dough to rise and so they took action with the dough they had and created unleavened bread – the matzoh – which sustained them. Action.
Fourth – we can learn to share Whether it’s food for the body with a meal or food for the soul with wisdom, the story of Jesus (the sharing of loaves and fishes) and the story of a wide table open to all at a Passover Seder are gentle reminders of the importance of sharing what we have with others.
Fifth – we can learn to be grateful Life is a gift. Religious teachings undergird the importance of having an attitude of gratitude and not take our precious life for granted.
May we always ask questions, face life’s challenges, take action, share, be grateful. Chag Pesach Sameach!
© June Maffin