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Pesach-Telling Stories.  April 21, 2019

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach

Pesach is the Storytellers holiday. Everything about Pesach revolves around telling a story. The name of the book we use at our seder, The Haggadah, means “The Story” and it contains the telling of the story of how our ancestors left Egypt and slavery and thus became free.

At our Seder, we are commanded to tell this story, and to embellish it as much as we can. The miracles have to become bigger; the bitterness of slavery must linger on our lips with the four cups of wine recounting our redemption from slavery and the taste of matza representing the freedom our people found. In fact, at one seder, long ago during the Rabbinic Period, the rabbis at their seder embellished the story so much that the seder lasted until dawn.

At my son’s synagogue in Atlanta, the professional staff created a video retelling the story of Pesach narrated by small children. The adults acted out the story as the children narrated it. The children did not get the story exactly right. But it was their magid, their telling of the story. In one place they stated that the Israelites, after the Red Sea were singing and dancing. What were they singing? Dayenu and “Baby Shark”. It was a very cute video.  It was the children’s story and they told it to the adults just the way the children remembered it.

There is a very famous story of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of modern Hasidism and a great Mystic. It is the story of “The Storyteller” ……. (tell story)

Of the 613 commandments we are given, the last one of them, number 613, is the commandment that we write for ourselves a Sefer Torah. According to Rabbi Ed Feinstein, “Every Jew is commanded to write out his or her own Torah. We are commanded to write the Torah in our own hand.  It is not enough to have inherited a Torah from our ancestors. The collective memory must be reshaped, remolded, and reacquired by each of us. It must be our Torah, our truth – Not our ancestors’ – that we teach our children. But we must be careful: stories have consequences. What we choose to tell and how we choose to tell it will shape our lives and the lives of those around us.”

This applies even to the story of Pesach. It is not enough to tell the Bible’s story, the story of our ancestors. We have to make that story, our story. It is not their slavery but our slavery. It is not about their redemption, but it is about our redemption. It is not their Pesach; it is our Pesach. What is our Jewish Journey? What do we find in the story of our ancestors that resonates with us? How did our family get here? What story describes YOUR journey, in life and in Judaism? If a family gathers around the Seder table we must, while we are there, hear the stories of our parents and grandparents. How did they become the people that they are? What was their journey to America or to their current home? How did their journey impact the journey that you are on?

This is the real story of Pesach. All of us are on a journey from the narrow place (called Mitzraiyim in Hebrew) to the Promised Land. The journey of the Haggadah is not just a story of long ago, it is alive in our lives and it is story that we must tell. There is no one else who can tell it to our family, to our children. My father, before he died, told me the story of how he came to be in Florida. My mother, before she died, told all her children about working in her father’s store starting at age nine. These were the stories that shaped their lives and through them, shaped my life and the lives of my sister and brothers.

Each of us has our story. For good or bad it has shaped our lives. If our story has an unhappy ending, there is always time to write a new story. We can write the story that we wish to leave for our children. Will it be a story about finding God or will it be a story about being lost in the darkness? This story is the one we tell on Pesach; about sedarim of the past and how they have shaped our present, and how this Seder, tonight, will help shape our future.

Perhaps one day, your story will change someone else’s life.

May God guide us through life so that the stories we tell will be filled with light, laughter and love as we say …. Amen and Hag Sameach


Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on April 21, 2019.

Mon, August 3 2020 13 Av 5780