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    Happy or sad on Seder night?

    The Seder, a 19th century print from the Ukraine

    Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg once pointed out that we face a dilemma on Seder night.

    Seder is a moment of memory, but which memory are we talking about – happy or sad?

    The Haggadah tells us to imagine that we are the Hebrews of the Exodus, but what memory is uppermost in our minds – the bondage or the freedom?

    There are two possibilities.

    We can think back to the hard times when we had no independence, no time to call our own, and had to jump to the command of our taskmasters.

    Alternatively, we can think of the liberation, when the metaphorical chains were gone.

    Greenberg says that every generation must decide for itself which memory to emphasise.

    If we focus on the past we remind ourselves what it was like to be powerless.

    If we think of the present and future we are no longer powerless but we have a new problem, that of learning responsibility.

    Neither memory is easy. The thought of the past recalls our victimhood and suggests that we will always feel unsafe because of the resurgent masters of today: as the Haggadah says, “In every generation they rise against us to eliminate us”.

    On the other hand. if we concentrate on the liberation we no longer need to be frightened … but now we need to make sure that we can be responsible towards others and not make them afraid of us.

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