School has Ruined Passover

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Pharaoh looking somewhat amused by the splitting of the Red Sea (drawing from my Barkai Parasha Series, 2014)

“How is this night different from all the other nights?”

Jewish children have learned to recount the “Ma Nishtana?” song by heart, and everybody knows exactly what to expect during the long and bizarre Passover Seder night. In case you were asleep through the three-four weeks of classes preceding Passover, there is even a model Seder.

We have effectively demystified the entire ordeal, making it impossible to be surprised.

My friend Tzvi says: Imagine a non-jew walk into a synagogue, a couple days before Passover, and hears the announcement “the burning will begin tomorrow at 11:14 AM”.

The Seder night is intended to be so strange and bizarre that children will ask “what is Dad doing?” “what is going on?” “Dad never eats vegetables…and now he’s dipping them in salt water?”

These weird activities are geared toward one purpose: To get the kids to ask “Ma Nishtana” or, in essence “what the heck is going on tonight?” This ploy is an opening to allow the parents to recount the story of the Exodus to their children. It seems that our well planned (and funded) Jewish school education is making this surprise impossible.

And yet with the absence of children to ask that question, one must ask their spouse, or ask themselves (b.Pesachim 116a). As strange as this must sound (not as strange as half the things we do this night), Maimonides attributes this to the need to differentiate and distinguish, the core Mitzvah or commandment of this evening (H. Hametz u’Matza 7:1). The need to ask “what’s going on tonight?” stems from the need to identify change, in the same way the Sabbath requires a distinction of its sanctity through Kiddush (sanctification) and Havdalah (separation), recounted over wine in the beginning and ending of the Sabbath.

On this Passover evening, I would like to share with you what has changed for me.

Over the past few years, I have felt accelerated growth, in so many areas: Personal, emotional, professional, and in terms of my relationships in my life. This year, I feel so grateful for being in the unique place I am, with the confluence of professional success, academic endeavours, and positive relationships in my life (and having been saved from some very tragic futures).

This Passover, I can look in the mirror, ask myself “what has changed” and truly respond “everything”.

I wish you all a meaningful night of change, of growth, and of liberation.

הלילה הזה – בני חורין!

Happy Passover 5779!

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