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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Passover 5781: What Story Are We Telling?

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on March 24, 2021)
Topics: Tzav, Sefer Vayikra, Halakha & Modernity, Shabbat & Yom Tov, Moadim/Holidays, Pesach, Uncategorized, Covid-19

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Dear Friends,

I want us to ask ourselves a simple question: What is the story that we will be telling?

The central mitzvah of Pesach night is maggid, to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. In many of our homes on Seder night, we will have spirited discussions and debates as we attempt to be doresh – to engage in the story, to bring our personal lens to it, exploring its meaning and relevance to us today.

In this telling, we stand outside the story and ask about its meaning. To translate this into our religious lives would be transformative – it would bring taamei hamitzvot, the reasons of the mitzvot, into the doing of the mitzvot. It would move us from mechanically following halakha to asking: “What is the matzah – what is this mitzvah – about?”

One dimension, however, is often missing – that of being part of the story itself.

To tell the story is to step into it, to see ourselves as one of the characters in the story and ask: What does it mean to be part of this arc of Divine history? Where is the story that began with the Exodus going to end? Where is it going and where am I going?

The Haggadah, surprisingly, does not tell us the answer to these questions. It develops the narrative at length and then stops short of the ending. In doing so, it invites us to imagine how it should conclude. 

The Haggadah hints at an answer: “This year we are here. Next year, in Jerusalem.” It ends with our return to the Land. For some, then, with the establishment of the State of Israel, the story has now reached its natural conclusion.

But for many of us outside of Israel – and even for many living in Israel –  we find ourselves not at the story’s end but squarely in its middle.

We ask: Where are we going? What is my purpose? What ending should I be looking for and working to achieve – for myself, the Jewish people, and the world?

As we anticipate a post-COVID world, a lot of people are asking questions of meaning. What have we learned about the need for direct presence versus what can be accomplished through Zoom? How will this change how we do business? What meanings and lessons can we derive from our experiences over the last year? 

I would encourage us to ask a different question, a question about narrative. We will now be entering an unfinished world. What story will we now be telling about what it means to live on this planet, to live in society? How have we reoriented ourselves so that we can now tell a different story and see a different ending?

Let us all enter Pesach asking ourselves this question: As Jews and as citizens of the world, what is the story that we tell? Where is the Torah and our humanity pointing us? What is the ending that we see in the horizon, and how can we play our role in moving towards it?

Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

Rabbi Dov Linzer