Passover Feature (5): Diverse Observances Give New Twist to Ancient Story

Passover has been observed continuously for some 3,300 years.

One of the longest unbroken observances in the history of religion, Passover has an established ritual.

Yet, it is a very different night.

Every Passover has its own uniqueness stamped by its historical context. Although the master story is the same, each telling is unique to its generation, and its flavor is different for every family.

The Bible tells how Passover was first observed. The Haggadah text was created about 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

The first known printed Haggadah appeared in 1482 in Spain.

Some Haggadot have only 32 pages, while others are massive 440-page volumes.

Over the past 12 years, attorney Stephen Durschslag has amassed 3,500 Passover Haggadot. Durschlag’s collection stretches from floor to ceiling in the library of his Chicago townhouse.

This year he can add to it the No Cholesterol Haggadah, the Vegetarian Haggadah, the Women’s Haggadah, the Holocaust Haggadah, the Gay and Lesbian Haggadah and the Puppet Haggadah, among others.

In another development, the story of the Exodus can now be found in cyberspace.

Beginning at 4 a.m. on the day before Passover, Temple Emanu-El in New York will transmit a reading of the Haggadah to reach Jews at sundown in Australia. People with personal computers around the world with Internet sound links will be able to hear the reading and commentaries in their own homes.

This program, which is called “Cyber Seder,” will include 33 color illustrations that show scenes such as the baking of matzah, taken from Haggadot from the 15th to the 18th centuries.

Instructions for the Internet seder can be found on Emanu-El’s home page: http: //www.emanuelnyc.org.

Another recent insight into the Passover story is a recent research article by Dr. John Marr, an expert in tropical diseases, and Curtis Mallory, titled, “Epidemic Analysis of the 10 Plagues in Egypt.”

Their article, which appeared in a journal of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, postulated that a combination of algae, bacteria, insects, viruses and molds could have caused the plagues.

My preference is the metaphor and midrashic interpretation of the 10 plagues.

Blood: the blood of innocent men, women and children shed by criminals. Frogs: the expressions of anti-Semitism that leap up everywhere. Vermin: the rodents that prowl our slums.

Beasts: the fear that we will lose our endangered species. Pestilence: AIDS, substance abuse and the many diseases we have not yet learned to control. Boils: the oil spills that leave us boiling in rage. Hail: the pollution in the atmosphere that continues to rain down on us. Locusts: the repression of freedom that continues to bug us. Darkness: the lack of the guiding light of idealism that darkens our vision.

Slaying of the First Born: the possibility of nuclear holocaust that threatens us.

One of the highlights of the seder is Elijah’s Cup because the prophet is the herald of the Messianic era.

Rabbi Naftali of Ropschitz used to pass an empty goblet and ask each person to pour some wine into it. His ritual was to demonstrate that each of us must share in creating a better world. It is a community effort.

A Jewish speaker was once concluding a talk on Passover at the Harvard Club. He was approached by an elderly black gentleman who said, “Seeds.”

The encounter was rather mysterious, like the man in the movie “The Graduate” who counseled Dustin Hoffman with the word “plastics.”

“Seeds,” he said. “That’s the word for the ’90s. We’ve had enough of roots. Roots don’t take you anywhere. Roots keep you where you are. Seeds take you into the future. Think about it.”

Passover is a time to think of the past, but it also is a moment to pass over to the future.

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