How is this night MEANINGFULLY different?
I’ve had some interesting moments over the last few days that connect to Pesach in a very roundabout way. Some of my former university students have contacted me with questions about Judaism and their lives as they’re entering different stages. One student is planning her wedding and she wanted to learn the laws of family purity and Mikvah and sexuality. It was great to see her again and a pleasure to study with her once more. I am also preparing some lectures for university campuses that have to do with Passover and the book of Exodus and the men and women of the text and history.
In both instances I am struck with these young people and their thirst for meaning – not knowledge – MEANING. In some instances these young adults have been very technically educated in their Judaism. They know Jewish law in great detail and what to do should unlikely circumstances require a quick ‘Jewish’ decision. They have shared with me that they are afraid to ask the ‘meaning’ question. Not how we do things but why we do them. As parents, we taught them to be critical thinkers and to push for useful knowledge. Yet when it comes to their Judaism, they have become minutiae experts ready to walk away because their souls crave more.
Ironically, those young people who do not have the technical Jewish knowledge are in the same bind. They are asking questions about Judaism and given academic answers that address history and methodology teaching them skills of inquiry but the spiritual aspect has no place in the academic world. When they ask the same questions in the community, they are often geared toward behaviour modification rather than meaningfulness. Like the 1st group, they’re ready to walk away. They may take a different door out but both groups are heading for an exit.
At this year’s Seders, I challenge families to be courageous and ask tough questions. Push to the next level of meaning. “Why do we eat bitter herbs? To remind us of our suffering in Egypt.” Now go one more step and ask: ‘Why do we need to remember suffering? Why does it matter what happened so long ago? Why were we suffering to begin with? Why Egypt, of all countries? Why do we care?’
The goal is not to answer the questions but to openly admit they must be asked. It’s shocking to hear people’s views on the questions of meaning – it’s usually a moment of sincere honesty.
Our children are craving food for their soul – meaningful exchange with us. What better time to start than Pesach?