The Importance of Passover
By Larry Fine
We have become accustomed to Passover being an important holiday from our childhood. After all, who does not know about the cleaning and changing of the dishes and special dietary restrictions that we observe for an entire week?
But the true importance of Passover is much deeper than just the mere observance that we do in following our traditional seder or of refraining from eating bread during these Passover days. The real importance of Passover is a central and pivotal point in Judaism that sets it apart from all other religions in the world as I shall explain.
Consider first the origins of Passover: The Jews left Egypt en mass after witnessing the ten plagues that G-d brought down upon the Egyptians. They, as a nation, witnessed the splitting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the mighty army of Pharaoh. It was not just one or two individuals who witnessed this happening as it unfolded, it was the entire Jewish nation consisting of men, women and children, from the elderly to the new born. They did not just witness it from a distance as spectators but were inextricably involved in the action of the drama as it unfolded. They lived the dangers and felt the horrors of slavery and celebrated together the subsequent joyous liberation. Since an entire nation, in its entirety experienced Passover, this holiday became part of the national psyche; a vital component of this new nation's very character. The miraculous events that led to their release was engraved in the heart and soul of an entire nation.
Now if we compare our national beginning to that of other religions we can see quite a contrast. Judaism was witnessed by an entire nation; every man, woman and child saw the miracles and felt the fear and joy of release from bondage. Each man, woman and child saw, felt and experienced the hand of G-d in his personal redemption from the Egyptian slavery together with the rest of the people of this nation. Each man, woman and child who lived through such an experience passed this on to the next generation. There was no one who doubted the events that happened; we find no one mentioned in the Torah who casts any speck of uncertainty on the accuracy of the events that took place in Egypt and the subsequent revelations that came at Mount Sinai.
The tradition was carefully preserved and given over in each generation, from father to son, mother to daughter, each individual simply merely related what he or she had heard from their parents. There was never any doubts through the long years of conquering the land of Israel to the time of the building of the first Temple some five hundred years later as to the validity of the exodus from Passover. Since everyone had the same tradition, since every family concurred to the miraculous story of the birth of our nation, the belief in Moses and G-d was never subject to doubt.
Compare this to the other major religions: One major religion is based on a belief that its founder did special miracles and had divine revelations. But this was witnessed by a mere few upon who belief is based. The vast majority of its adherents never witnessed any miracles or revelation, yet they are required to believe that this happened; their parents never witnessed it, their neighbors never witnessed it. Their religion is based on believing that it happened and then convincing others of this even though there is no one who has a tradition that such revelations and miracles happened.
Another major religion has spread its word of revelation through the sword. The person who claims to be the vehicle of revelation convinced some ignorant people of his divine revelation and others were coerced into believing by threatening them with death.
In both cases, the adherents of these religions do not descend from anyone who actually saw such revelations, but they are the descendants of converts to that particular religion. This is where Judaism differs. Except for a few converts, most Jews are descendants of the very people who left Egypt. They have passed on the tradition from generation to generation. Each successive generation instills in the next the knowledge that it was not one person nor a small group of people who witnessed such great miracles, but an entire nation consisting of men, women and children. There was no member of this nation who did not witness the events in Egypt and hence our belief in G-d does not stem from being persuaded to believe in some miraculous act that no one else saw, but rather a continuation of a tradition that attests to the veracity of the miraculous events.
When we sit down to the Passover seder, we are not only participating in a mitzvah, we are continuing a chain of national tradition which passes over to the next generation the knowledge that, yes, we were a nation that was enslaved by another nation and, yes, our ancestors saw the miracles that G-d did for us, not just a few unrelated people, but an entire nation, each and every Jewish man, woman and child saw revelations that could not be forgotten. When we tell over the story of the exodus from Egypt we are continuing the tradition of passing over the belief in G-d and His holy Torah that has been passed over from generation to generation, for over three thousand years.
In addition, we are witnesses that just like G-d promised us that He would bring us back to our ancient land, He has kept his promise. We Jews are now living proof that all that the truth of our religion is irrefutable; that we by sitting down to our seder are continuing the link of tradition from generation to generation.
This is the irrefutable message of Passover; the belief in an active G-d who keeps His word to His people and that the Torah is His holy message to us.
from the March 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine