Let’s get started by lighting the candles, which is how we celebrate the transition from day to night. This is the traditional way to honor the beginning of a Jewish holiday, which always starts and ends at sunset.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ םֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדלִיק נֵר שֶׁל יוֹם טוֹב
Blessed are You, Adonai, Ruler of the Universe, who sanctifies us with commandments, and commands us to light the festival candles.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.
"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” — Edith Wharton
For anyone who grew up celebrating Jewish holidays in the traditional way, beginning holiday observances by kindling candles seems as natural as eating honey-dipped apples for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). Yet we don’t often stop to think about where these customs originated, or what layers of meaning they may add to our celebration.
As we will explore this evening, retelling the Passover story is meaningful on many different levels, and lighting the candles is a perfect metaphor for all that the holiday commemorates. The candles’ luminescence symbolizes the fire of learning — shedding light on the murky chapters of history, revealing the ambiguities within the Exodus story and encouraging the resultant questions. And their fire is also symbolic of Passover’s enduring values. Like a fire passed from match to wick, we follow in the example of our parents and uphold tradition by observing the Passover holiday. The flame is also a sign of festivities and celebration, just as when candles appear on a birthday cake or a Chanukkah Menorah. In Judaism, lighting the candles can also mark the distinction between holy days and the everyday, and in that way the flame of tonight’s candles also recollects Passover’s emphasis on sanctification. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these candles represent the fire of freedom, like the torch held aloft over the Atlantic Ocean by the Statue of Liberty, which invites immigrants, exiles and refugees to take shelter on American shores.
In retelling the Passover story tonight by the light of the candles’ dancing flames, we take the opportunity to shine light both on history’s mysteries and the holiday’s enduring cultural significance.
Sit back and relax; both of these recommendations are actually part of the tradition, because tonight we are meant to feel like royalty. We begin our celebration of freedom by raising the first of four cups of wine. The number four will appear numerous times throughout the Seder; here, it is to remind us of the four promises made by Adonai for the deliverance of the Israelite slaves. In Exodus 6:6–7, Adonai said: “I will free you from burdens,” “I will deliver you from slavery,” “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm” and “I will take you as my people.”
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