The long history of our people is one of contrasts — freedom and slavery, joy and pain, power and helplessness. Passover reflects these contrasts. Tonight as we celebrate our freedom, we remember the slavery of our ancestors and realize that many people are not yet free.
Each generation changes — our ideas, our needs, our dreams, even our celebrations. So has Passover changed over many centuries into our present
holiday. Our nomadic ancestors gathered for a spring celebration when the sheep gave birth to their lambs. Theirs was a celebration of the continuity of life. Later, when our ancestors became farmers, they celebrated the arrival of spring in their own fashion. Eventually these ancient spring festivals merged with the story of the Exodus from Egypt and became a new celebration of life and freedom.
As each generation gathered around the table to retell the old stories, the symbols took on new meanings. New stories of slavery and liberation, oppression and triumph were added, taking their place next to the old. Tonight we add our own special chapter as we recall our people’s past and we dream of the future.
For Jews, our enslavement by the Egyptians is now remote, a symbol of communal remembrance. As we sit here in the comfort of our modern world, we think of the millions who still suffer the brutality of the existence that we escaped thousands of years ago.
The first step to growth is to realize we are worthy of growth. We need to see the value of who we are so we will see that we are worthy of investing time, energy, and effort into developing our spiritual potential.
Kadesh is the first step. It's the foundation for the whole Seder experience. We see this in the word "Kadesh," which is translated as "sanctify," but literally means to "set apart," in the sense of designating something as unique and special. Kadesh is that moment when we "set apart" or sanctify the time we're in. We "set apart" the Passover night as holy and unique.
In this sense, Kadesh moves us to "set ourselves apart" - to realize we're unique so we can begin to invest in personal growth.
We invest in something only when we believe it has value. This is true in finance as well as in interpersonal relationships. We spend time and energy with people whom we perceive as having worth. This is also true with self-growth. We will invest our time and energy to develop our potential only if we believe we are worthy.
If we base our self-worth on what we possess and have accomplished, we lose our uniqueness. What is the source of self-worth? Consciously or sub-consciously we base our self-worth on what we possess and what we have accomplished: How much is my income? How big is my house? What kind of car and clothes do I own? Our possessions give tangible value, as do our achievements, our profession, which university we attended, whether we're married, and if we have children.
In fact these two barometers do not give us a true sense of our uniqueness and value. Instead they cause us to lose our sense of distinctiveness.
We intuitively know that self-worth means feeling special. Feeling special stems from recognizing we are each unique. Rarity defines value. When we judge our self-worth by our possessions and accomplishments, that judgment can be made only by comparing our status to others. However, once we're comparing these external realities, the differences are in the quantity. A person's uniqueness is lost in this "judging by comparison." I am just like everyone. The only difference is the quantity of external trappings. What makes me unique - and therefore valuable - is lost.
The Torah tells us that we are made in the "image of God." What is this "image of God"? Just as the Almighty is one - absolutely unique - every human being is one of a kind, unique, special and rare.
We are created in God's image and therefore we are worthy. It's not because of what we possess or have accomplished, but simply because we are. Our very existence is intrinsically valuable. We are created in the image of God, unique, and therefore worthy. This is what Kadesh teaches us.
It’s tradition that the youngest person in the family asks the questions. The rabbis who created the set format for the Seder gave us the Four Questions to help break the ice in case no one had their own questions. Asking questions is a core tradition in Jewish life. If everyone at your Seder is around the same age, perhaps the person with the least Seder experience can ask them – or everyone can sing them all together.
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילות?
Mah nish-ta-nah ha-lai-lah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-lei-lot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
:שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכלין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מצה
She-b'chol ha-lei-lot a-nu och-lin cha-meitz u-ma-tzah? Ha-lai-lah ha-zeh, ku-lo ma-tzah?
Why on all other nights we eat both leavened bread and matzah, and tonight we only eat matzah?
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר:
She-b'chol ha-lei-lot a-nu och-lin sh'ar y'ra -kot. Ha-lai-lah ha-zeh ma-ror?
On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight why do we only eat bitter herbs?
. שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָֽנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּֽעַם אחָת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְעמים:
She-b'chol ha-lei-lot ein anu mat-bi-lin a-fi-lu pa-am, e-hat. Ha-lai-lah ha-zeh, sh'tei f'a-mim?
On all other nights we aren’t expected to dip our vegetables at all. Why, tonight, do we do it twice?
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין. :הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּֽנוּ מְסֻבין:
She-b'chol ha-lei-lot a-nu och-lin bein yosh-vin o'vein m-subin. Ha-lai-lah na-zeh ku-la-nu m-su-bin?
On all other nights we eat either sitting normally or reclining. Why do we sit reclining tonight?