“In each and every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as though he actually left Egypt.”
Do these words ring a bell? If they do, that’s because they are said at the Seder table on Passover night. Indeed, they are great words and they mean a lot. But how does one really, truly accomplish this feeling – as though he actually left Egypt?
Well, here’s how different communities tackle this issue:
There is a fascinating custom among Sephardic Jews. Before the reading of the Passover Hagadah, a young man dressed as a young wandering Jew appears with his staff in hand and a sack draped over his shoulder.
The father asks him: “From where do you come, Mr. Traveler?”
“From the land of Egypt,” says the young man.
“Did you go out to freedom from the bitter slavery of Egypt?”
“Oh, yes,” replies the wanderer, “and now I am a free man!”
“Where are you going?”
“I am going to Jerusalem,” he replies.
At that point, and with great joy, the participants at the Seder table begin the Seder and tell the story of the Exodus out of Egypt.
A similar custom is found in the Ashkenaz (European) tradition as well. In the words of Rabbi Shlomo Luria, a.k.a. the Maharshal (1510-1573), who happened to be a descendant of Rashi:
After the meal, the leader takes out the hidden treasure, the Afikoman, wrapped in a cover, slings it over his shoulder, walks a bit, and announces, ‘So did our ancestors go out of Egypt with their Seder leftovers wrapped in cloth.’
Responsa Maharshal, Siman 86
And there is more!
On the seventh night of Pesach, when our ancestors miraculously crossed the Yam Suf – Sea of Reeds – there are some shuls where they actually reenact the “Parting of the Sea” episode!
Here’s what happens in a Chasidic Shul in the famous neighborhood of Meah She’arim in Jerusalem:
The Rebbe (Chasidic leader) represents the Children of Israel and the Chasidim (followers of the Rebbe) play the part of the sea. (Get it? The part of the sea?) The Rebbe then walks slowly through the crowd, and the students slowly part, allowing him to pass through. Some even have the tradition to spill water on the floor and then dance right over it!
It’s Krias Yam Suf – Splitting of the Sea!
It’s the Passover Experience!