This may take up to thirty seconds.
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.
We begin our Seder and join our efforts with those everywhere who celebrate the Passover searching for its meaning in their lives; as an expression of our liberation so far... There are many possible modes for understanding the events retold in the Pesach Haggadah.
Of these, three are braided together so that, if we concentrate exclusively on any one of them, we diminish the special qualities of the entire story.
By participating in the symbolic actions built into the order of the Seder, we can share in: the experience of the rebirth of the natural world around us, the national liberation of our people, the spiritual redemption of each individual human being.
We begin this evening: some of us feeling shackled by the bonds of winter, some of our people—and other peoples of the world—persecuted, many of us confined by our own personal limitations.
Tonight we hope to set in motion: processes of growth that encourage within each of us the renewal of each person’s unique vision, and efforts to work for the freedom of our scattered—and all, oppressed— people, as we see about us the flowering of a new year.
Indeed, we begin our Seder here.
However, our goals are neither our renewal, our freedom, nor our flowering.
Pesach is but the pointer to the acceptance of our commitments to complete these tasks—in a harvesting of the fruits of our labors yet to come.
As we wash our hands
Blessed is the Soul of the Universe,
Breathing us in and breathing us out.
May our breaths continue
And our health and the health of all
In this time of sickness and fear of sickness.
We take as much responsibility for this as we can
By observing the obligation to wash our hands
For as long as it takes to say this prayer.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָ׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדַיִם