The stories that shape us

by | Mar 20, 2015 | Torah Thought

In the Haber household there were five questions at the seder. The fifth was the result of my grandfather’s insistence on running his matzah under cold water.

Why did Zaidie run his matzah under the tap? He said he liked it better that way. It was easier on his teeth, and—it emerges—that is what his mother did.

As an adult looking back, I realize that there is very little I know about the woman who was my great-grandmother. One thing I do know is that she rinsed her matzah before she ate it. More importantly, I know that she ate matzah, that she had a seder, and that she was a link in a chain 100 generations long. She came to American shores determined to remember our exodus from Egypt. She made sure to relay that experience and the accompanying feelings of gratitude to her children and grandchildren. Today, the great-greatgreat- grandchildren of that woman who washed her matzah continue to celebrate their freedom from slavery each Passover.

In this column, the historicity of our holidays has been questioned, using the lens of contemporary academia to cast doubts on our traditional version of events. I take a different approach. Academics are experts in their fields and have much to teach us, but they should be looking to us, who celebrate these events yearly, if they really want to get an accurate picture of what happened in ancient times.

Last year, Jewish Tidewater was up in arms when the public school boards elected to schedule school on Saturdays. Those students, parents and community leaders who went to bat for the Sabbath were the Maccabees of Tidewater. They were continuing in the tradition of their ancestors and inspired—I believe—by the collective memory of a Chanukah story and Maccabean pride that no historian can take away from us.

Last month, Jews around Tidewater celebrated Purim, yet another inspiring story that is deeply rooted in our communal psyche. Whether we agreed with his politics or not, we were proud to see the Prime Minister of Israel stand before Congress on behalf of the Jews and draw his inspiration from Queen Esther and her brave stand before Achashveirosh.

From generation to generation we share the stories, the memories and the acts of heroism that are most meaningful to us. We remember the terrible tragedies, but we also remember how G-d has made the most unlikely, impossible and unbelievable stories happen for us. He does it because he loves us.

These aren’t just folk tales, legends or myths. They are our story. They form the very basis of what we believe, who we are, and the legacy that we are proud to pass on to our children.

This Passover, I encourage you to make the Passover story your own. Tell the traditional tale, but make it personal by adding your own story of salvation. Tell your family about the time G-d got you out of a tight space and made things better. Show your children how the stories of our personal miracles are interwoven with the story of our miraculous survival as a people.

These are the stories that we can never forget and will always believe.

Wishing you a joyous and meaningful Passover.

—Rabbi Sender Haber, B’nai Israel