Passover Pages of Sinai Temple
The Most Important Text in the Haggadah

B'chol Dor V'dor

B'-chol dor va-dor, cha-yav a-dam lir-ot,
   Lir-ot et atz-mo k'-i-lu hu, k'-i-lu hu ya-tza mi-mitz-ra-yim.

B'-chol dor va-dor, cha-yav, cha-yav a-dam lir-ot,
   Lir-ot et atz-mo
K'-i-lu hu, k'-i-lu hu, k'-i-lu hu ya-tza mi-mitz-ra-yim.

In every generation, each person must regard himself or herself as if he or she had come out of Egypt.


Dear Friends –

I titled this section of our website….The most important text in the Haggadah. 

Given all the texts that do appear in the Haggadah, you may wonder how I could possible identify one text as “the most important.” To be honest, I may be engaging in a bit of hyperbole.  On the other hand, I do believe that the “every generation” text gets to the very heart of the Haggadah and Passover.  The text tells us that our remembering and celebrating at the Seder are not idle activities.  The passage insists, instead, that we remember the pain of the past in order to sensitize ourselves to ongoing pain in the contemporary world.  We try to feel and understand the experience of slavery and liberation so that we can transform our own world in a better direction. 

If that’s not the most important text in the Haggadah, it comes close.  I urge you to read it and ponder it at every Seder you attend.

Rabbi Mark Shapiro

A sermon that gives our text a larger context....

Remembering with Passion and Purpose: A Passover Sermon
April 15, 2011

I’m going to guess that I am like many of you. We wake up to a clock radio. For me, the clock radio is tuned to our NPR station, WFCR. So it was this past Tuesday morning that I awoke to a news story about the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It all began on April 12, 1861.

Flash forward to April 12, 2011 and somehow news of Fort Sumter didn’t speak to me at the crack of a new day. I love history, but history that early in the morning wasn’t my cup of tea. I turned off the radio.

When you come to think of it, that was a pretty significant action. Maybe not earth shattering, but if you think about it in broader terms, what I did was quite dramatic. I turned off the Civil War.

I pulled the plug on a historic event that almost ripped apart this nation, that continues to reverberate down to this day, and also, by the way, took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

It wasn’t that way when the War came to an end in 1865. No one anywhere in the United States could “turn off” the War and its impact. There probably wasn’t a single family in the country that hadn’t suffered some kind of loss during the war. You couldn’t go back to business as usual. You couldn’t forget the war because life was transformed by the war.

In short order after the War, for example, there arose a custom of dedicating a day in late spring to remember the War and to honor its dead. People called it Decoration Day because it was a day on which they would go to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of soldiers who had died in the war. Slowly, this Decoration Day became Memorial Day.

But what I remember most from an article I read many years ago was that somewhere in the 1890’s (only 30 years after the Civil War) one of our country’s presidents observed the day by going fishing!

And so it goes: People move on. The Civil War becomes a memory. By 2011, it’s an early morning news story on WFCR and life carries on.

Even the war they called The Great War – World War One – loses its power. We remember – sort of. But we mainly move on.

The classic example of this very phenomenon took place three years ago in November 2008. I was visiting Toronto in the days leading up to Veteran’s Day and experienced something quite unexpected.

You remember the war took place between 1914 and 1918 and you remember, I’m sure, that the United States was involved in the war and, especially through President Woodrow Wilson, played an important role in the various political conversations after the War. The League of Nations was born out of World War One.

So we remember that War and we do recognize the involvement of the USA in that war. But here’s what I discovered in Toronto in November 2008. I discovered that remembering has very different meanings. In this country World War One is a memory – of sorts. But in Canada (because they joined the War effort three years earlier than the USA at the very, very beginning of hostilities) the War meant a great deal more. There were greater losses in Canada and so Canada remembers the war much more actively.

Witness the fact that everywhere in Toronto that Fall there were stories and recollections of the War all focused on the fact that 1918 to 2008 made that Fall the 90th anniversary of the war. This was real and powerful remembering contrasted with us here below the border where, as far as I know, there wasn’t a single mention of the 90th anniversary.

