According to tradition, there are three different Passovers for us to connect with when we sit together at our Seder tables. One is perhaps the most obvious, and that is the first Passover, revisiting and reliving the story of the Exodus, highlighted by the Ten Plagues and the crossing of the Sea. All the prayers and foods we bring together for our celebration together is a way to honor the teaching in Torah that we are to tell the story of the Passover to our children and to remind ourselves that it isn’t just about our storied Ancestors, but also that, according to tradition, we too were there; we too stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah in the aftermath of the Exodus. We taste the tears of slavery in the salt water for the parsley and in the charoset’s reminder of the mortar and bricks with which we built Pharaoh’s cities (not the Pyramids, by the way; they were there well before we got there!).
The reason there are hundreds and thousands of Haggadot, the books that guide us through the Passover Seder, is that also important is the second Passover we celebrate; that is found wherever we are in time, and however we bring the story to life as a way that responds to life as we know it. The two aspects of the Seder we are bidden to honor is to ask lots of questions and to embellish the stories and concepts with values and insights of our own, reflecting our own times and challenges. That is the second Passover, the one we celebrate today, whenever “today” may be. The second Passover is important because we matter, and how we approach Jewish life and values and bring them alive for today’s generation is an important link to the past, especially the first Passover. At times throughout our history, “today” was filled with fear and trembling. Opening the door to welcome Elijah was not always a happy interlude that allows a breath of fresh outside air to lighten a stuffy crowded setting as we sing in joy of the coming of Shalom, symbolized by Elijah. At times opening the door served a different kind of important function; it showed the non-Jewish world that we weren’t doing anything to cause them alarm or concern, as often stirred up when it coincided with Easter, when Jews were victims of blood libels. At those times “today’s” Passover Seder served to defend Jewish life in a hostile environment where Jews were accused of using blood of non Jews to bake matzah, something ironically abhorrent, given the stringency in Kosher laws to avoid all blood. The second Passover, today’s celebration, is a barometer of how we are doing in a world that at times is welcoming and hospitable and at times, hostile and frightening, when it isn’t safe to be Jewish, still the case, sadly in many parts of the world, i.e. including France.
The third Passover is the cause for our unflagging optimism; that is the Passover ushering in Messianic times and a world where it will become forever safe to be Jewish or any other way one chooses that honors and reveres life and enables God to rule in the light of kindness, caring and a world where it is safe to be wherever we may live. For us it means bringing the World to Come into this World; it means restoring the Garden of Eden. It means ushering in an era in which the third Passover is the last Passover, after which there will no longer be need for such observance and celebration, for there will be no more pharaohs in any land. Only God will rule, reflected in each of us living as we wish, without fear, trauma, or need to defend ourselves.
In a sense, as we relive the first Passover, we are always in the Second Passover, dreaming of coming closer to the third Passover, symbolized by our acclamation (as we express at the end of Yom Kippur): “Next Year in Jerusalem”.
What is exciting about today’s Passover in the year 5767, corresponding to 2007, is that amidst all the turmoil, there is hope of drawing near to the third Passover; for today we can actually go to Jerusalem, since Israel is and has been for almost 59 years more than the dream that sustained us for 2000 years of living in an oftentimes hostile Diaspora.
As it turns out, there are three observance days in the month of April that call to mind the three Passovers. One is Passover itself, which takes us back to where we began as a people emerging out of the horrendous enslavement in Egypt. Another is Yom HaShoah, the twenty-eighth of Nisan (April 16), the day of remembrance of the Holocaust that destroyed an incomprehensible number of our people, wiped out centuries of community life and treasures of human consciousness and memory, and nearly destroyed the entirety of our people. This day calls to mind the precariousness of so many of “today’s” Passovers throughout the years.
Third, there is Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, the fifth of Iyar, (April 23) heralding the dawn of the Age of Shalom, when Israel takes its place among the family of nations as Eternal testimony to God’s partnership with the Jewish people. Dancing in the streets of Israel’s cities, now vibrant and alive with the restoration of Jewish life as a national way of being, represents drawing near to that great and awesome day when we attain the third Passover and a world of Peace.
The question for each of us at our Passover tables is: which Passover are you celebrating? What steps can you take in celebrating “today’s” Passover to bring yourself and your dear ones closer to the third Passover?
So much to ask about and so much to embellish! May your Passover be a journey to light and joy that can help us to honor the memory of all those who perished in the darkness and despair commemorated in the first Exodus, and bring us to a world where Israel’s celebration of freedom will be rich with understanding that such will be the way of being for life everlasting.