Passover, the Incomplete Festival

Most Jews don't understand that the Exodus we celebrate at Passover is only a prelude to the main event at Mt. Sinai.

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True, one of the most beloved songs of the seder's liturgical script is called "Dayenu." In Hebrew, that word means literally, "It would have been enough for us." (Hebrew is a compact language, often requiring only one word to say something that in English would take a whole sentence.) "Dayenu" includes the puzzling line, "Had He [God] brought us before Mt. Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us."

What? Didn't I just say that freeing us from Egypt would have been pointless had God not then given us the Commandments?

The solution lies in seeing that Hebrew is not only compact but precise. Dayenu-"It would have been enough for us," for us specifically, the "us" who were victims of Egyptian enslavement, escaped being chattel, who would have been happy simply to be out from under the burden of pharaoh's subjugation.

But would it have been enough for God, or for humanity, if the Lord had merely brought us up from Egypt and left us, free, at the foot of Mt. Sinai without giving us the Torah? Human history was meant to be the history of our priesthood in service of mankind. The foundation, the constitution, of our priesthood is Torah. For mankind, a Jewish people freed from slavery but unacquainted with Torah would not have been enough.


That is why Passover is so insistently linked with Shavuot. This, incidentally, helps makes sense of the overall structure of the Jewish religious calendar, which revolves around two clusters of holidays separated by six months, each cluster associated with one of Torah's distinct "new years." One Jewish "new year" comes in the spring with Passover followed by Shavuot. Another "new year," in the autumn, commences the other festival-cluster: Rosh Hashanah followed immediately by Yom Kippur followed immediately by Sukkot.

To put the matter simply: The first cluster (Passover-Shavuot) is about origins-the origins of Torah, hence the birth of the Jewish people whose identity is defined by Torah. The second cluster (Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur-Sukkot) is about continuity: "Now that we're Jews, what are we supposed to do?"

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