Why We Tell the Story

| April 10, 2012

Ah, Passover. That time of year when we clean our kitchens, tape up our cupboards, and remove that delicious leavened bread from our dinner tables. We gather with friendsand family and ask each other four derivations of one simple question:

Why is this night different than all other nights?

This dance around the dinner table happens annually. Each year, Jews remind themselves that they- nay, we were once slaves in Egypt. Each year, we tell the story of the rabbis who debated the exodus from dusk until dawn. Each year, we learn how to respond to questions from the haggadah’s four sons. Whether the seder lasts for two hours or six, we cover the same material every time. Why do we do this to ourselves?

To answer this question, I think back to senior year of high school and a little musical we put on named “Once on This Island”. This show recounts the tale of Ti Moune, a peasant girl on an island sharply divided on racial and economic lines. She falls in love with a rich white boy named Daniel Beauxhomme and, through love, self-sacrifice, and a lot of singing and dancing leads to the bitterly divided society finding common ground. They break through the racial barriers on the island, retelling the story from generation to generation to remind them of what once was. Why they tell the story:

Life is why
We tell the story
Pain is why
We tell the story
Love is why
We tell the story
Grief is why
We tell the story
Hope is why
We tell the story
Faith is why
We tell the story
You are why…

As a Jew resigned to eating stale crackers for a week, that last line resonates with me. You are why we tell the story. Like OOTI (as it was affectionately nicknamed), we don’t sit around a table eating bitter herbs and drinking wine because we have to. Every year, we approach the table with new perspectives and new ideas that change how we view the stories retold one paragraph at a time in alternating languages.

For example, let us examine the traditional ten plagues. They are:

1. Blood

2. Frogs

3. Lice

4. Flies

5. Pestilence

6. Boils

7. Hail

8. Locusts

9. Darkness

10. Makat B’chorot - Killing of the firstborn sons

Children may look at the plagues and think, “whoa, that G-d is a crazy dude!” I looked at it from a different perspective this year. Why would an all-powerful and benevolent god spend so much time and energy torturing a group of people just so their leader would let a different people, my people, go free? How is that just in any sense of the term? It puts into perspective the saltwater in which we dip our vegetables. Traditionally, this represents the tears of the Israelites toiling in the hot Egyptian sun. One can instead interpret the saltwater as the tears of G-d, who killed one set of people in order to free another. Perhaps this is a commentary on just how great the price of freedom is on all sides and the hard choices one has to make in order to be free. We tell the tale every year to ground ourselves in the understanding that “we were once slaves in Egypt… now we are free,” but also to follow OOTI’s words:

So I hope that you will tell this tale tomorrow
It will help your heart remember and relive
It will help you feel the anger and the sorrow
And forgive

I’ll leave you today with a new tradition. At the seder’s end we conclude with three words:

L’shana ha-ba b’Yerushalayim!
Next year in Jerusalem!

For this year and those still to come, let’s modify it a little bit.

L’shana ha-ba b’Yerushalayim b’shalom!
Next year in Jerusalem in peace!

Chag sameach, everyone.

The matzah boxers make a comeback!

Tradition

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Category: featured, Food and Travel, Philosophy and Religion, Thurman Thoughts

About the Author ()

Adam Even Engel (CAS '12) is a founding member and current editor for BU Culture Shock. As the son of an Israeli mom and an American dad, he was raised in Framingham, Mass and transferred to Boston University after spending his freshman year at Binghamton University in upstate New York. He now studies chemistry and computer science. His future plans involve figuring out his future plans, perhaps getting lost on the way. Oh, and he is more than a little embarrassed by his picture, but he has been barred from changing it by consensus of BU Culture Shock writers and editors.

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