Vail Daily column: We open our doors for Passover festival
The festival of Passover, which will be celebrated by Jews around the world from April 3 until April 11, is the outstanding home festival in Jewish life. It is the feast of freedom, commemorating ancient Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
The rituals of Passover (or Pesach as it is known in Hebrew) are largely home ceremonials. On the day before the holiday begins, the house is examined throughout for any sign of leavened bread or any food containing yeast, and all traces are removed. For one week, matzah (unleavened bread) and various other foods made of unleavened ingredients replace all bread products on the menu.
The highlight of the Passover celebration is the seder (Hebrew for “order”) service — a family banquet held on the first and second evenings of Passover. The seder is an elaborate ritual. The table is decorated with fruits and flowers, the best china and candlesticks, and other marks of festivity. A wine cup beside each place setting is used for the four sips of wine — a symbol of joy.
Essentially the ceremony consists of telling the story of the Exodus, using various symbols for illustration and dramatization. The youngest child at the table asks four questions of his family: “Why is this night different from all other nights of year?”
Various items of food each have a lesson: The hard-boiled egg is the symbol of life, yet it is dipped in salt water to remember the tears shed while in slavery. For the same reason bitter herbs are eaten. A mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon remind the family of the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves in building cities for the cruel taskmasters.
An important part of the Passover is the tradition that our blessings be shared with the less fortunate. The Cup of Elijah is filled with wine, the front door is opened and the family waits in silence as the spirit of the prophet Elijah, symbol of the humble wayfarer, enters to share in the seder.
The most important aspect of the Passover festival can be found in one verse in the Bible (Deuteronomy 10:19) more than any other and expresses the mood of Passover, “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The reason for the importance of remembering this historical circumstance is that we are taught that the most terrible human condition is to be a stranger. To be a stranger is to be alone or cut off.
On the other hand, the condition of greatest human satisfaction is to belong, to be a part of something, to be accepted.
So, just as Jews around the world open their doors to the “stranger” to participate in the Passover meal, so too can all faiths be reminded of how important it is to make a new neighbor feel welcome.
Rabbi Joel D. Newman, the spiritual leader of B’nai Vail Congregation, will be conducting a community seder at the Edwards Interfaith Chapel on April 3. For more information about the Passover Seder and all that B’nai Vail Congregation has to offer throughout the year, call 970-477-2992.