The word “Passover” evokes a variety of contradictory meanings. When someone is passed over for a job promotion, it implies something lacking in that person. At worst, she/he is overlooked, under-appreciated, and possibly taken for granted.
To pass over implies missing an opportunity to connect with someone/something special, to take someone or a situation lightly. In games or discussions, people feeling they have no “move” or nothing to contribute may choose to “pass”.
Many Jews pass over facets of Judaism and Jewish observance because the ritual or practice is beyond their interest or capacity.
It is enlightening, therefore, to note that Passover has the exact opposite meaning. It is an act of “consciousness” by Jews and God resulting in sparing the lives of the Jews with the onset of the tenth plague, the killing of the first-born males of Egypt. Instead of overlooking the threat or taking it lightly, every Jew had to take the blood of a lamb and smear it over their doors. It required an act of consciousness and daring since the lamb was considered one of the gods of Egypt.
One could muse as to why this was necessary. Surely the Power of the Universe could sort out the different households without the Jews so identifying themselves. Yet, a constant theme in Judaism is that in this world God acts in concert and correlation with human initiative and behavior. By God’s choice, human beings matter in their conscious participation to choose partnership with the Almighty…that we live by Mitzvah, responsible actions reflecting and revealing conscious decision making.
Miracles involve human participation in some subtle or blatant fashion. The Sea of Reeds parts only after Nachshon ben Aminadav walks into the water up to his nostrils. And as God leads the people in battle against the Amalekites, the Jews only prevail when Moses keeps his arms elevated. Conscious human partnership with God is at the core of Jewish purpose and meaning.
God’s passing over the Israelite homes is not about overlooking anyone.
Accordingly the Passover celebration of the Seder involves each household examining closely conditions that changed in going from slavery to freedom and tasting the difference between the bitterness of slavery, the Maror, and the joy of freedom, the four cups of wine… and tasting both in the Karpas (the green vegetable) representing spring and new beginning along with slavery in its being dipped into the tears and sadness symbolized by the salt water.
Passover, and the way you observe it (or not!) tells you where you are in your journey from slavery to freedom. Since the time of the Exodus, Judaism teaches that freedom requires you to take responsibility to make yourself knowledgeable about your life conditions and make decisions that will protect your freedom.
While many today lack knowledge in Jewish ritual and practice, the price they pay is passing over potentially significant moments offering insights, teachings and opportunities to add value to their lives. The Passover home ceremony is set in a particular "order" (the word for Seder) so as to allow and encourage each and every household to experience the story without exception or excuse.
The challenge is for everyone planning on attending the community Seder not to use that as a replacement for the home experience but rather to take the risk, step into the water up to their nostrils and discover the power and meaning of engaging Passover and its unique meaning to their families. Accordingly, there are countless varieties of Haggadot available for every desire and need.
Don't pass over Passover. Enjoy the second night Seder not as a substitute for the first, but as an opportunity to share stories and insights uncovered the night before with the larger community.
Remember, the more questions you raise, the more praiseworthy the rabbis consider your Seders, so ask lots of questions and don't worry about getting the answers right!
Chag Sameach v'Kasher!
Have a wonderful and joyous Passover!