“The Final days of Pesach – Days of Unity”
(updated and revised from Passover 5761–2001)


by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The fact that the ancient Israelites happened to find themselves in Egypt and were enslaved by the Egyptians was not at all coincidence. Rather, it was the fulfillment of a long-term prediction of the בְּרִית בֵּין הָבְּתָּרִים Brit Bein haB’tarim, the Covenant between the Pieces, found in Genesis 15:7-21.

G-d tells Abram (his name had not yet been changed to Abraham), יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם , “You shall surely know that your children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs,” וַעֲבָדוּם, וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה,…וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל , “and they will be enslaved, and they will be persecuted for four hundred years…, and eventually they will go out with great wealth.”

This national experience of exile, enslavement and persecution, had to take place in the formative stages of the Jewish people. It was meant to be so profound an experience, that even before the children of Israel go down to Egypt, the patriarchs and matriarchs, Abraham and Sara, and Isaac and Rebecca, were to have similar experiences in their lives, as well.

First (Genesis 12:10), Abram and Sarai leave Canaan because of a famine, and go down to Egypt. Abram tells Sarai, that she should say that she is his sister, not his wife, because otherwise the Egyptians will kill him and let her live. A similar experience (Genesis 20:1) happens again to Abraham and Sarah with Abimelech the King of Gerar. Isaac also confronts famine (Genesis 26:1), goes down to Gerar, because he is not permitted to leave the land of Israel, and has an experience similar to his father’s.

The parallels of these patriarchal experiences to the experience of Jacob and his family are striking: Because of famine, the Jews leave the land of Canaan, are exiled to Egypt and persecuted. The people of the land (the Egyptians) seek to kill the men, but will allow the women to live, and, eventually they go out with great wealth. All of this comes to underscore the central role that the Egyptian enslavement experience will play in the formation of the Jewish nation.

The Children of Israel go down to Egypt (Genesis 46:5), as 70 souls–12 disparate tribes. As a result of their common suffering in Egypt, they emerge as one united nation. The common suffering binds them together as a single unit. Had they gone directly into the Promised Land and settled the areas of their patrimony, they would not have been united, and would probably never have become Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel. They would have remained B’nai Yisrael, 12 separate, disparate tribes of Israel.

Although we are today a single nation of Israel, many are our differences. There are Ashkenazic Jews and Sephardic Jews, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Zionists and non-Zionists, Chareidim, Chassidim, Litvaks, Galitzianas, Yemenite, Bukharians, Ethiopians…Jews of all colors and stripes. There are Jews who eat kitniyot, legumes (beans and peas) on Passover, and those who do not. There are Jews who eat matzah products soaked in water, such as kneidlach, matzah balls, Passover cakes, and others who do not. There are secular and/or assimilated Jews who do not eat anything kosher–-ever, even on Passover! Sometimes it is extremely difficult to identify Jews as a common people. At times, it seems as if we are moving backwards, becoming twelve separate tribes again, rather than one united people.

For Jews who live in Diaspora, the last day of Passover is meant to be a day of unity, הִתְחַבְּרוּת, hit’chab’rut, of coming together. Although throughout Passover, it is customary to be extremely zealous about keeping all the exacting laws and stringencies of Passover, on the final day of Pesach in the Diaspora there are those who are a bit lenient, just a tiny bitnot, G-d forfend, in matters of law, but in matters of stringencies, stringencies which go beyond the letter of the Passover laws.

And so, there are some who, during the first seven days of Passover, take upon themselves not to eat Gebrachts, matzah meal products made with water, but on the last day of Pesach they are lenient. And, even though there are those who are stringent on Passover and never eat in anyone else’s house, or mix their utensils with anyone else’s utensils, on the last day of Pesach they join their friends and borrow foods and cooking utensils from each other. This is not because the last day of Pesach is more lenient. To the contrary, it is to underscore how the Passover experience unites us. After all, it was the Passover experience that brought us together in the first place and made us a united nation.

The irony of it all should not be lost upon us. On Passover, the most stringent of all holidays, we are called upon to let our guard down, chill out, ease off.

Obviously, this comes to highlight that the bottom line of all this ritual, of all this preciseness and exactingness, is that we are one nation, one people. We must never lose sight of what Passover was meant to achieve–the unity of twelve disparate tribes.

So let us eat together (abiding, of course, by the directives of social distancing!). Let us drink together. Let us become a single family once again. Let us rejoice in unity on Passover, because, after all, Passover is the month of redemption, and only through unity will we be fortunate enough to achieve ultimate redemption.

חַג כָּשֵׁר וְשָׂמֵח. We wish all our friends a wonderfully joyous, meaningful and healthy Passover.

Please note: The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Friday night, April 2nd, and continue through Saturday and Sunday, April 3rd and 4th.

May you be blessed.