April 7, 2017
Central to the annual celebration of Passover is the Seder (Passover feast). This is not just another family “sit down” meal or “get-together”. In fact, the meal takes a back seat to the real purpose of the event: To re-tell, re-listen, and re-commit to the ethereal notion of freedom.
The most curious part of the Seder is the text we follow called a Haggadah, literally “story.” Even the less-informed Jew knows to connect Passover with the story of the Israelites freedom from Egypt told in the first chapters of the Book of Exodus. Yet, the Haggadah makes no reference to this historical account. Instead, there is a series of disparate stories and legends loosely tied together. The Haggadah appears to challenge each Jew to bring their own interpretation and understanding, tell their own story, and challenge future generations to do the same.
Among the stories recounted in the Haggadah is the tale of the “4 Sons”. There is the wise son who knows the rituals and practices of Passover by heart, the simple son whose knowledge is limited but who is still curious enough to ask, “Why?”, the son who is too young to even ask, and the wicked son who only wants to know, “What does this ritual stuff mean to you, not me?!” What does this have to do with Passover?
Then there is the “Cup of Elijah, the Prophet.” According to Jewish tradition, Elijah will come to announce the beginning of the Messianic era-a time of peace and freedom among all peoples. We place a wine cup for Elijah on every Seder table in the hope this may be the year he comes. What does this have to do with Passover?
Many years ago, my teacher Rabbi Harold Schulweis taught me that the cup of Elijah should remain empty until the end of the Seder when each participant is asked to pour some wine from his/her cup into the Cup of Elijah. In doing so, we give recognition to the fact that a messianic era of peace and freedom will only happen when each of us becomes an active agent in making it happen. Not God alone, but in partnership with God!
What makes the wicked son wicked is his decision to exclude himself from the community (“What does this ritual stuff mean to you, not me?!). Jews need Jews to be Jewish. . .we can’t do it alone! Rabbi Schulweis explains, “He who separates himself from the community reduces his own power to choose and weakens the strength of godliness in the world we inhabit. . .No individual alone, no sectarian group alone can fill the cup of Elijah. Only together, as a united people understanding its common purpose will the messianic cup of promise be filled.”
What does the “wicked son” and the “Cup of Elijah” have to do with Passover? Everything. Preserving and enhancing the hope of peace and freedom for all people requires “all hands on board.” Everyone one, contributing together.
May our combined efforts in the days and weeks ahead make the theme of Passover-freedom-a reality in the lives of all people.
Rabbi Howard Siegel