I realised what this meant when I saw a television film about Moses.
Not all the scenes followed the Biblical narrative, which is a problem in itself. But there was enough to make me feel, “These are my people!” If, however, I asked the Haggadah, it would reply, “That’s not enough! You have to be able to say, ‘These people are us!’”
The principle of the Haggadah is that it wasn’t just our ancestors who left the house of bondage but it was we ourselves who came out of Egypt. Otherwise it’s mere history, just a film that we watch many centuries after the event.
Even if we identify with the story, it is déjà vu. That’s why matzah, maror and charoset are not just foods that remind us of the cuisine of an ancient era. What we are doing is not only tasting foods that symbolise what happened to our ancestors. We ourselves are there. It is our own experience.
We are slaves in Egypt and its bitter taste is in our mouths. We are building Pharaoh’s store cities, the mortar is on our hands and the brick dust in our nostrils. We are making our desperate bid for freedom and the dough is baking on our backs.
That is what it is to be Jewish: the past is the present.
We don’t have to like it, but it impels us to overcome its travails, our travails, and to strive towards a messianic future, our future.