Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman: Passover is a celebration of freedom


GREAT BARRINGTON >> On the eve of April 22, coinciding with Earth Day, Jewish communities around the world will begin celebrating our most ancient of earth days.

Tied to the season of spring, Passover expresses the themes of freedom, liberation and new beginnings. Similar to many of cultures, spring for the Jewish people is a time of cleansing.

In preparation for the eight-day holiday, we clean out the crumbs of the past year from our cupboards, and during the holiday, refrain from eating any chametz: leavened or fermented foods. Yeasted breads are replaced with a simple matzah, unleavened bread made from flour and water.

At Passover time, as the buds of spring push forth through the earth revealing new life, we recognize the miracle of rebirth. So too, the celebration of Passover recalls the moment of rebirth in the life of the Jewish people.

On the first two nights of the holiday, Jewish families gather together in their homes for a ritual called a seder. Seder means "order" and refers to the orderly sequence of rituals performed as part of the holiday meal.

During the seder, the tale of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, a journey from slavery to freedom, is shared. Special foods are eaten to ritualize and embody elements of the story. Matzah, referred to as "poor man's bread" and bitter herbs remind us of our ancient past as Israelite slaves who were freed from bondage.

The seder ritual is meant to deepen awareness that the movement from slavery to freedom defines the identity of the Jewish people and enjoins us to take responsibility to continue the work for freedom and justice for all those who are still oppressed.

Passover is a multi-generational celebration of freedom past and yet to be. Our seder closes with a ritual in which we open the door to welcome in Elijah the Prophet. It is taught that Elijah will herald the news of the coming redemption. Through the seder rituals our hope is rekindled as we re-dedicate ourselves to the work of liberation, justice and repairing the world.

Rabbi Stern-Kaufman is executive director of Rimon: A collaborative community for Jewish spirituality in the Berkshires.


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