bioGraph wishes you a happy festival—chag Pesach sameach! Passover is a time to celebrate and practice the values we preach: freedom, gratitude, family, tradition, history, storytelling, and the power of asking the same good questions year after year.
More than a mitzvah, asking questions and telling stories fulfills our obligation to remember. We’ve observed this day for millennia to commemorate our escape from slavery. Today our congregation may not exclude us if they discover leavened bread in our home, but if we fail to tell the stories, then we become broken links in the intergenerational chain. We may no longer kill unblemished lambs at twilight and smear our doorposts with their blood, but if we fail to ask questions, then we will not survive.
Some questions seem easier to ask and answer than others. Why is tonight different from all other nights? Because we recline on cushions like royalty, eat symbolic foods, and dwell on ancient history as if it were yesterday. Why do we eat matzah? Because it reminds us of our ancient and ongoing slavery; because our ancestors’ swift exodus left no time for the bread to rise. Why do we spill a drop of wine with each recited plague? To diminish our own joy in empathy with those who suffer.
Questions increase and multiply. Why does Uncle Milt’s Seder take the whole night to unfold when the holiday is meant to commemorate a hasty meal? Will my children continue the tradition when I’m old and frail? What do we have in common with the “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” who escaped Egypt with Pharaoh’s army and 600 chariots hot on their heels? Why did the Israelites endure 430 years of slavery before saying enough? What’s the moral of the story? Have 80 generations of storytelling made us less complacent than those ancestors who almost preferred the status quo of slavery to the uncertain risk of freedom, since they thought “it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness”? Now that we are free, how do we keep and use our freedom?
The ritual of asking the same questions is not redundant, since our answers evolve from year to year, generation to generation. Today we consider change as well as continuity between our version of the story and that of our ancestors. Maybe we no longer believe that Moses split the Red Sea, but we still believe the story is worth telling. Passover is a vault of family memories containing grandma’s recipe for fluffy matzoh balls and grandpa’s prized gelt for the discovered afikomen. Why suspend disbelief and open the door to welcome the prophet Elijah? Because even if he doesn’t resolve our unanswered questions this year, it will be enough that all the children—the wise, the wicked, the simple, and even the one who doesn’t know how to ask questions—gaze inside the kiddush cup at the wine’s miraculous rippling.
Why are we still enthralled by a story we know by heart? Because we know the story is still ongoing, and that now is our turn to tell it. Gut yontif!