Passover Thoughts: On the Road

By Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Religious Affairs Committee

"Prayer is useless unless it is subversive, unless it shatters pyramids and loosens the calluses on the heart." -- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The holiday of Passover (Pesach) is a celebration of hope. The Hagaddah tells the unlikely story of a people, enslaved for generations, who escape from oppression at the hands of a tyrant and who find freedom and peoplehood in the wilderness. The first command given collectively to the Jewish people -- "This month shall be for you the beginning of months" (Exodus 12:1) -- reaffirms for us that there is always another chance to start afresh. And celebrating this liberation just as spring is begins offers a visual symbol of the ever-present possibility of renewal.

If we were to read the story of the exodus for the first time, without knowing the ending, we might think it impossible that the Jewish people would ever escape slavery. After all - Pharaoh, under whose control they live, has a hardened heart, and the Jews themselves lose, over the course of 400 years of enslavement, any hope of liberation. As the Hasidic saying goes, "The true exile of the people of Israel in Egypt was that they learned to accept it." And yet - despite these odds, the Jewish people do leave slavery and begin the journey toward liberation.

In the past four years of almost daily violence in Israel and the occupied territories, we, too, may have suffered from a similar sense of despair and helplessness. At times, it has been difficult to believe that anything short of a miracle could resolve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And yet, even during the darkest days, many of us - on all sides of the conflict - have sustained the hope that peace is possible, and in so doing, resisted true exile.

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which can be literally translated as "narrow places." On the night of the seder, as we recount the story of the exodus, we also attempt to leave behind our own narrowness and to make ourselves more open to a new world of possibility. This year our escape from the constriction of the vicious cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence is not only symbolic. We have, over the past six months, witnessed the emergence of a Palestinian leadership committed to non-violence, the Israeli commitment to withdraw from Gaza, and the ceasefire. All of these developments signal an unprecedented opening for peace. This opportunity has come about only because, despite all odds, enough people refused to abandon hope.

Pesach teaches us that freedom and redemption do not come about quickly or easily, but that both are always possible, even during the bleakest of times. This Pesach, this lesson takes on special meaning as we look forward to a year in which our hopes for peace begin to be realized. At the same time, we recognize that the road to peace will be a long one, and we recommit ourselves to working toward this vision.

Suggestions for Pesach:

1. Incorporate passages from these resources into your seder traditions: 

Who Sits with Us at our Seder? - A Hagaddah Supplement, by Rabbis for Human Rights.

The Passover of Peace: A Seder for the Children of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah, by Arthur Waskow.

Pesach 5765 (2005), APN Haggadah Insert.

"A Prayer for Peace and..," by Rabbi Shelia Petz Weinberg. For suggested use at the close of the seder. 

"The Prayer for Peace," by Rabbi Levi-Weiman Kelman, past chair of Rabbis for Human Rights-Israel. For suggested use at the close of the seder.

2. Start a dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at your seder table. Below are ideas for questions:

  • Do you think that we, as American Jews, can be anything more than spectators to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, watching a tragedy unfold more deeply each day? 

  • What do you think we can we do to best support Israelis in this time of crisis? 

  • What exactly do you think is the threat Jews/Israelis are now facing and how do you believe we can most effectively address that threat?

  • What can we do to bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict now?

  • Do you think we'll ever be able to tell our children that Jews are no longer at war with our Arab neighbors?

  • Is there any way to resolve this conflict without one side winning and the other losing?

  • Do you really think that all Muslims and Arabs hate Jews and want to kill us?

  • Do you have any Muslim or Arab friends or acquaintances and if not, have you ever considered trying to build a friendship with someone of Muslim or Arab heritage? 
3. Make a donation to Rabbis for Human Rights Kimkha D'Peskah fund that helps indigent families in the Israeli cities of Ashkelon, Arad and Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. For instructions on how to donate to this important cause online or via post, please go to Please earmark your gift for "Kimkah D'Peskah."

4. For those who are interested in a text-based discussion: The Prophet Elijah is believed to herald the Messiah's arrival. It is customary during the seder to set aside a cup of wine for him and even to open a door in anticipation of his arrival. One of the central issues in rabbinical debate is about when Elijah and thus the messiah will arrive: Will it take place when people have committed themselves fully to the repair of the world or will the Messiah arrive as a function of divine intervention?

Read the First Book of Kings, Chapter 21 as a basis for discussing: What was the role of Elijah in the Bible? Is this where we get the idea of speaking truth to power? Are there situations in your life when you feel as though you are acting in Elijah's spirit? Why might he, in particular, have been chosen as the harbinger of the Messiah? How does Elijah's sprit relate to our own work on behalf of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
If you have other ideas, please contact the Brit Tzedek Religious Affairs Committee at

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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