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Passover 5761-2001

“The Final days of Pesach – Days of Unity”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

That the Jews happened to find themselves in Egypt and were enslaved by the Egyptians was not at all coincidence. Rather, it was the fulfillment of a long-term prediction of the Brit Bein Hab’tarim, the Covenant Between the Pieces, found in Exodus 15:7-16. G-d tells Avram, “Yado’ah tay’dah kee ger yee’yeh zar’ah’chah b’eretz loh la’hem,” You shall surely know that your children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, “va’a’vadoom,” and they will be enslaved, “v’eenu otam,” and they will be persecuted, “arba may’ot shah’nah,” four hundred years… “v’ah’cha’ray khayn yaytz’uh bir’chush gah’dol,” and eventually they will go out with great wealth.

This national experience of exile, enslavement and persecution had to take place in the formative stages of the Jewish people. It was meant to be so profound an experience that even before the children of Israel wound up going down to Egypt, the patriarchs and matriarchs Avraham and Sara, and Yitzchak and Rivkah were to have similar experiences in their lives, as well.

First (Genesis 12:10), Avram and Sarai leave Canaan because of a famine and go down to Egypt. Avram tells Sarai, that she should say she is his sister not his wife, because otherwise the Egyptians will kill him and let her live. A similar experience (Genesis 20:1) happens again to Avraham and Sarah with Avimelech the King of Grar. Yitzchak,, also confronts famine (Genesis 26:1), goes down to Grar because he is not permitted to leave the land of Israel, and has an experience similar to his father’s.

The parallels of these patriarchal experiences are striking:
Because of famine, the Jews leave the land and are exiled, and persecuted. The people of the land seek to kill the men, but will allow the women to live, and, eventually they go out with great wealth. All of this comes to underscore the central role that the Egyptian enslavement experience will play in the formation of the Jewish nation.

The Children of Israel go down to Egypt as 70 souls–12 disparate tribes. As a result of the common suffering, they emerge as one united nation. The common suffering binds them together as a single unit. Had they gone directly into the Promised Land and settled the areas of their patrimony, they would not have been united and would probably never have become Am Yisroel, the Nation of Israel. They would have remained B’nai Yisrael, 12 separate, disparate tribes of Israel.

Although we are today a single nation of Israel, many are our differences. There are Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Zionists and non-Zionists, Chareidim, Chassidim, Litvaks, Galitzianas, Yemenite, Bukharians, Ethiopians…Jews of all colors and stripes. There are Jews who eat kitniyot, legumes (beans and peas) on Passover, and those who don’t. There are Jews who eat matzah products soaked in water, like kneidlach, matzah balls, Passover cakes, and some who don’t. There are Jews who do not eat anything kosher –- ever! Sometimes it is extremely difficult to identify us as a common people. At times it seems as if we are moving backwards, becoming twelve separate tribes again, rather than one united people.

For Jews who live in Diaspora, the last day of Passover is meant to be a day of unity, hitchabrut, of coming together. Although throughout Passover, it is customary to be extremely zealous about keeping all the laws and stringencies of Passover, on the final day of Pesach in the Diaspora there are those who are a bit lenient, just a tiny bit. Not in matters of law, but in matters of stringencies, stringencies which go beyond the letter of the Passover law.

And so there are some who, during the first seven days of Pesach, take upon themselves not to eat Gebrachts, matzah meal products made with water, but on the last day of Pesach they are lenient. And even though there are those who are stringent on Passover and never eat in anyone else’s house, or mix their utensils with anyone else’s utensils, on the last day of Pesach they join their friends and borrow foods and cooking utensils from each other. This is not because the last day of Pesach is more lenient. To the contrary, it is to underscore how matzah unites us. After all it was the Passover experience which brought us together in the first place and made us a united nation.

The irony of it all should not be lost upon us. On Passover, the most stringent of all holidays, we are called upon to let our guard down, chill out, ease off.

Obviously this comes to highlight that the bottom line of all this ritual, of all this preciseness and exactingness, is that we are one nation, one people. We must never loose sight of what Passover was meant to achieve — the unity of twelve disparate tribes.

So let’s eat together. Let’s drink together. Let’s become a single family once again. Let us rejoice in unity on Passover, because after all Passover is the month of redemption, and only through unity will we be fortunate enough to achieve ultimate redemption.

Have a wonderful Pesach.

May You Be Blessed.