A Passover Message for Our Moment

Plus: resources and reading for your holiday at home

There’s an incredibly arresting image in the Passover story that doesn’t appear in the Haggadah at all. At the start of the biblical tale, God calls out to Moses, then a mere shepherd in Midian. God’s voice emanates from an unusual place: the heart of an ever-burning bush. In the immortal words of Exodus 3:2, “And behold, the bush was on fire, but the bush was not consumed.”

Some commentators understand this apparition as just a good way for God to get Moses’s attention. But along with others, I think that the symbolism of the burning bush runs far deeper: It is a metaphor for the Israelites who Moses was called upon to save, and for their descendants throughout the generations.

For centuries, the Jewish people have been enslaved, abused, brutalized, and dehumanized. But not consumed. No matter how high the flames rose, they persevered together and the community lived on.

The bush was on fire, but the bush was not consumed.

It’s an image that I think is well worth remembering this Passover, as we are acutely aware of the flames flickering outside our doors. It’s also the message behind the illustration above, which I didn’t choose by accident. The painting of the burning bush is by Carol Deutsch, a Belgian artist who beautifully illuminated a Hebrew Bible for his daughter’s second birthday. He did not survive the Holocaust, but his daughter did, and when she returned home with her grandmother, they found that though the house had been ransacked, the illustrated Bible had been miraculously preserved. The masterpiece later made its way to Yad Vashem, where I snapped this picture.

The bush was on fire, but the bush was not consumed.


Over the last weeks, my colleagues at Tablet and I have been fielding countless queries from Jews scattered across the country and the world worried about making their own Passover seder for the first time. Some are young, some are old, and all are trying to capture the spirit of the holiday at a deeply trying time. Toward that end, here are some resources and readings that I’ve found helpful and that I hope you will too.

Resources

  • My Passover Playlist: One of the things that defines my own Passover experience is the music—the shared songs that punctuate the seder and transport us back to our childhood. To try and recapture that soundtrack in this solitary time, I combed through every version of every Passover-appropriate song on Spotify and assembled a simulated seder through song. The completed playlist features an array of musical and Jewish traditions, from Ashkenazi to Sephardi to Jack Black. Like a family seder, not everything in it is for everyone, but there should be something in it for everyone. Listen to it all here.

  • My friend Rabbanit Leah Sarna has compiled a Minimalist’s Guide to Passover and Seder, from assembling a seder to preparing your apartment to making easy kosher for Passover foods, which you can read here.

  • Several other friends were involved in putting together this collection of Ideas for the Solo Seder.

  • For those who will be using Zoom to join an online seder, OneTable has created a fantastic directory filled with virtual options for you to join. Check it out here.

  • Tablet has created an array of resources for those making Passover at home, from a series of Seder Academy tutorials you can watch here, to videos of famous chefs showing you how to make easy kosher for Passover delicacies, to digital copies of our own brand-new Hebrew/English Haggadah, which you can buy for $10 here.

Reading

  • Former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has made his own Haggadah and commentary—which I’ve used multiple times in Passovers past—available for free PDF download. I cannot recommend it, and its erudite yet accessible essays in the back, highly enough. Get your copy here.

  • Rabbi David Block wrote a short but powerful piece about how Jews marked Passover in the concentration camps, and the prayers they composed to mark the occasion, and crafted a prayer of his own for our use today.

  • Tablet’s editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse penned an op-ed for the New York Times on the power of Passover during a time of plague, pointing out that Passover has always been a celebration of the less-than-ideal, starting with its centerpiece—the unleavened matza that never had time to rise.

  • University of Michigan Law School’s Richard Primus wrote a magisterial meditation in Tablet on how both the Passover story and constitutional law seek to solve the problem of getting future generations to identify with practices and experiences they themselves did not witness.

  • Newer readers may appreciate last year’s Passover newsletter, which discusses how “Passover” may actually be a mistranslation of the holiday’s Hebrew name, and how the original understanding might be even more meaningful.

That’s all for now! Until next newsletter, wishing you all a safe and meaningful holiday, wherever you may be. Chag kasher v’sameach.