Jews may disagree on many issues from politics to matters of faith, but they are united concerning the profound meaning of the events 3,000...

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Jews may disagree on many issues from politics to matters of faith, but they are united concerning the profound meaning of the events 3,000 years ago when the Israelites’ were liberated from slavery in Egypt, says Orthodox Rabbi Nathan Laufer, an American-trained senior fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalem Center.

At sundown next Saturday, Jews worldwide will begin the observance of Passover, an eight-day, or for some, a seven-day festival that commemorates that biblical episode.

Key to the observance will be a re-experiencing of the liberation story with a ritual meal called the Seder, a rite compiled by rabbis in the third century of the Common Era (“A.D.” to Christians).

The seder is a stylized summary of the biblical Book of Exodus, which begins with enslavement imposed upon the people of Israel in Egypt and ends with their anticipated entry into the Promised Land and construction of a permanent temple.

Laufer explores the profound meaning of the long-ago events central to the annual Passover celebration in his book “Leading the Passover Journey: The Seder’s Meaning Revealed, the Haggadah’s Story Retold” ($24.99, Jewish Lights).

The story is told visually by means of the symbolic objects on the Seder plate, physically through ritual actions, and aurally by listening to the narrative readings, Laufer observes.


Jewish Lights:

Judaism 101 on Passover:

Orthodox Passover page:

He cites the intense effort to rid the household of all traces of chametz (leavened food). The simple reason is that the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry, with no time to bake ordinary bread (Exodus 12:39), making unleavened bread central in the ritual.

Laufer sees broader meaning. Matzah, made from only flour and water, “is poor man’s bread” that’s “baked and eaten hastily because of the relentless pace of their slave labor.” The matzah neatly expressed the “dry, flat monotony” of their existence.

Chametz, invented in Egypt, is “rich man’s bread” for people enjoying “the luxury of time to allow for the fermentation of the dough” and leisure to savor it while dining.

Egyptians could afford to eat rich man’s bread only by impoverishing and enslaving the Israelites, he writes. So in eating flat, unleavened bread throughout the week, Jews should recall their ancestors and reject “the lifestyle and values of their Egyptian taskmasters.”

To violate human dignity through enslavement is “tantamount to denying God and worshiping idolatry — not in a metaphoric sense but in reality: Greed and power are no less idols than golden statues,” he says.

To Laufer, the Book of Exodus approximates the historical experience of Jews throughout the Diaspora among the nations. They were at first welcomed for their skills and international connections. Then, ruling elites felt threatened by their successes and contained Jews through discrimination, ghetto confinement and, eventually, violence or expulsion.

The culmination of the process was the 20th-century Holocaust that, he writes, had its origin in biblical Egypt thousands of years ago.

Information from Religion News Service was included in this report.