The holiday of Passover begins in a few days. Its most central event is the Seder, which is celebrated in Jewish homes in Israel on the first night of the holiday, and in Jewish homes and synagogues around the world on the first two nights of the eight-day holiday.
The night of the Passover Seder has always been very special for me and my family. On this very unique evening, we gather together with family and friends in our homes to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, in ancient times and in our very own day. The book that we use to do this is called the hagaddah, literally the "telling" of the story of our liberation from bondage and our journey to the Promised Land of Israel.
At our family seder, which I have led for many years in Jerusalem, we always bring many different haggadot and interpretations to passages in the hagaddah, both old ones and new ones, into our discussion. The intellectual and spiritual stimulation is as good and enriching as the wonderful special foods prepared by my wife and children and friends for the occasion.
One of my favorite passages is the Opening of the Door for Elijah, after the meal. We open the door for Elijah, the harbinger of the messianic era of peace, and we pray that he will enter our homes and our hearts and our world. We seek peace. We yearn for it. We want Elijah to help us heal the world. We want to open ourselves to the world, to be part of it, and not to live in ghettoes any more, whether self-imposed or imposed by others.
At the same time, we recite certain biblical verses that were inserted in the Middle Ages, which begin with the words, "Pour out your wrath on the nations." This verse was originally an expression of anger due to the pogroms perpetrated by Christians during the medieval period. This vengeful verse has been reinterpreted by many contemporary thinkers in our day. For example, the editors of the haggadah called "A Different Night," Noam Zion and David Dishon, bring an alternative text found in a manuscript from Worms in 1521, which begins with the words, "Pour out your love on the nations who have known you and on the kingdoms who call upon your name." The editors of this haggadah see this as a reference to righteous gentiles who saved Jews during the Middle Ages and, more recently, during the Holocaust.
The well-known Jerusalem artist, David Moss, writes in his haggadah, entitled "The Moss Haggadah," about the opening of the door for Elijah and the recitation of the biblical verses mentioned above as the doors of paradox.
What is the paradox of the contemporary Jew?
"We have nothing to fear; we have everything to fear. We are a chosen people; we are a despised people. And the door is the ideal symbol of that always unsettling, primary, and intuitive knowledge deep within every Jew of what 'Jew' means to every other people, and what 'Jew' means to Israel. For the door is the interface, the threshold, the meeting place between the inner Jewish world and the outer non-Jewish world. How it opens, when it opens, when it closes and how it closes has in a sense created Jewish history." (David Moss, "The Moss Haggadah," p. 53)
Pesach, therefore, is a time that we open ourselves to the world, and we welcome the non-Jew into our midst. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, we are no longer afraid of the stranger, and don't need to hide in our homes, as Jews did during the waves of anti-semitism that swept Europe in previous centuries.
Moreover, Pesach is both a time that reminds us to seek peace and to open our hearts to our neighbors. Ultimately, there will be no peace and security for us, as Jews in Israel, if there is not also peace and security for our neighbors, the Palestinian people. If we end the state of war and reach peace with our neighbors, it will actually benefit all the citizens of Israel, and will make life easier and more secure for Jews around the world.
May I take this opportunity to wish all our Jewish friends in Israel and around the world a Chag Pesach Sameach -- a happy, joyous and meaningful holiday for you and your families and communities -- and to all my Christian friends, a Happy Easter.