Do you ever cuddle up with your children and share memories of your childhood – special moments, trips, or family traditions? Do you remember your parents doing the same with you? I clearly remember loving to listen to my parents tell stories as we looked through family photo albums. I also clearly remember my mother and grandmother telling me stories of their youth, and what Pesah was like for them as we prepared for our own Seder. I loved when my parents and grandparents shared their memories, and I would like to think my children did too, when I shared mine.
Why do we love stories so much – especially stories that evoke family memories? Because shared memories give each of us a sense of belonging and stability. Often, these memories help us to understand what we value and what is important to our individual families. They establish our roots, and, more often than not, our purpose.
This week Joan and I will be telling family stories and sharing memories. As we all prepare for Pesah, I am certain that many of you will share your childhood memories of Pesah, as I fondly remember my parents and grandparents doing with me. And when we all gather around our Seder tables, we will be sharing stories of our extended Jewish family, sharing our collective memories of the slavery we experienced and the exodus to freedom by “a strong hand and an outstretched arm” of God.
For me, the Seder is much more than just all of the beautiful rituals. It is the powerful and compelling shared memory, spoken aloud, of how we became the Jewish people, or, more personally, how we became a Jewish family. The Seder is not an academic exercise to recall historical facts or events. It is personal. It is about us – our parents, grandparents, and all those who came before us. It is about all that we went through, together, to remain a family that is able to live our values and traditions.
In the Haggadah we read, “In each generation, every individual should feel as though he or she had actually been redeemed from Mitzrayim.” We relive the story every year, and we insert ourselves into the collective memories of our people.
This story is ours and has the power to remind us that we are tied to one another in a deep and meaningful way. For all that we have been through, this story remains our foundation, enabling us to go forward, generation after generation.
Ultimately, this seminal story of our people reveals our purpose – to remember, imprinted in our minds and souls; “Once we were slaves in Egypt.” And so, as the Haggadah reminds us, we must, with this memory as our guide, act with hesed (loving kindness) to feed the hungry and help all those in need.
Tell these stories to your children – the story of our people and your personal family stories, and be intentional about it. Explain to your children why we tell stories, and how these stories inform who we are, and the actions we take.