Hannah's answer makes absolute, rational sense. In Sydney, when Hannah stepped onto our balcony and could see the Harbour Bridge at a distance or she rode along in the car, she knew, as she does now, that well-constructed roads, bridges, and tunnels make it possible for us to travel from one side of the harbor to the other, or from New Jersey to New York. The waters don’t part creating a dry space on which we can walk or drive. Though anyone who has been stuck in traffic during rush hour has been known to pray for miracles and Divine intervention.
Hannah's "bridge" comment brings a lot of questions to the forefront of our conversation this evening. The foremost of these concerns is when my four-year-old daughter already seems to be smarter than her tradition, what value does her tradition still hold? Why commit to spending countless dollars and countless hours to ensure that she gets a full Jewish education, that she is introduced to all of the Jewish festivals at home, that she, in time, can read and understand prayers in Hebrew, that she attends synagogue regularly, and that we try to teach her about God, if everyone, including Hannah, knows that you need a bridge to cross over the water?
Surely, there's an argument to be made for the sake of tradition, and for some Jews, that argument is enough. We read in the Shema of the obligation v’shinantam l’vanecha, meaning “You shall teach them (the commandments, the stories of Jewish tradition) to your children.” On Tuesday morning, when we read from the Torah, we will hear the injunction to keep the observances of Pesach as a lasting ordinance for our descendants and for ourselves. When our children ask us, “What does this ceremony mean to us?” we are supposed to respond to them explaining, “We do this because of what the Lord did for us when we went forth from Egypt.” The argument for the sake of tradition, and for the continuity of our people is sound. But if that argument isn't enough, how might we respond to Hannah's seemingly curious and innocent remark?
Capturing the "bridge" imagery, I'd like to apologize to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. What if, beyond the sake of tradition, our Pesach observances are “our bridge to the generations that have come before us, and our bridge over the troubled waters of life?” More Jews throughout the world participate in a Pesach Seder than in any other Jewish ritual throughout the year. Some estimates put the number as high as 68% in the Diaspora, and 94% in Israel. This number includes both Jews who are affiliated with synagogues and those who are not members of any Jewish or religious institution. As blogger Tina Wasserman writes:
What is the draw?...Each year I look forward to the family and friends who gather at my seder and form a community of souls who care about each other and the values that promote tikkun olam, repair of the world. But I also look forward to the unseen attendees at my table-my memories. These memories are some of my favorite guests. Setting the table with my mother's silver and remembering the seders she made when she was alive, using the Kiddush cup from my wedding that has graced my table for almost 43 years, and the wine–soaked crayon matzah covers my children made decades ago when they were in preschool, are all memories that bring me contentment. When I travel around the country talking about the stories and history surrounding our culinary heritage, I often notice some teary-eyed participants in the audience, especially after I talk about Passover. I know better than to assume my talk has bored them to tears! It is the memories that are evoked in their hearts that elicit this response.
Memories of the recipes–the smell of the chicken soup wafting through the house at grandma's-and the seders that dad conducted–always trying to include everyone with a speaking part and never stigmatizing the same person with the role of the wicked son (unless it was the family joke to call upon the same person every year!)–and memories of the people with whom they shared the seder in their youth. These thoughts hold an important place in their minds and hearts. And these memories draw us together in an unseen way to fulfill our duties to celebrate Passover and our redemption from slavery.
I remember that every year, when my grandparents, of blessed memory, were well enough to host seder at their home, my Pop would go into the cupboard and bring out all of the special dishes for Pesach, my Grandma would cover the refrigerator shelves with aluminum foil, and we would walk into the house and I would ask Grandma, “What’s that smell?” And she would respond by saying, “That smell is the smell of yontif. And darling, there’s no other smell quite like it.”
No matter where we happen to be, no matter the circumstances of our life, there is something that truly draws us back to Pesach. For some it is the tactile and tangible nature of our home-based Pesach rituals – singing, eating and laughing together, the sights, the smells, the tastes, the sounds and the feelings that create living and meaningful memories deep in our hearts, memories that we cherish, memories that we love, memories that we want to create for and hand over to our children in sacred trust. In this way, we continue the timeless passing of our tradition, from generation to generation.
Pesach asks us to build bridges, to generations that have passed before us, and generations still to come, rather than tear them down. It is only natural in this day and age of tertiary education and beyond, and so much secular and extra-cultural influence that we want to ask, “Did it really happen that way?” But no one ever asks if Aesop’s fables are true. And no one seems to doubt the validity of the messages and the morals, the lessons and the wisdom that these stories contain. As author and essayist Barbara Kingsolver has written, “Fiction is invention, but it is ultimately about truth.”
As a celebration of a people and its’ God, the story of Pesach itself still has great meaning, and our celebration today enables us to engage in the sacred act of storytelling itself. Pesach, in the form of an ancient symposium invites us to debate and discuss the concept of truth, to reflect and search for meaning in our lives. The Pesach story is the core text of our ancestry, and the quintessential narrative in our storied tradition. In retelling this ancient story, we think about the ways that we too have gone forth from slavery, oppression, addiction, challenge, and difficulty, from pain and from suffering. We also think about others who still find themselves in shackles, other who are still searching, yearning for freedom. How will we help them? How will this narrative of miracles bring them light, strength, courage and hope? How will we, as God’s partners, help ensure the redemption of our world?
In our story telling, Pesach also asks us to believe, and in so doing, perhaps to suspend reality as we know it, giving ourselves the permission, just for a passing moment, to imagine, to wonder, and to hope, to consider a vision of a perfected world, and to think about what we would need to accomplish to make that dream a reality. What would it mean to allow ourselves to believe? What would it mean, in the face of every hardship that we experience and we see in our world, in the face of every hardship that has befallen our ancestors, to hold onto a story, a story whose truths are as real today as they were thousands of years ago? What would it mean to hold onto a story that teaches us that in this cruel, sometimes heartless world, God still loves us and God still cares for us, and in this love, we might discover a foundation for redemption?
We, like Hannah, know all too well that we need a bridge to cross the harbor. But we also know that all of the bricks and mortar, steels, screws, nails and pylons in the world don’t allow us the opportunity to build a bridge to destiny, a bridge to a perfected world. Beyond the physical, the concrete, and the tangible, we need a construct, a bridge that is deeply spiritual, that challenges us to build bridges with the power of our minds, the feelings of our hearts, the fullness of our emotions, the love, the passion, and the desire present deep within our souls, a bridge which links the memories of our past, with the vision for a better future. Our celebration of Pesach can be that very bridge, and more. Chag Sameach
 Deuteronomy 6:7.
 Exodus 12:24-27.