Passover and the Contrary Question

At our Seders this year, like every year, we’ll hear about four sons who ask questions on the meaning of the Passover ritual; the wise son, the contrary son, the simple son, and the son who doesn’t even know how to ask.

The contrary, or wicked, son (RASHA in Hebrew) says, “What is the meaning of this service to you?” The Haggada picks up on a hint in this question. The contrary son says the service means something, “’To you’ and not to himself. And because he excludes himself from the group, he denies a basic principle.” This last phrase is KAPAR BA’AQIR, meaning to deny a root principle, or the very principle of religion.

So, what foundational principle does the contrary son deny by excluding himself from participation in the Passover service?

To answer this question, let’s recall a major point of the Passover story. The Lord delivered us out of Egyptian bondage, not to set us loose in a quest for individual autonomy, but to form us into his people. The Exodus isn’t primarily a tale of personal liberation, as the 21st century might imagine, but of the birth of a community, the house of Israel. The story reaches its climax at Mount Sinai, where the Lord says to all Israel, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people; for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).

The Jew who would exclude himself from this holy community formed at Mount Sinai misses the point of the entire event celebrated each year at Passover. Indeed, the Haggada declares, “if he had been there [in Egypt] he would not have been redeemed.”

This axiom, rooted deeply in the biblical portrayal of the Exodus, poses a particular challenge to us in the Messianic Jewish community. Our loyalty to Yeshua as Messiah often creates an exclusion from the group—the Jewish community—such as the Haggada warns against. We could counter, of course, that we’re not the ones who have chosen exclusion from the group, but the group excludes us. We don’t exclude ourselves, but exclusion is often imposed upon us. But there’s still a warning here that we’d do well to heed. God’s mandate for the Jewish people to remain whole and unified, and for every Jewish person to include himself or herself in the community, is essential for us in Messianic Judaism.

Let’s consider how we might exclude ourselves, or better, how we can be sure that we include ourselves as members of the Jewish community.

Do we celebrate Passover as the story of our formation as a people, as a season of redemption that will one day be fulfilled in Messiah for all Israel? Or do we use it only as a backdrop for rehearsing the events of Yeshua’s final week and their personal implications? Yeshua’s Passover is essential, of course, but it doesn’t need to take us out of the Passover story that all Israel recounts. In fact, if we understand Yeshua’s Passover properly, we see it as part of the Passover of all Israel. In the same way, as we look forward to the redemption of Passover to come, do we pray for the restoration of the Jewish people as outsiders praying for “them,” or as members of the community praying for “us”? When we recite, “In every generation enemies have risen up to destroy us,” do we identify with the concerns and causes of our people today, when anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise around the world?

Our faith in Yeshua may sometimes lead us into unavoidable conflict with our wider Jewish community, but Yeshua himself modeled the right response. He never excluded himself from the group, but remained in the midst of his people Israel until the end. Let us find a way to do likewise.

O Pure One in heaven above, restore the congregation of Israel in your love. Speedily lead your redeemed people to Zion in joy. Next year in Jerusalem!

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