Happy Passover! This weekend will see that most powerful and most observed holiday in our tradition. The “seder” table will bring together generations of family and networks of friends in this powerful symbol of faith and community, tradition and hope…and oh yes, food!
Central to the experience, of course, is the “seder” plate, filled with symbols of the festival and of life. A significant few moments at the “seder” are spent explaining these symbols; their historical meaning and relevance to Passover. These symbols, means to a greater end, are valuable aspects of who we are as Jews. They each can carry their own meaning and memory. Yet, we are also reminded of the most powerful of all the “symbols” that will be at our table this weekend. You and I.
I never really thought about this idea until this year. I was reading through some Heschel, and came across his idea of the value and role of religious symbols and his statement that we are symbols of something more powerful than anything tangible. We are symbols of the sacred. He reflected on the idea of us being “tzelem”, in God’s image and the idea that one of our tasks is to act and live so that we become symbolic of the sacred. As Heschel wrote: “What is necessary is not to have a symbol but to be a symbol. In this spirit, all objects and all actions are not symbols in themselves but ways and means of enhancing the living symbolism of man.”
This, I think, is part of the Passover story and the “seder” experience. And, I think, this idea has greater meaning for us as we age. We are becomign more aware of the power of modeling behavior, a behavior that stands for something beyond our own self gratification. That is part of the Exodus story, for the Israelites constantly tried to revert back to a condition of slavery (comfort); their faith in God and Moses was constantly at risk. There is a challenge in this, one that Heschel writes about and that rings true for the world today. “We must distinguish” writes Heschel, “between being human and human being. We are born human beings. What we must acquire is being human. Being human is the essential–the decisive–achievement of a human being”.
This is a theme of Passover and the telling of the story. That is one of the reasons we are told to tell the story in every generation: we still have to find a way to be “human” even though we are human beings. So when we open that door for Elijah this weekend, part of that Messianic dream, may very well be that we open our hearts and souls to the power of living as an example of the sacred and in doing so, become human.
Have a sweet and healthy Passover
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min