On Pesach, the Jew Eats History
Pesach is, most of all, a holiday of symbol. On one level, we find ourselves anticipating Pesach and the Seders because Pesach is, according to demographers, the time when most Jewish families gather together. On another level, we celebrate Pesach because it is a Mitzvah, one of the most extraordinary and important Mitzvot in our tradition. Yet, there is another level to Pesach, one that supercedes the beauty of the table or the enjoyment of finding the afikoman. Pesach is serious business. On Pesach we are commanded to tell our children the story of our people. While the word continuity has been bruised and misused these last several years, Pesach is the holy day that commands us to secure the continuity of the generations, through a recounting of our past.
Pesach is also the holy day of renewal. It celebrates the renewal of spring, which coincides with the renewal of the Jewish people.
Why is Passover So Important, Why is it so Popular?
Passover is the most popular family holiday in the Jewish calendar. If families can be together for Seder, then they will be. Passover is also the "Independence Day" of the Jewish people. Our history as a people dates back to our Exodus from Egypt. Passover is arguably the most important Biblical holy day described in the Torah. Historically, sociologically and religiously Passover hold a special place in Jewish tradition.
Passover has also made the transition from Biblical holy day to Rabbinic holy day to modern holy day. Passover is just as important today as it was in its formation. We can study the traditional texts to find out why Passover was considered important, but why is it so popular today?
Marshall Sklare has identified five items which insure the popularity and survival of rituals:
1. Can be reinterpreted in modern times. One need only look at the proliferation of Haggadot to understand how effectively Pesach has been reinterpreted in religious, cultural and social forms. The Soviet Refusnick movement adapted Pesach as its holiday of choice.
2. Does not demand social isolation and the following of a unique lifestyle: While it is true that the strict Pesach observance demands quite a unique lifestyle for a little more than one week, one can "observe" the holy day in many more liberal and creative ways as well.
3. Accords with the religious culture of the larger community while providing a "Jewish alternative when such is felt to be needed. Hanukkah vs. Christmas, Passover vs. Easter. etc.
4. Is centered on the child.
5. Are performed annually or infrequently.
One need only to look at the many ways Passover is celebrated in the world today to see how important a holy day it is.