“In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he had gone personally forth from Egypt, as it is said, ‘And thou shalt relate to thy son on that day saying, this is on account of what the Eternal did for me, when I went forth from Egypt.”
The above lines, taken from the Passover Haggadah*, are recited by Jews all over the world during the festive meal, or seder, that is the essence of the holiday. We are commanded not merely to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and the passage from slavery to freedom, but to recall it, to retell it, and to re-enact it as if we had personally been there.
The re-enactment is symbolic. We do not literally cross through a body of water on dry land to tell the story of the Red Sea. Rather, we dip parsley (or another suitable vegetable) in salt water. But we tell the story to each other, taking ownership of it, recalling it as a personal memory rather than as a literary text or historical tale.
This past week, we have seen Americans argue — once again — over the Second Amendment. The young gun control activist Cameron Kasky declared that the Second Amendment was outdated because it “was written when African Americans were still considered 3/5ths of a person.”
Conservatives point out that the Second Amendment exists to allow citizens to resist tyranny — a concern very much on the minds of the Framers of the Constitution. But that message does not always hit home, because the threat of tyranny seems very remote, as outdated as the quill and parchment with which the Constitution was written.
Imagine if we Americans learned, and taught, our history not as something that happened in the past, but as an experience that we ourselves had lived through. The lessons of freedom would seem immediately relevant — and not just from 1789. We could share the experience of the Emancipation Proclamation, and other watershed events, in much the same way.
Passover reminds us that if the values we hold dearest are embedded deeply in our history, we owe it to ourselves not to see that history as something past, but as something very much alive in everything we do and everything we are.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
*Maxwell House edition.