The hold of the holiday of Pesach on the people of Israel is one of the remarkable historical facts of our people. After all over thirty three hundred years have passed since the Exodus from Egypt. Throughout human history, great events have been forgotten, simply because of the passage of time and the remoteness of that event from current society. Even those historical dates that are yet remembered – July 4, Bastille Day, most other national holidays – have been transformed by time and society into less of a commemoration and remembrance than of being merely a day of leisure and no work. All of this certainly points out the uniqueness of Pesach and its continued influence and meaning in Jewish life and amongst all types of Jews.
Without delving into the supernatural qualities of God’s commandment to us to observe Pesach, I think it is clear to all that it is the ritual aspects of Pesach that has preserved the importance and intensity of the holiday so well. It is the matzo and the maror, the seder and the hagadah, the change of diet and habit, that have so emblazoned Pesach on the Jewish psyche. We can all recall events and make stirring speeches about their importance. But the next generation will remain apathetic about those very events that so inspired and influenced their parents. It is no secret that in much of the Jewish world, the Holocaust, the creation and existence of the State of Israel, and the cause of oppressed Jews in the less than free world, have all lost much of their resonance and hold on Jews. The reason for this is that there is no ritual, no halachic framework, if you will, attached to these events. And thus they are at risk of drifting away in the sands of past events and no longer remaining vital and important in the lives and attitudes of coming Jewish generations.
This should set us to think about the importance of ritual in our religious and daily life. The secular humanists of the nineteenth century and their followers in the Jewish world attempted to create an idealistic and permanent Jewish life based on the abolition of ritual and the centrality of humanistic values. After two centuries, it is clear that this attempt to ennoble mankind and/or Jews has failed. The basic conclusion that if one does not eat matzo on Pesach, one’s grandchildren will eventually forget Pesach altogether has been proven, sadly and beyond doubt. For its is only through the observance of ritual, through teaching behavior and not merely lofty sounding philosophical ideals, that the data bank of Jewish memory is transferred from one generation to the next. That is the most important lesson of Pesach to our generation that yearns for God and has somehow lost its way to find our Creator.
Chag Kasher v’Sameach.
Rabbi Berel Wein