The Eternal Loveliness of Passover

Men always think of Jews in terms patriarchal. Artists, when they attempt to portray the symbolic Jew in stone or on canvas, always depict him as a very old man, long-bearded and bent with the load of years. Whenever men think of the Jewish religion, they always think of it in terms of hard, stern duty, of law, of “Thou shalt,” and “Thou shalt not,” in terms of solemnity and venerability.

Seldom do men think of the Jewish people in terms of youth and hope and boundless aspiration. They assume that the Jew, having wandered all over the rough places of the world, must be weary and drained of all hope and of all illusion, and that all his thoughts must be bitter thoughts.

And yet a moment’s reflection would convince one that our people could not have lived to this day unless it had known the secret of renewing youth. Other peoples grew old and died. Israel somehow knew how “to renew its days as of old,” how to replenish its youth. Israel was old when Greece and Rome were young. Israel is young when Greece and Rome are dead….

Who, for example, standing beside the cities of Pithom and Rameses, thirty-five centuries ago, watching the Hebrew slaves building under the drive of the lash those citadels for the Pharaohs, could have imagined that the descendants of these slaves, thousands of years later, long after there remained nothing of the resplendent civilization of Egypt but pale memories and ruins and crumbling mummies in hewn sarcophagi, would be building highways from human thought in all parts of the world? Who could have imagined that their descendants, after long dark centuries of wandering and suffering, would set about with fresh, amazing vigor and with unbounded enthusiasm rebuilding their thrice-destroyed national life in their promised land?

A strange vitality possesses this people. Those who are aware of it are not at a loss to understand that constantly recurrent note of hope and spiritual buoyancy which we find in the literature, lore, customs and ceremonies of Israel and in the deep layers of its changeless faith.

Thus the festival of Passover fairly rings with the joyousness of life. The major themes of this holiday are Spring, and freedom and life triumphant. Passover is a Spring festival. Through the dark stages of death and decay, the seed of life bursts forth again in the breathless glory of bud and flower, and man, feeling the warm rays of the sun upon him and the throb of new life within and about him, cries out for joy, “Awake and sing ye that dwell in the dust. For Thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades.”… A song leaps to the lips of man at this season of the year and that song is Passover.

The gladness which is Passover is reflected in that beautiful Song of Songs—that ecstatic lilt of life and love and beauty—which tradition has prescribed for reading in the synagogue on the festival of Passover.

Passover was one of the three festivals of pilgrimage in ancient Israel. On Pesach as well as on Shabuoth and Succoth, our farming ancestors made their way from their towns and villages and climbed the mountains leading to Jerusalem carrying with them offerings from the bountiful yield of their land. Their hearts were filled with a deep gratitude to God who vouchsafed His blessings to them. They sang those beautiful Songs of Ascent which we find in the book of Psalms. The soul contentment, the peace in life which we find in those pilgrim songs—that, too, is part of the loveliness of Passover.

And so is the charm of the personality of Moses. We Jews are not in the habit of building holidays around great national heroes. We do not idolize men. Men come and go. Ideas alone are eternal. We build our festivals around ideas rather than around personalities. And yet what is Passover without the majestic, towering figure of Moses? Here again men always think of Moses as of an old man. We think of him as Michael Angelo thought of him—the stern law-giver, venerable, long-bearded, cosmic. And yet the Bible knew of another Moses—Moses the babe whose cradle rocked on the River Nile, Moses the prince who lived in the royal court, Moses the young revolutionary who went forth from the gilded halls of the palace to his toiling brothers in the slave pens and in his wrath slew an Egyptian, Moses the shepherd, the dreamer who heard voices and saw visions… The charm and loveliness of that personality enswathes this festival of Passover as with an element.

And the loveliness of Jewish home life—that, too, is Passover. All the poetry of Jewish family life is symbolized in the Passover Seder. Music and song, family loyalty and traditional Jewish hospitality, merriment, and the joyous laughter of children— and that is Passover.

Thank God for Passover! As long as its appeal ### reach our hearts, quicken our pulse and bring a glow to our days, so long do we remain a people everlastingly young….

King John of England ordered a wealthy Jew of Bristol to have his teeth pulled out one by one for trying to evade payment of an enormous tax.

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