Passover commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. Something monumental happened as a result of their freedom: A new nation came into being. The Jewish People was born.

The arrival the sons of Yaakov in Egypt came about because of dysfunctionality in the family: Ten of his brothers sold Yosef, who became a slave. Little did the brothers know that Yosef’s personal journey would pave the way for their own trip to Egypt, where their own families would, in turn, be enslaved.

Oppression has a way of stripping away one’s individual identity; apparently this is equally true of national identity. And yet, against all odds, this family/tribe increased in numbers, even though they lacked any of the real markers of peoplehood. If the logic of history were the only factor in play, we would never have heard of this family again – one of any number of extended families that came down to Egypt for sustenance in a time of famine. Yet rather than being subsumed into Egypt, this tribe morphed into something else. And then, one magical and exalted night, the Children of Israel became a nation.

The vicissitudes of Jewish history, the highs and lows of our national story, have created different types of Passover experiences. At times, we celebrated our independence; other times, we could do no more than reminisce or yearn for our freedom. When Jews were able to observe Passover in our national homeland, the celebration was more like a spiritual-social-political “independence day,” replete with religious symbolism and imbued and defined by ritual.

For thousands of years and at all corners of the earth, Passover has also been celebrated in the diaspora, where it serves as a celebration of the past and an expression of hope for the future. Passover in the Warsaw ghetto was not the same as Passover in Jerusalem, the capitol of the Jewish nation-state.

Yet one element seems to unite these divergent Passover celebrations: Passover is always about family, tribe and nation – in that order. Family is the core of any nascent tribe; families are the building blocks of a nation, yet one of the risks of nationhood is the loss of the individual in macro, “big picture” considerations. The celebration of Passover combats this danger by building the religious experience from the ground up, as it were: Tribal identification, starting with the nuclear family and spreading to include the extended family, lies at the core of Passover observance.

Strangely enough, the very first stage of the Passover story, the point of origin of our bondage, is left unspoken on this night. The tale of the sons of Yaakov is one of familial dysfunction – and that is what the experience of Passover is designed to correct. The message, subtly conveyed through the structure of seder night, is simply this: Our nation is only as strong as its component parts, and the starting point is family. Only as a family are we able to internalize and integrate the concepts of slavery and liberation.

Accepting upon ourselves the moral responsibility created by our collective memory of oppression and otherness informs the most basic levels of our national personality. The responsibility we take upon ourselves makes us who we are: Not merely a collective that is based on shared experiences, no matter how formative, but a collective that shares a dream of salvation – for each and every one of us, one family at a time.

This shared vision of the past and the future (along with savory food) has made the Passover seder the longest-running educational program in the history of the world. The seder experience unites Jews vertically and horizontally, across the divisional generation gap and across tribal lines, creating the glorious mosaic that is one large family, one united tribe, one inspired nation.

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