In most of our lifetimes, we’ve never had a year like the one that just passed. Some of us sadly and tragically lost loved ones and friends. All of us, if we’re conscious, feared that we’d become sick ourselves. We’ve empathized with the pain of others, acquaintances and strangers alike. And we’ve worried about the political, cultural, psychological, and spiritual threats to American society, Israeli society, and nations around the world.

Despite all that, Pesach comes each spring to augur renewal and remind us of Judaism’s core values, ideals, and activist thrusts, that we aren’t passive to fate and that we can choose to chart our lives anew.

As we prepare to sit down (arguably in smaller gatherings this year as we did last year) to celebrate the most observed of all Jewish holidays, we’ll perform the rituals, read the Haggadah, eat the Seder foods, tell the Exodus story, contemplate the readings and Midrashim, be uplifted by poetry, and open our hearts in song. The Seder is also an opportunity for us all to talk with each other and ask hard questions about the meaning of the events we’ve suffered this past year as we place them into the larger context not only of our lives but of Jewish and human history. That’s what we Jews have always done, year after year, generation after generation.

When people are asked what brings us the most meaning in our lives, so often we begin with our family and friends. The lucky among us include also our work and avocations. And then there’s Jewish tradition and faith that have the capacity to ground us as individuals and as a people, as activists for human dignity and agents for change in an imperfect world.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote what I believe ought to be asked by every Jew especially this year during this season of questioning:

“We should not ask ourselves what we want from life. We should ask ourselves, what does life want from us? There is a difference between the call from within and the call from outside: it is the difference between ambitions and vocation. The former comes from the self, the latter from something outside and larger than the self. Victor Frankl explained it, ‘Being human is always directed, and pointing, to something or someone other than oneself: to a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter, a cause to serve or a person to love.’ He called this self-transcendence and said that one achieves this ‘not by concerning him/herself with self-actualization, but by forgetting oneself and giving oneself, overlooking oneself and focusing outward.’ … The relentless first-person singular, the ‘I,’ falls silent and we become aware that we are not the center of the universe. There is a reality outside. That is a moment of transformation … seeing a situation from outside the distortion field of our own wants and desires. … That ability to step back and see oneself from the outside is what makes us moral agents, capable of understanding that we have duties, obligations, and responsibilities to others. Morality is the capacity to care for others. It is a journey beyond the self.”

May this Passover season be for you and those you love, for our people here, around the world and in Israel, and for all humankind, a year of peace and wholeness, justice and compassion, healing, transcendence, and joy.

Hag Pesach Sameach – Happy Passover.