Passover and the hunger for human connection

Passover responds to many kinds of hunger: the hunger for freedom, as expressed by the notion that all people who … Continued

Passover responds to many kinds of hunger: the hunger for freedom, as expressed by the notion that all people who celebrate the holiday should see themselves as slaves leaving Egypt; the hunger for food, as expressed by the tradition of inviting all who are hungry to come and eat at the very start of the Passover Seder dinner; and even the hunger for meaningful ritual, which is the hunger which underlies a question heard at Seder dinners across the country, “When do we eat?”

But there is another kind of hunger to which Passover responds as well: the hunger for human connection and the repair and restoration of personal relationships. Passover is not only about addressing the physical hunger of others, but of our own emotional and spiritual hunger as well.

View Photo Gallery: Even with their restrictions, the foods of Passover are wide-ranging, multicultural and surprising. Here are some of our favorite new and old holiday recipes, including starters, salads, soups, side dishes, main courses and desserts, from our Recipe Finder archives.

Passover invites us to ask ourselves for whose presence do we hunger, be it at the Seder table or in our lives generally? A relative who cannot be with us? A friend with whom we have lost touch? Set a place for them at your table, Seder or otherwise, open your heart to them and let them in.

Inviting guests to our tables, or being guests of others at theirs, is a custom as old as Passover itself. From the biblical invitation to come together to share the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12:3-4), to the rabbinic tradition of opening the Seder by inviting all who are hungry to come and eat, hosting, being a guest and the bonding they create, have played a central role in the oldest of Jewish holidays.

But it’s not only about bonding as hosts and guests. The tradition of inviting guests is about more than inviting people to share our food. As in the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” it’s about opening hearts and minds in ways that create new meaning, and unleash new possibilities.

The Seder invites us to go back in time and see ourselves as those leaving Egypt, to be sure. But why not also bring the past to life and invite those who have left us, or those whom we have left behind in our lives, to join in our celebration? They can still be with us, so why not have them join the Seder?


(L-R) Rabbi Mordechai Liebling of Philadelphia, Paul Monteiro of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement and Anthony and Elissa Barrett of the Progressive Jewish Alliance participate in a Passover Seder at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), April 27, 2011 in Washington DC. The Seder, a traditional Jewish meal to mark their hardships in Egypt, was held as a forum at USDA to bring food and hunger issues in contemporary America to the table. Photo by Mike Theiler

Sounds a little goofy, right? I know. I’m not even a fan of Harry Potter or “The Hunger Games,” let alone time travel or the spirit world, but nothing could be more traditional or meaningful, especially on Passover.

As with the other biblical festivals, the celebration offers the chance to come together, to make connections, to bridge gaps and heal hurts. It’s about building empathy — for those who are hungry and need to eat, for our ancestors who were oppressed and also for ourselves – for our need of people we wish were closer. But wishing is not a strategy. As with so much of the Seder, as it is with life, we must act upon our wishes.

This year, whether you are Jewish or not, whether you will be at a Seder this Friday and/or Saturday night or not, you can tap into an ancient practice inspired by the Passover Seder — the tradition of welcoming guests to your table. Who do you wish was at that table with you? What question might you ask them? What would you love to hear them say? What memory or story would you share with them? What could they teach you about Passover, about the meaning of freedom, or about life?

Will they really be there? Will they really answer? I don’t know. I guess that depends. Are we really seeing ourselves as slaves leaving Egypt? Of course, the answer to all of these questions is no … and yes. Invite them and see.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
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