Ma Nishtana haPesach haZeh? Why is this Passover Different from all other Passovers?

April 12, 2024


Four years ago, we experienced a Passover unlike any we could have imagined – having to be physically separate from one another on such an important holiday. We figured out ways to be together using the wonders of technology, and incredible efforts were made to fulfill the injunction “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” despite the pandemic. And now, we again enter into a Passover like no other – one in which our people is suffering multiple plagues: the hostages still in captivity since October 7th, Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas and now the imminent threat of an attack by Iran (the power ultimately responsible for October 7th); the ongoing attacks and threats of Hamas and Hezbollah, and a breadth and depth of antisemitic rhetoric and violence unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes, with the energy of the world seemingly focused on condemning Israel and Jews in general, rather than moral outrage and outcry at the ongoing captivity (and psychological warfare, with Hamas now saying it doesn’t have even 40 hostages still alive in exchange for a ceasefire) of hostages stolen from their homes on October 7th and the ongoing genocidal threat of Hamas, Hezbollah, and their puppet-master, Iran; Hamas’ rejection of all ceasefire proposals for months, and the immeasurable suffering of the people of Gaza. How are we to enter, under these dire circumstances, a celebration of freedom, of rebirth, of the beauty and sweetness of our tradition and our people, and our freedom and responsibility as God’s covenantal partner?

The Jewish people are expert in wrestling with big questions like these. Questions play a major role in the Passover seder, and many have asked this big question – one might call it, “the fifth question” of Passover this year. This Passover, this year, and these circumstances are so very different from anything we have experienced or could have imagined even in nightmares. How can we celebrate this year? At this link, you will find several resources that provide responses to this question through reflection and new rituals and readings you may wish to include in your seder. I believe that grounding ourselves in ancient rituals is one key to our improbable survival as a people through so much persecution in every time and place. There will be comfort, I think, in dipping our greens in saltwater as we always have, in singing “Dayenu” as we always have, in making our “Hillel sandwich” out of charoset, maror and matzah as we always have. And, we will make room on our seder plates and in our hearts for the new questions, new ideas, new perspectives and new rituals that emerge out of this particularly painful time for the Jewish people. 

As we did during the early years of the pandemic and as our people have done for millennia, we will bring our ancient traditions, our people’s history and story, into conversation with our current circumstances. We will be exactly who we are, where we are, in this moment, as we retell our people’s core communal story – a story of slavery and redemption; a story of becoming free in order that we will stand for and work for freedom, for justice, and for love, through the ages; a story of commitment to retelling “from generation to generation,” of acknowledging that we ourselves are a part of the story – not a story that happened long ago to other people, but that we, in every generation and every historical circumstance, “see ourselves as if we, too, went out from Egypt.” Passover enjoins us to remember and recommit to this core fact even when we can least believe it: That the world as it is, is not the world as it can be; that hope is an imperative. As Rachel Goldberg-Polin, the mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, now held in captivity by Hamas for 188 days, says: “Hope is mandatory.”

May our Passover holiday and our hearts be made more whole and holy in this time of deep brokenness, by the strength of our rituals both ancient and new, by our bonds to our family, friends, and community, by our recommitment to our core principles of freedom and justice for all people, and by hope. 


Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman