The Seder is one of the most widely observed Jewish rituals. Studies that measure Jewish involvement find that worldwide the Pesach Seder always tops the list, even amongst the barely affiliated. The Seder and Brit Milah (circumcision) may be the last vestiges of Judaism standing between unaffiliated Jews and total assimilation.

This is amazing. It is also the way it should be. At the very beginning of God’s relationship with the first of our forefathers, Avraham, God makes two covenants with him. The first is  Brit Bein Habetarim, the Covenant between the Parts. This is when God tells Avraham about the eventual slavery of his progeny, as well as their redemption. This is also where he promises to give Avraham the Land of Canaan. The second covenant comes 13 years later. It is  Brit Milah, the covenant of circumcision. Here Avraham is told that his wife Sarah will give birth to a son, Yitzchak, who will inherit their legacy. This is the promise of children. Avraham was promised two things that are inexorably tied- children and land. The promise of the land is linked to the slavery and redemption of Egypt, and hence, the story of Pesach. The promise of children is linked to Brit Milah.

These are the two covenants that testify to our connection to the Jewish people.  It is no wonder that only those men who are circumcised may take part of the Pesach offering. And when the prophet Yechezkel describes the redemption from Egypt and tells us “I passed over you and saw you steeped in your blood, and I said to you, ‘In your blood you shall live,’ and I said to you, ‘In your blood you shall live,’” the midrash tells us the two bloods represent the blood of circumcision and the blood of the Pesach offering. This blood is the life-force of our commitment to Judaism. It is the way we show that we remember the covenant, and remain committed to fulfill our part. This is also the reason these are the only two positive commandments that carry the punishment of  karet  if one does not perform them.  Karet  literally means to be cut off. Jews who do not observe these commandments cut themselves off from the Jewish people, and so they too are cut off.

This is also why these are the two rituals that Eliyahu Hanavi, Elijah the prophet, visits. Eliyahu told God that the people “Transgressed your covenant.” (Kings I 20) Eliyahu gave up on the people because he thought that the people had given up on God. And so Eliyahu is destined for eternity to eat his own words; for thousands of years, and hopefully for thousands more, he is invited to witness Jews all over the world as they prove him wrong.

haggadah Section: Hallel