What She Said…. Rabbi Roxanne’s Thoughts About This Year’s Passover

Many of you asked to see Rabbi Roxanne’s sermon from last Friday night’s Shabbat Service (Pesach Shabbat), so please enjoy:

Memories: Drash for Pesach Shabbat 5780 by Rabbi Roxanne J.S. Shapiro

In Exodus 13:3, we read “Remember this day on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, and how the Eternal freed you from it with a mighty hand.”  And, so, Passover, like so many of our other holidays, is a holiday of remembrance – but it isn’t just remembrance.  Rabban Gamliel in Mishnah Pesachim  (and noted in our Haggadah) takes this task further – “in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself  [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt”.

This is hard … isn’t it?   We can retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we can recount the struggles of slavery, the pain of the plagues, and the hurried escape to the unknown, but do we truly see ourselves as if we personally came forth from Egypt?In most years, I would presume that the number of us who successfully do this are few.  Of course, there are those who have had struggles and challenges that can connect to those experiences and emotions. But this year, it may have been possible for so many more to tap into this experience of putting ourselves in our ancestor’s shoes.

Just in preparing for Passover, we may have felt sorrow when we knew we couldn’t be physically next to those whom we usually shared the seder.  We may have felt bitterness when we realized we couldn’t prepare our special foods in the way we usually do or with the same access to ingredients.  We may have felt anxiety when the fear of “how do I do this alone” or “what if the technology doesn’t work” invaded our thoughts.  Perhaps, do we now understand the fear and anxiety felt by the Israelites as they knew they were trapped – plagues falling upon them… not knowing what was next?

For us – Wednesday night — the time came … and it was … different.  But different didn’t turn out to be necessarily bad, did it? Sure, the number at your table may have been smaller, but some of you may have been able to enjoy a more peaceful, less hectic experience -especially in regard to clean up.  The food may have not been “just right” – some of you used kids’ toy eggs or made paper shank bones.  A few of you even made your own matzah.  You may have added your own symbolic items to the seder plate like orange, banana, mask, and mouse. Some of you connected with friends and family with Zoom or other platforms with whom you normally would not have had seder – you were connected to all parts of the country and countries.  Some of you had virtual backdrops – including being right there in IHC’s sanctuary.  Others were serenaded with music from the piano.  You heard silly and funny questions asked by children.  You could abbreviate the parts that usually go on for too long – and you finally understood how important it is to wash not once but twice.

You may have watched videos from the IHC clergy and had some laughs.   You may have timed it right for the hail to come through just as the plagues were being recalled – or worse, yet, the darkness of no electricity.  And some of you ran to your basements or safe spots as you heard the sirens go off.

This was a different night – for sure. But different is what makes memories stand out – it is what makes them last.Like the Israelites, we are not done with our journey.  While we are not enslaved, as our ancestors were, we are not yet free, as we were.  We are still in that “narrow place” – which is the Hebrew word “Mitzrayim” for Egypt.  We still don’t know what the future holds. But this, is the history – the memories of our people.  Too many times throughout our history – not just in our Passover story – but too many times, we have found ourselves in a setting we do not recognize and we do not fully understand.   Yet, somehow, our ancestors have managed to make it through.


Perhaps, we, as a people, get through because we do have collective memory – because every time a challenge greets us – we remember that we have been commanded to remember that we were strangers in a strange land and that God led us out of that darkness and eventually (albeit with a long journey through the wilderness) to the Promised Land.  Because each year, as we are told we should experience the story of the Exodus as if we were personally present – maybe, in just a small way, that experience – that memory – has prepared us for the challenge and journey we, now, face – like a special feature in our Jewish tool box of survival. And memory does something else – it can make us smile, it can make us cry, it can make us laugh, it can lead us to action in our call as Jews to make the world a better place.

May your memories this shabbat, this Passover, and this time of distancing – bring us smiles, tears, laughter, and lead us to take the lessons we’ve learned about what it means to truly be together and truly take care of one another through this journey of life.

Shabbat Shalom!