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How do our mouths celebrate a holiday?

Posted on 03/29/2013 @ 08:09 PM

Tags: seder

Dear Midwesterners,

For the first time in over a decade, my parents and I had seders together this year.  Whether it was because I lived far away, or making plans was too cumbersome, Pesach had never been a family-oriented holiday for me they way it is for so many others.  After we said goodbye to our first night’s hosts around midnight, my mother turned to me, saying “I never knew you were supposed to discuss what is written in the haggadah! That was the best seder I ever had!” With just a little conversation, my mother’s Jewish life had been profoundly renewed. 

There is an ancient mystical teaching about Passover, which says that the Hebrew word for the holiday, Pesach, may be divided into two separate words, rendering it as peh sakh, meaning, ‘the mouth speaks’.  What is the connection between this holiday and speech?

The Torah says: and you shall tell your child on that day 'It is because of this did Adonai take me out of Egypt...'.  The word haggadah itself, means telling.  Children may not be present, no one else may be present, but one is expected to tell the story of Passover, even if just to themselves.  Clearly, the act of speech becomes central to the evening:  questions are asked and answered, songs of Hallel (praise and thanks) are sung--even the haggadah itself claims: whoever elaborates upon the telling of the exodus from Egypt is deemed praiseworthy.  Speaking to each other at our seders and hearing the voices collected in the haggadah are acts of the freedom we have achieved for ourselves and desires for others who are still enslaved. 

Most significant, our seder gives us the opportunity to sing with one another.  We are directed through a very ordered service, but we do not end with more reading or debate. The last two segments of the seder, the words of Hallel and the songs of Nirtzah,indicate that it is songful praise which is the high point of the seder, and perhaps the real reason we came together in the first place.  Singing can achieve what the spoken word may not—pure joy

The haggadah is a tool to help us undertake a powerful practice: our speech—the embodied act which takes up most of our wakeful hours—is transformed.   The seder allows us all to become teachers, storytellers, and singers, the most influential members of Jewish society.  We use these nights to practice that which might be outside of our wheelhouse--that we all might leave, like my mother, emboldened to talk about Jewish texts and customs, as well as our Jewish lives, confidently and authentically.

This Shabbat Hol HaMoed (intermediary days of Passover) message was written by Rabbi Zac Johnson, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Western Hub.

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