This week, Jews all over the world sit down at the seder table and commemorate the Passover story from the Book of Exodus. Jews throughout history have suffered persecution and exile. Andrew C. Grossman from Minneapolis, Minnesota explains the story of the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and how it has been a source of inspiration and hope in their darkest moments.
In modern times, the Passover observance is focused on the wondrous story of Moses, an Egyptian prince of Hebrew birth and viceroy of Egypt. In the story, Moses liberated hundreds of thousands of Jewish slaves from over 400 years of Egyptian bondage. He inflicted ten devastating plagues on the Egyptian people and forced the pharaoh to let his people walk out of Egypt. Ultimately, the pharaoh changed his mind and directed his army to overtake the fleeing horde. However, Moses parted the Red Sea to create a corridor for passage and the imperial Egyptian army was destroyed when the sea swallowed them up.
On Passover, Jewish children recite “the four questions” which focus on the uniqueness of the Passover. The questions focus on the symbolism of the story: why Jews eat unleavened bread, eat bitter herbs, recline at the table, etc.
However, there is a deeper question that Passover confronts us with: “Do you believe in your heart the miraculous story of the Exodus actually happened? Can you logically accept that a God appeared, inflicted biblical plagues upon the Egyptians and led 400,000 defenseless people out of the Egyptian empire and destroyed the largest imperial army of its era? Or, is this simply a metaphorical tale?
As Andrew C. Grossman states, this holiday is vital to Judaism because it confronts every Jew with the question, “Do you believe God can with his smallest impulse alter our entire reality? Many cannot overcome their logical mind to believe this possibility. There are secular Jews who self-identify with their peoplehood and define their Judaism as a commitment to a strong moral and ethical life. They celebrate the Passover as a cultural, familial and vaguely historical experience.
Those who believe in the literal story of the Exodus experience their Judaism differently. They believe God actually lifted a slave state out of an empire and brought it to safety. They accept, without doubt, that there is an actual deity with the power to appear at any time and to create miracles that defy logic. To them, the Passover is a living story, which continues to this day. It celebrates God’s omnipotence.
In Judaism, there are 613 commandments, which govern Jewish thought and conduct, but the Ten Commandments are the bedrock of Jewish law and belief. It is no coincidence that the first commandment is in itself the commandment of Passover. In Exodus 20:2, it states, “ I am the Lord thy God who brought you out of the land of Egypt…” God declares his authority upon which all the commandments are based. No commandment has any force or effect without the authority of the first one. Without it, there is no reality to Passover. It becomes just a story.
Passover challenges all people, “do you really believe in God”? If you do, then the Passover proves God is the all-powerful Creator, and anything in life is possible because he exists. Then life becomes a sacred journey rich in possibilities. If not, one can certainly lead a meaningful, ethically driven life, but it will be based on logic, not belief.
According to Andrew Grossman, Passover challenges us to make a choice between these alternate paths. As such, Passover is a holiday for all people. A gift for the Jewish people from the Jewish people.