More so than on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I feel that Passover is a true time of reckoning when it comes to our Jewish faith. We reaffirm our Judaism, reveling in the miracle of our continued survival and finding stability in the Seder table traditions that bring families and generations together. These things are invaluable, and they contributed to my own Jewish journey immensely. The exodus from Egypt, the centerpiece of the Seder table, is the most pivotal and defining moment for the Jewish people… but I just don’t see myself as having been a part of it. I don’t feel as though I was a slave in Egypt, and the Seder’s many metaphors don’t help me feel connected to my enslaved ancestors, either. Do I believe there was an Exodus? Absolutely. I believe there was a migration — perhaps a smaller-scale and more gradual one, but a migration nonetheless — that caused a landmark shift in Jewish settlement and peoplehood. But I don’t believe that it happened the way the Haggadah assures me it did. Passover, it seems to me, is one of the most concretely faith-based holidays on the Jewish calendar. While there is always a fair amount of questioning at the Seder, as well there should be, there isn’t much room at the table for questions of basic faith. Where is the fifth child who asks: “Did the Exodus even happen in the first place?”
I read a piece by Rabbi David Wolpe a few years ago in which he addressed the historical accuracy/inaccuracy of the Exodus. At the end of the article, he concluded that it didn’t matter whether the events of the Exodus actually happened. Wolpe’s central point was that Passover is a holiday celebrating redemption and survival — it didn’t matter how we survived, but rather that we survived. I took comfort in his message, but not enough to feel like I had made peace with the complexities of the Passover ritual. Even if I sat down to the Seder with Wolpe’s article in my hand, I would still be confronted with statements and assumptions of faith that would prove problematic for me.
For instance, the Haggadah tells us that God lifted us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and even this statement weighs on my faith. It’s difficult for me to reconcile my personal conception of God with Passover’s conception of God. I don’t believe in a God that can split seas, punish with plagues, or communicate through a burning bush. I don’t want to pray to a God that works within the physical realm in such ostentatious ways. My God is all-powerful yet unassuming, miraculous yet understated. My God doesn’t directly communicate in a language that I can comprehend, but God’s presence is woven throughout my life in ways that I can identify. Part of my difficulty with Seder table language is that it rests upon a foundation of God-talk that I have trouble with. The Seder defines God for me, but I don’t like its definition.
Struggling to understand God and faith are spiritual exercises that the Jewish tradition encourages. We are a nation that thrives on doubting, debating, challenging, and commentating. The beauty in our laws and liturgy is in the constant interpretation (and reinterpretation) that keeps these age-old texts alive. Here are my Four Questions: Is there space to shake up the Seder? Can we open the door for questions of basic faith? During this time of year when we reaffirm and rejoice the most in our peoplehood, can we draw strength from exploring our Jewish insecurities? And finally: can we eat yet?