Mah Nishtanah - Why This Pesach is Different

Written by
Rabbi Alex Felch
Published on
Apr 10, 2024

For many decades, every time we celebrated a Jewish holiday, we would to say, in what many thought was a funny way: “They tried to kill us, we beat them, let's eat!”. Since October 7, even when comes to Jewish celebrations, that phrase doesn’t sound amusing any more.

The events of October 7 remind us that some jokes have absolutely no place in Jewish life and that the idea that nothing can hurt us, and that we should rush into eating in a humorously celebratory way, should really be out of place in today's Jewish discourse, especially on Passover. When reading the Book of Exodus, we can’t minimize the fact that for the People of Israel, leaving Egypt wasn't an easy task. Our ancestors spent four hundred years there: years of slavery, abuse and abject cruelty at the hands of the Pharaoh. Leaving Egypt was an exercise in overcoming fear, pain, suffering, back-breaking forced labor and all kinds of abuse. Thousands upon thousands of Israelites of all ages lost their lives. It would take ten plagues afflicting Egypt to finally give the people the chance to depart their hellish experience.

We read in the Passover Haggadah that “each Jewish person should look at themselves as if they themselves came out of Egypt”. This is not just because of the idea of identification with the past or out of a general sense of memory. I would venture to say that what the Haggadah and the Seder can teach us all today - more than ever before - is that we ought to have gratitude for being here and being who we are. We can look at ourselves as if we were there in Egypt 3,200 years ago under the Pharaoh and we can clearly see that - since October 7, 2023 - we are all reliving a similar pain inflicted on our Jewish sisters and brothers. This spurs us to realize that we are a Jewish people that holds together, no matter our religious observance, no matter our identification with a given stream of Judaism and no matter where we live, whether in the Land of Israel or in any other part of the diaspora - including our community here in Nebraska. This year I would like to encourage each and every one of us to share in our collective identity and to put aside our different opinions and especially our arguments. Let us embrace the reality that we are one big family. In Israel, this most recent tragedy has brought everybody together, ultra-Orthodox and secular, Ashkenazi and Sefardi, people from all different walks of life, regardless of political affiliation and regardless of social status. They have become one, unified nation, giving their all to enjoy a life of Jewish freedom.

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this appears on our Passover plate. I'm referring to the beitza, the roasted egg. It has been explained that it represents our Jewish determination to stick together, no matter what. As it absorbs heat, the egg becomes harder and harder. That should remind us to remain determined and committed to our Jewish lives no matter what conflicts confront us. May this coming Pesach find us united, and strong in our determination and efforts to support each other, holding hands with one another and putting behind us our differences, focusing on all that unites us.

May we all keep in mind that, as we do during the Seder, we open the doors of our homes to include all, inspired by the presence of Elijah the prophet. He brings us a message of peace and hope, bidding us to remain together, pursuing Shalom and enjoying the beauty, the pride, the privilege and the unique joy which is the essence of being Jewish. May we all enjoy a meaningful Passover, with Shalom, freedom and unity.

Chag Sameach v’Kasher,

Rabbi Alex Felch