We forgot. (I know why. It wasn’t as major an event for us. In 2008, we were also in the midst of two current wars.) But we forgot. We forget. Memory does that. It fades. It weakens.

You know it’s true when you consider Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. We do care. I know many of us…most Jews…are passionate about the Holocaust. But it is basically no longer within the living memory of most contemporary Jews. Think 1940 and you’re talking more than 70 years. Who comes to our community’s Yom Hashoah commemoration? Years ago more people came than they do today.

Think about a typical child in our Religious School. If he was born in the year 2000, he was born 60 years after 1940 or 55 years after 1945 when the war ended. For that child, the Holocaust is – I hate to use the word - ancient. It’s something he can only view in the rearview mirror and it is becoming more and more distant.

It’s hard to remember – hard to hold onto the intensity of almost any event - which makes the arrival of Passover so interesting for us this week.

For as much as all human beings forget so much about the past – even events they swear they will never forget – we Jews do remember one event that is older than any other event we know. Not 70 years old. Not 150. More like approximately 3300 years old.

We remember the Exodus. Other memories fade. But Judaism is set up so that we don’t forget this experience of slavery and redemption.

Maybe this should be a case of “get over it.” You’ve heard people say that about other people who hold onto some kinds of memory. “Give it a break. Get over it. Move on.”

But it’s different when it comes to the Exodus, because this memory of the Exodus has been shaped by Judaism into something quite special.

Think about how it could be.

The Seder could be a kind of grudge match.

It could be one heck of a mean event in which we exult in the defeat of the Egyptians and celebrate our triumph. The Ten Plagues (which actually occupy a significant part of the Book of Exodus) could be the centerpiece of the Haggadah. Blood, sand, and victory. Watch out for us Jews. We fight back. We hit back.

But you know that’s not that way it is. Judaism has us remember in a very different way.

In fact, maybe the most stunning aspect of the Haggadah is that it isn’t an angry text. We don’t remember in order to get even. The goal isn’t to beat somebody else. When we recall the Ten Plagues, we even do so with regret.

The whole goal of the Haggadah is….

Well, what do you think? What is the purpose of declaring AVADIM HAYINU…WE WERE SLAVES TO PHARAOH? What is the purpose of dipping karpas in salt water?

What kind of remembering is Passover remembering? For me, it’s summed up in the central line of the Haggadah where we read….

B'CHOL DOR VA'DOR…In every generation
CHAYAV ADAM LIR’OT ET ATSMO…Each person is obligated to see himself
K’ILOO HU YATSA MEE-MISTRAYIM…As if he or she had gone forth from Egypt.

In other words, Passover teaches us to remember what it is like to suffer. Passover teaches us to care about those who still subsist on matzah. Passover teaches us to be on the lookout today for plagues that still bedevil our world.

Passover remembering is positive remembering. It’s sensitivity training. Passover remembering is essentially not about the past.

It’s about the past influencing how we behave in the present.

Speaking of remembering, I heard a story about an 8-year-old boy at last year’s Seder. His father invited him to ask the Four Questions to which he replied he had forgotten them. “Forgotten them?” his father asked. “Didn’t you just learn them in Religious School?”

“Dad,” the little man replied. “I have a very good forgettery.”

Now I know why the Shabbat we celebrated four weeks ago has its name. It is called Shabbat Zachor – The Sabbath of Remembering. That weekend we read a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy which tells us – remember, don’t forget, remember.

Why does the Torah repeat itself and insist so strongly on retaining memory?

Because the greatest Jewish memory is about the Exodus. And the greatest Jewish value stemming from the Exodus is this great notion that we remember in order to become better.

We’re not angry. We’re not after vengeance. We remember the past so that it can propel us to be better right now.

That’s a lesson I don’t want to forget. That’s a great lesson at the core of Judaism.

B'CHOL DOR VA'DOR…In every generation
CHAYAV ADAM LIR’OT ET ATSMO…Each person is obligated to see himself
K’ILOO HU YATSA MEE-MISTRAYIM…As if he or she had gone forth from Egypt.

Remember. Don’t forget.