Welcome to our Seder! Tonight we are gathered as friends and loved ones. Tonight we observe a most ancient and significant festival. In the telling of our tale, we are linked with countless generations, past and yet to come. The Seder takes us back to those events which occurred more than three thousand years ago. Our story is one of great power. Slaves leave Egypt and become a free people.
History tells us that many other peoples were also enslaved by tyrants. But the Israelites were the first to rebel against slavery and to institute a holiday dedicated to freedom. Most nations observe an Independence Day, but the observance of the birthday of Jewish freedom is unique because of its profoundly religious character. Every Jewish home becomes a sanctuary, every table an altar where gratitude is expressed to God, the author of liberty. Through prayer and song, ritual and symbol, custom and ceremony, we look upon ourselves as though we were among those enslaved and then brought forth into freedom.
Identifying with the past helps us to better appreciate the freedom that is ours and to more fully empathize with those still living under the shadow of tyrants. The Seder calls upon us to do all in our power to free them from tyranny.
As we step into this historical experience, we cannot help but draw to mind the 65 million displaced people and refugees around the world today fleeing violence and persecution, searching for protection. Like our ancestors, today’s refugees experience displacement, uncertainty, lack of resources, and the complete disruption of their lives.
Over the past few years, we have read almost daily about humanitarian crises, watched horrific hate crimes increase, and been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people being persecuted. We now have the opportunity this evening to move beyond the headlines and the statistics to focus on the individual experiences behind the numbers and policies. These are the experiences of people around the world who, like the ancient Israelites, are fighting for peace, acceptance and liberation amidst brokenness and rebuilding their lives. Tonight, as we embrace the experience of our ancestors, we also think of the experiences of those who still wander in search of safety, acceptance, and freedom.
The Seder, which keeps alive in us the love of liberty, has a significance for all mankind. Freedom, which is one of man's most precious gifts, must not be taken for granted. In every age it must be won anew. The Pharaoh of the Exodus is symbolic of the tyrants in every era in history.
If a people anywhere are exploited and oppressed, then nowhere is man really secure. The Seder expresses the need for our eternal vigilance in the struggle to preserve and advance the cause of freedom and human dignity. Let us take a moment to think about our sacrifices as a country and of our servicemen who are fighting today for this very cause. We think of them and their families on this very day and we pray for their safe return. May we take into our hearts the memory of all who have and continue to enrich our lives and to remember those who still suffer the pain of war, oppression, tyranny, and prejudice.
Our wish: May God grant that freedom become the lot for all mankind.
A word about God: everyone has his or her own understanding of what God is. For some people, there is no God, while for others, God is an integral part of their lives. While we may not agree on a singular concept of God, we share a common desire for goodness to prevail in the world. And this is the meaning of tonight: freedom winning out over slavery, good prevailing over evil.
Please consider the source of benevolence in your life, be it God, or a belief in humanity, and hold that source in your hearts as we move through the evening.
Now in the presence of loved ones and friends, we gather for our sacred celebration. We gather to observe the Passover, as it is written: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of Egypt. You shall observe this day throughout generations as a practice for all times.
Pesach is a time of inclusion. On Seder night, there are two moments when we open our doors and invite others in. One is at the opening of the Magid portion of the Seder when we say, "All who are hungry come and eat." The beautiful message here: we were once slaves; poor and hungry and we remember this by sharing what we have with others. The other comes towards the end of the Seder, when we have the custom of pouring a fifth cup of wine, which we claim is for Elijah, the Prophet. This is a statement that says that although we are a free people, our redemption is not complete and we believe that it will come. From the most downtrodden to the most celebrated, the message is clear: everyone is welome and everyone is necessary.
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