In fact, it was only days out of Egypt when our newly freed ancestors began to question the wisdom of being free. Perhaps it would have been better to stay in Egypt in a tightly defined place (the literal meaning of the word mitzrayim, or Egypt), rather than risk the openness of the world before them. At least in Egypt they had food, a clear knowledge of their place in the world, who was in control, and what was expected of them.Egypt to die, before the Jewish people were ready to wear the mantle of freedom, power, and success.
Is it so different now? How often is today's Jewish conversation dominated by our own fears about the Jewish people's ability to make it in the larger world? How often do Jewish leaders express the concern that while thousands of years of anti-Semitism could not destroy the Jewish people, freedom and acceptance might? How often do we hear the yearning for a time when we agreed upon sharing a "Jewish diet," keeping a "Jewish calendar" and doing what was "expected" of us?
To be sure, no people can be successful without observing dietary values, measuring time in cycles that reflect its most deeply held beliefs, and maintaining a sense of mission and the ability to nurture its members' capacity to fulfill that mission.
What those things look like, and how the needs will be met, will vary from community to community, generation to generation. And the successes of each community and generation may not be immediately apparent to the other. In fact, that may have been part of the problem we faced in the desert and what led to waiting 40 years before we could move forward in claiming our destiny.
In the desert there was no conversation between the generations. One generation simply had to vanish for the next to take its rightful place. Perhaps we can do better, creating a living midrash among the generations, where each can learn from the other, not to convince but to genuinely appreciate the lessons that will enhance their respective Jewish journeys.
We do not need to wait for one generation to die for each to make its fullest contribution. In fact, only when we fully honor both will we reap the full value of each.
Indeed, it took 40 years, enough time for virtually every member of the generation that left Egypt to die, before the Jewish people were ready to wear the mantle of freedom, power, and success.
Once again we will gather around the table with family and friends for the seder. There will be old faces and new ones, some more familiar and some less so, but almost certainly they will span a number of generations. And central to the seder stand the words of Exodus 13:8: ”You should tell your child on that day, ‘all this is because of what God did for me when I went free from Egypt.’ " At the heart of the seder lies the reminder that each of us has something to pass on to the next generation, and that passing it on is central to celebrating freedom and success.
This year, as you tell the story of how that first generation celebrated its blessings and achievements, ask the people at your table who think of themselves as the "older generation" to teach the Torah of their generation's experiences and insights, talk about what being Jewish means to them, and share a story of something that happened about which they want the next generation to know. That's how seders begin, but not how they end.
Before the meal ends, everyone at the table shares the afikomen, the piece of matzah broken off at the beginning of the seder. But before it is shared, it must be retrieved from the children who find or hide it. That act reminds us that it is always the older generation seeking something from the younger one that allows us all to move forward together.
This year, as you share the afikomen, invite all those at your table who consider themselves part of the "younger generation" to tell their elders about their own experiences of being Jewish, of what it means to them, and of the challenges and opportunities they see ahead. When each generation fully appreciates what it has to offer and what it has to learn, we can end the seder with the promise of redemption embodied in the words "next year in Jerusalem," next year in a city of wholeness, and next year in a city in which there is room for everyone at the table.