Each Jewish holiday is a lesson in life. On Sukkot, we learn about joy. On Rosh Hashanah, it’s goals. Yom Kippur is about learning from our mistakes. And Passover is all about freedom. It is the type of freedom that has given the Jewish people its power to survive and to thrive; not a freedom of the body as much as a freedom of the spirit. This same freedom is available at Passover, booster shot style, to help you achieve whatever you want. After all, people with true freedom are free to change themselves and change the world!
Passover is a virtual reality experience in freedom, and the Haggadah is our guidebook. The Seder reenacts the transformation from slavery to freedom that came with leaving Egypt. Through this reenactment, we can achieve for ourselves what the Jewish people achieved 3,500 years ago.
That freedom brought about the greatest and longest-standing empire in the world’s history. Not an empire of space but an empire of thought — Jewish thought. The story of Passover is the story of the beginnings of the Jewish people, a people that set out to form a new world order with a new morality and new concepts of life.
The old world was a pagan one, where war and violence were not only ways of life but often national pastimes. The world the Jews ushered in includes ideas with which we are all familiar: equal rights, universal education, social responsibility, and peace for mankind.
Slavery takes many forms. Not all shackles are made of iron. Once slavery becomes a way of life, the slave may even become unaware of his own servitude.
Today, it is ideas that enslave us. Pressures, self-imposed limits — all these are in our mind. We have to become free not from a physical oppressor, but from a spiritual, mental one. The Haggadah encourages us to ask questions to exercise our mind. So, as you encounter questions throughout the Haggadah, take them seriously. Try to answer them, and encourage others to ask more questions. You just don’t know which question you are going to ask, or be asked, that will set you free.
The key is that the Seder should be relevant, not dry and boring. Read ahead, familiarize yourself with the text, and look for interesting questions to discuss during the Seder. Circle those points you want to read out during the Seder and write in your own comments. Give each of the guests some candies before the Seder starts, so that they can toss one at whoever asks a good question. This is a particularly effective way of keeping children interested.
Discuss the ideas in a deep and meaningful way. Don’t just rush through the text in order to get to the meal. One good way to start your Seder is by asking everyone to recollect their childhood experiences of what their Seder was like. The Seder is so meaningful that the experience you had as a child, even though at the time may have been boring to you, becomes a nostalgic memory, like a conversation with a loved one. That’s because it was, and is — it’s a conversation with your inner self.
By Rabbi Stephen Baars
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.