Passover Themes


RABBI SHARON BROUS (IKAR, Los Angeles): Passover is the centerpiece of the Jewish moral imagination and the Jewish collective memory, and so every aspect of Jewish liturgy, of the calendar, of the Jewish experience in the world is in some way rooted in the experience of the Yetziat Mitzrayim, of the Exodus from Egypt.

Our job as a community is to position ourselves spiritually, to prepare ourselves spiritually so that we’re ready when we go into our individual homes on Seder night, that we’re ready to receive the inspiration that will flow. The cleansing of our homes is part of the cleansing of the soul. This is part of the spiritual preparation.

post03-passoverthemesWe live in this very paradoxical relationship with slavery that’s enunciated through the pages of the Haggadah, the book that we use to guide us through the Seder experience, in which we both articulate that we are free and we’re celebrating our freedom but also we are still slaves and maybe next year we’ll be free. We recognize that our freedom is intimately linked to the freedom of those who are most vulnerable in our society today, and we can’t be fully free until they are also free.

Matzo is the most powerful food substance there is. We hold it up at the beginning of the Seder and say Halach Ma’anya, “this is the bread of affliction,” this is the bread of poverty and it’s also the bread of freedom. When we share our resources, when we live from a place of abundance instead of from a mindset of only scarcity, when instead we say “come in and share this meal with me, share this bread with me,” so then it becomes the bread of freedom.

I think actually the symbols on the Seder plate are some of the most powerful ways of communicating what the essence of the Passover experience really is about. So we have the egg, which is the symbol of the possibility of something completely new entering into the world. We have the karpas, the greens, which is something that seems like it’s completely dead finding new life, and we dip it in salt water so we remember the tears that we shed during the time of our suffering and we remind ourselves that something beautiful and something new emerged from the depths of that suffering. There is the charoset, the sweet—it’s this sweet-tasting apple cinnamon mixture which actually comes to remind us of the bricks and mortar when we were slaves in Egypt, which I think is so interesting. There’s something about this sort of sweetness of being stuck in a life that you know you don’t want to stay in, but it’s comfortable because you’ve been there for a long time. And then on the other side there’s chazeret, the lettuce, which is a kind of bitter lettuce which comes to remind us that even once we’re in freedom there’s a kind of bitterness that comes with everything that’s unknown. And the shank bone, the symbol of the Paschal lamb. The idea of this is that freedom came to the Israelite people after the night that they were willing to go out and actually put the blood on the doorposts of their home and say, “I’m ready to take part in my own liberation right now.”

All of the rituals around Passover are designed to shake us out of our complacency and basically awaken us to the memory of the experience from Egypt, so that it’s not only that we’re remembering a story that our parents and grandparents and great grandparents told, but we’re actually remembering it in our own human experience, that I remember walking from slavery to freedom because I was also there.

  • michael

    Rabbi Sharon Brous,
    This is beautifuly written and helps me understand the meaning to true Passover and your guidence from these words will help me teach my child as well. As tomorrow begins I look forward to entering spiritual change.

    Many blessing to you and yours,
    Michael Gaspar

  • Muslim

    A woman as a Rabbi?

    How can a woman be a Rabbi or a religious leader when none of the Prophets, peace be upon them, were women.

    God almighty, El Elohe Yisrael, did not choose women as leaders. How can women contravene the mercy of Allah upon them by taking putting themselves in the “firing line” of leadership, when El Elohe Yisrael commanded that they be insulated from the harshnesses of life?

    Rank foolishness on the part of women, rejecting El Elohe Yisrael’s mercy.

  • Ken Keenan

    Absolutely beautiful! How true it is that we are both free and enslaved. We can all look forward to the promise of freedom. Thanks!

  • Faith

    Muslim… this is today. Not yesterday. How can appreciation of life, not only life of Jews, but all life, be wrong? If you’re creator is not the creator of all than he lessor than the creator of all things.

  • LP

    Dear Muslim:

    We were all taught that we were made in God’s likeness…that includes women. When you speak of prophets, you fail to understand that it was men who wrote the books. During the time period of the prophets of whom you speak lived, and through to the present time, women have been repressed. If God sent a woman as a prophet, would she have been accepted and recognized by the patriarchal societies in which she lived. There are many “prophets” or holy women and men, and many living today. You need to open your mind to this possibility. You may see things very differently. Prior to the advent of the patriarchal society, society was matriarchal. It was women who were revered and men who were suppressed. It is our duty as children of God to seek the truth, for our merciful and loving God/Goddess expects us to respect all women and men and children, for we are all brothers and sisters of one loving God. Just as Aristotle shocked the sensibilities of the people of his time, professing that the earth was not the center of the universe..(and it turns out he was right) those who reject the patriarchal vision of this world are shocking sensibilities of SOME. Women are inspired by God, and women such as Mother Teresa inspire us and show us how to live every day. Perhaps some day she will be respected and recognized as a prohet…for is not that the prophets were holy people…who inspired by their examples?
    It does not matter what you call God/Goddess. Culture determines that…that is of humans. God is not of humans..the nature of God will only be known to us after death. Meanwhile, all humans choose a vision of God which fits in with their cultural upbringing. I believe in all paths to God/Goddess.

  • Ken Baily — clergyperson

    As a Christian, this was a wonderful contribution to my own Holy Week journey. Since Jesus was a Jew, I appreciate deeply the messages of freedom, “stuck-ness,” paradox, bitter and sweet that this very ritual and recollection offers. Thank you for the offering and many blessings this season.

    Oh, by the way, my Christian denomination (the UCC) is filled with wise and revered women as leaders, as it has been for centuries. Or longer: where would we be without Sarah, Hannah, Deborah, Mary and of course Hagar? Many of all of our prophets were and are women. Thank God.

  • Channah

    Dear Muslim-

    I agree with you about women Rabbis, and Cantors, as well. To me, a Rabbi should be a man. And, I do not live an Orthodox lifestyle. This is just something that I believe in.

    However, there were women prophets in the Bible. Judges 4:4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. Kings 22:14 So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess. Nehemiah 6:14 Remember, O my God, all the evil things that Tobiah and Sanballat have done. And remember Noadiah the prophet and all the prophets like her who have tried to intimidate me. Isaiah 8:3 And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz This was the wife of Isaiah.. Micah 6:4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. (as prophets).

    What Hagar said is now in the word of God. She told us one of the names that tell us who God is. He is the God who sees us, and Hagar is the person who spoke that truth, which means that she spoke the word of the Lord. A prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God to the people;


    Rabbi Brous,
    So impressive and well said.
    Our teachers were inspired by your insightful words.
    We will be sure to visit IKAR when we are in LA.
    Steve M.