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Sunday, March 1, 2015

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Expanding the discourse

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As Pesach approaches, it’s easy to get caught up with all the preparations, the invitations and the menu. It’s easy to forget that this holiday is a celebration of so many things that year after year we could choose our focus. One year we may decide to centre our seder conversations around freedom, another year it might be redemption, and yet another year it might be human suffering. The goal of the seder, and the holiday in its entirety, is to experience the challenges of ancient Israel and realize that these remain challenges to the human condition even in our modern world.

Pesach is filled with politics, from the personal to the national. On the personal political level, we all experience the question of who will be going to which seder. Who will be hosting and how much time will we spend on the ritual before getting to the food. There are family members who enjoy the philosophical/religious discussions, and there are family members who roll their eyes and count the pages of the Haggadah. We are all seated around the same table.

The national politics usually address questions of whether the message of Pesach is particular to the Jewish People or a global message. Should we put an orange on the seder plate to remember gay, lesbian and other fringe groups who do not yet feel welcomed? Should we introduce the idea of Miriam’s Cup, or should we remain strictly traditional? All of these questions are wonderful fodder for seder discussions, something the sages promoted.

Pesach is a time for broadening our view of Jewish possibilities. It’s an opportunity to expand our discourse and hear ideas we would otherwise not get the chance to explore. Whether or not one is ready to embrace a new practice is irrelevant. The important aspect of Pesach is to seize the moment for discussion – to let our minds truly experience the freedom of a free-thinking person and explore new thoughts.

Even if nothing changes around our seder tables, we can choose innovation in our approaches. The great Torah commentator Maharal stated that the four cups of wine at the seder table are representative of the four matriarchs. He has introduced the idea that we are framing our seder with the strength of our ancestral women. We could follow this theme and decide to discuss the strong women of our particular families. We can honour the memories of those who have passed away as well as recognize and celebrate the women present in our lives. We could discuss each woman as we prepare to drink each of the four cups of wine.

We would truly be enacting the goal of the sages, since the midrash stated that Israel was redeemed from Egypt due to the merit of our righteous women – the women of the ancient world, in our four cups and the women of today, in our enriched conversations around the seder table. It’s a tremendous way to experience the celebration of this great holiday.

Rachael Turkienicz is director of

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