Next year in Jerusalem

By: Alex Harris, University of Michigan 

This year I will be celebrating Passover in Jerusalem with my family. In total, 25 of us will sit, seat backs pressed against each other eating, drinking, and celebrating one of the best holidays in Judaism. When we sang “l’shana haba b’Yerushalayim,” or “next year in Jerusalem,” at last year’s Passover seder, it was a dream. In two days it will be a reality. Therefore, in order to truly appreciate the holiday and the amazing gift that I have been given, I decided to do some introspection to figure out how I connect to the holiday.

I began by looking at the mitzvot, or "commandments", required at the Passover seder. I discovered that there are seven core mitzvot to be performed at the seder. Two of these are from the Torah (telling the Exodus story and eating matzah) and five are Rabbinic. The Rabbinic mitzvot are: eating maror (bitter herbs), eating the afikomen (extra piece of matzah eaten for dessert to remind us of the Passover sacrifice), saying Hallel (songs of praise), drinking four cups of wine, demonstrating acts of freedom or comfort (reclining in a chair). All of these commandments are tied up in a central theme: remembering the Exodus story and emphasizing its meaning today.

Every action we take during the Seder has a purpose behind it aimed at reminding us about a specific part of the Exodus story. For example: we eat matzah to remind us that the Israelites fleeing Egypt ate unleavened bread, as they had no time to let their bread rise. Many families “act out” the Ten Plagues to remind us of the plagues that befell the Egyptians.

However, the Seder goes further than simple reminders. The Seder not only invites us, but demands, us to envision ourselves as the Israelites. In fact, the texts recited during the Seder go as far as state that we ourselves were slaves. During the retelling of the Exodus story we sing, “Avadim Hayinu... Ata, Ata Bnei Horin Bnei Horin,” or “We were slaves...Now, now we are free. We are free.”  This personalization of history is one of the marvels of Judaism. Instead of viewing history as events that affected our ancestors, it is viewed as a living, vibrant force that exists in our lives today. History belongs to us all.

And no place on Earth is history more alive than in Jerusalem. It is the center of Jewish life, a testament to the ancient Israelite kingdom and a statement about the eternal character of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is a symbol of freedom and liberation for the Jewish people. Jerusalem reminds us of the Exodus story simply by walking through its streets, by praying at the Kotel, and by breathing its mountain air.

The story of the liberation of Jerusalem, the creation of the State of Israel, and redemption of the Jewish people are the modern day parallel to the Exodus story. We were slaves in Egypt and we were slaves in Europe. We endured cruel punishments in Egypt and in Europe as well. We were murdered out of fear and hate, simply because we were different. But, with a strong arm, God liberated the Israelites from Egypt and brought them to the land of Israel just as he did after the Holocaust. We created the ancient Israelite kingdom thousands of years ago just as we built up the modern State of Israel.

Passover is a beautiful time. It is a heartfelt meal that is celebrated with friends and family across the world. We eat, drink, and laugh together. But most importantly, it is a time to remember. It is a time to remember our love and awe of God who liberates and protects the Jewish people time and time again. It is a time to place ourselves in the middle of history and be an active participant in the divine story.

הִנֵּ֨ה אֵ֧ל יְשׁוּעָתִ֛י אֶבְטַ֖ח וְלֹ֣א אֶפְחָ֑ד כִּֽי־עָזִּ֤י וְזִמְרָת֙ יָ֣הּ יְהוָ֔ה וַֽיְהִי־לִ֖י לִֽישׁוּעָֽה׃

Behold the God who gives me triumph! I am confident, unafraid; For Yah the LORD is my strength and might, And He has been my deliverance.” (Isaiah 12:2)


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