Millions of us will be sitting down to a seder meal next week. We can’t waste such an opportunity!
In the UK, Pesach has actually overtaken Yom Kippur to become the single most observed Jewish tradition in the entire calendar (71% of all British Jews attend a seder meal, compared to only 63% who fast on Yom Kippur).
With so many of us all sitting, eating and reading the same texts together, it made me wonder: what’s one key message we hope everyone takes away?
Fortunately, right near the beginning of the Haggadah – before hungry guests start wondering when their egg and salt water will be served – there is a beautiful and intriguing passage:
“Let all who are hungry come in and eat, let all who are needy come and celebrate Pesach.”
Who is the text talking about here?
Over the centuries there has (unsurprisingly) been much disagreement on this topic. Are we only meant to be helping hungry Jews? Could it be a reference to the extra cost of keeping kosher during Pesach?
I’m not convinced.
Pesach is the story of the journey from slavery to freedom, from injustice to justice. There is hope built into the very fabric of the narrative and a universality to the declaration to help “all” who are hungry.
As Rabbi Yakov Emden, the 18th century German rabbinic leader, teaches us: it seems obvious this is speaking about non-Jews. “As it is written… we support the poor of the nations of the world along with the poor of Israel.”
Tzedek, the UK Jewish community’s response to extreme poverty, understands that there is a specific responsibility for each of us to reach out and support those who are hungry and in need.
As a volunteer in Ghana, I visited the education, micro finance, women and youth empowerment projects the Jewish community has funded through Tzedek – helping people lift themselves and their families out of crippling poverty. The experience transformed my perspective the role our traditions can have to inspire real, measurable change in the world today.
If 71% of British Jews come away from their seders – bellies filled with matzah and wine – being reminding of how lucky we are to have enough food to eat this Pesach and of our duty to help those without, the Haggadah would have done its job.
To enhance your seder this year and spark discussions around Jewish social justice work today, download Tzedek’s Haggadah Companion for free.
Ben Salamon is the Education Programmes Manager at Tzedek, a partner of the OLAM coalition.