The eight days of Pesach are bookended by two sets of yom tovim. The first two days mark the exodus from Egypt and the last two the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea.
Put very simply, after finally letting the Children of Israel go, Pharaoh has a change of heart and rallies his troops in hot pursuit of our ancestors who end up penned in against the sea.
As is well known, the sea splits, the Jews walk through, each tribe through their own individual pathway and our tormentors are drowned. This narrative sealed our fate as free people and enabled us to march on to our destiny.
This story is so critical to our identity that the resultant song, the Shirat Hayam, makes up part of the daily Shacharit service. The commentators explain that when we recite this song we are meant to envision ourselves being part of this remarkable story and come to a deeper appreciation of life and our own identity. This appreciation of the value of life and God’s intimate involvement in it is the perfect introduction to our communicating with the Almighty in prayer.
Perhaps here lies another lesson: that Jewish continuity cannot be achieved by passing on facts alone. Stories lend themselves to imagination and participation. Pesach is about the telling of stories; not “history”, but rather our story.
Judaism can be experienced vividly, with different paths of engagement from which to choose. If taught in the right way, our children can feel that they have a page to write in our epic story. Chag sameach!
- Naftali Schiff is the founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures