Chattanooga's rabbis describe the importance of Passover

AP Photo / Dan Goodman / The Passover Seder plate, as shown in this March 8, 2007, photo, is a special plate containing symbolic foods used by Jews during the Passover Seder. The items include (from top center) horseradish; a shank bone; a mixture of fruit, wine and nuts called haroset; lettuce; parsley; and an egg.

As Passover begins Friday evening, the Chattanooga Times Free Press asked four area rabbis to reflect on the meaning of the holiday and the importance of the eight days in the faith tradition.

Each rabbi offered a response to the question: What is the importance of Passover?

Rabbi Keilah Lebell, spiritual counselor and lifecycle officiant

Although the Passover Seder begins in the evening and continues late into the night, we do not put our children to bed or send them off to play. On the contrary, their presence and participation at the Seder are essential to the experience, and even serve to guide it with their questions and interjections. In turn, the effect this ritual meal has on them is profound. By re-enacting the exodus story and incorporating our own particular family stories of struggle, our children learn resilience. Imagining themselves as slaves who became free, they identify with the experience of suffering and the possibility of redemption. They think: "If my ancestors were enslaved and then became free, then I have a right to freedom, too. If Grandma escaped Poland with only the clothes on her back and lived to see her grandchildren, then I can make it through whatever life throws at me." Whether you are Jewish or not, the tradition of Passover invites all of us to tell our children their family stories, to teach them that they are part of a chain of history, and, by virtue of that heritage, they have the muscle memory to face their own present challenges.

Rabbi Craig Lewis, Mizpah Congregation

The great football coach John Madden believed running was key to winning. Furthermore, "to run the ball, you have to have a lead blocker." A lead blocker does not touch the ball but charges through defenders, making space for the ball carrier. As one former player has noted, "You don't go to the Hall of Fame for blocking." It brings no glory. Nevertheless, it is an important position, and as coach Madden taught, it is a key to victory. The ancient Israelites, not known for football prowess, did, according to Jewish tradition, have a lead blocker who opened a path to victory. A midrash [rabbinic legend] speaks of Nachshon ben Aminadav, who, standing between the Sea of Reeds and a charging Egyptian army, bravely marched into the water. Only after his selfless show of faith and devotion did the waters part. Only then could Moses lead the nation to freedom. Nachshon is an unsung hero whose deed should be celebrated. For many of us, this Passover will be the first in nearly three years where we celebrate in large groups. When we sit down to our tables and ask, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" let us remember the Nachshons, the lead blockers, the unsung heroes who, in hospitals, police stations, fire departments, laboratories, factories, stores, all modes of transportation and so many other essential services, have worked so hard and selflessly making space for us to reach this season of freedom.

Rabbi Shaul Perlstein, Chabad Jewish Center of Chattanooga

'Tis the season of renewal. We see it all around us with the blooming trees and our neighbor's full garbage as they attempt to freshen up their homes with spring cleaning.

Two weeks before the exodus of Egypt, the Jewish people received the first commandment, to sanctify the "new moon." It instructed them to create a lunar calendar that coincides with the seasons of a solar year. At the same time, they were instructed on how to celebrate the Festival of Liberation

There is an obvious difference between the sun and moon in the manner in which they provide light upon the Earth. The sun radiates in the same constant manner, without perceptible change day to day. On the other hand, the moon "renews" itself, or is "reborn" at the beginning of each Hebrew month.

Both these elements are necessary for true liberation and renewal. There are elements that must remain constant and the same. These include belief in G-d and the G-d-given tenets that guide us on how to reveal our true inner G-dly core - our soul.

At the same time, one is expected to generate renewal and resurgence of inspiration and joy in all spiritual matters. To build a personal relationship with G-d, to experience G-d's Torah as if it was given today. To constantly renew and refresh our spiritual pursuit.

On Passover, we celebrate not only our physical liberation but our spiritual freedom as well. Indeed, there really cannot be one without the other.

Rabbi Samuel Rotenberg, B'nai Zion Congregation

"In every generation, each person is obligated to see themselves as if they left Egypt." This principle, stated at every Passover Seder, is key to understanding the importance of the holiday. On Seder night, we relive the exodus through the magic of the Seder, experiencing the feeling of redemption for ourselves, imparting the memory of the exodus to the next generation. To see oneself as if they were personally taken from slavery to freedom only by the grace of God - this is the goal. Perhaps we take our freedom for granted, but not on Passover. To see oneself as if they were personally taken out of Egypt is to see the world through the eyes of one who crossed the Red Sea. It means we look at the world and know - not believe, but know - that miracles are possible. To see oneself as if they were a slave in Egypt means to know what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land. To welcome the stranger with a heart open to the suffering of others, that is the goal. The importance of Passover is in the story - not in its mere telling, but in knowing you were there.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.