The Fifth Question of Passover
Posted Thu, Apr 15, 2010

re commanded to observe, to remember the exodus from Egypt that symbolized their move from slavery to freedom and their becoming a nation. The exodus was and still is a founding event in the history of the Jewish people, and the story of the Hagaddah is taught year after year in a tradition passing from father to son and from mother to daughter. The significance of the Freedom Holiday is different within the different streams. Among the Orthodox Jews, the holiday symbolizes the move from slavery under a foreign regime to serving the world’s creator, which is the essence of the Jewish people during this lifetime before they enter eternity in the after world. Other movements in Judaism put an emphasis on the modern significance of the word “freedom”, be it from a national perspective with regards to the existence of the Jewish state or from a universal perspective with regards to human rights.
Four questions are traditionally asked on Passover, about eating Matzah, bitter herbs and roasted meat, as well as about the eating practices (“dipping” and “reclining”). One question has remained unsolved: Why was the plague of the firstborn, when “all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sits upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of cattle” chosen? What was the point behind killing all the firstborns without exception, and why were the Israelites commanded to celebrate the deaths of newborns and young children who had not even sinned?
The Hagaddah ends with the words “Next Year in Jerusalem”. Jews in the Diaspora repeat this pledge to return to the land of Israel every single year, and promise to say it again next year. The technological reality of the modern world has turned the whole world into a single small village which allows one to feel the Israeli atmosphere even in the Diaspora. One can skip from east to west at the speed of surfing the net. For some, the mitzvah messengers are already in Israel and the money from donations assist in the polishing of the soul and the conscience.
In a few days, we will all be reclining around the table, wearing our best clothes, together with children, family members and friends. Two chairs will remain empty. One for Elijah the prophet for those who keep the tradition, and one more chair for Gilad Shalit who is still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. The decision on how to act in terms of the prisoner exchange deal with Hamas is in the hands of the government of Israel who sees the entire picture. Regardless of its decision, it is important to remind the young generation about Gilad Shalit and end with the prayer: “Next Year in Mitzpe Hila”.

Jonathan Dahoh-Halevi
Fellow and senior researcher at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs , head of research of the Orient Research Group Ltd., investigative journalist and an activist in the Jewish and Israeli communities.

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