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Genealogy on Passover

by David Bendory, April 15, 2003

As we celebrate Pesach, Jewish history becomes the topic of discussion in every household, at every table, at every Seder. We tell the story of the Exodus, that saga of long ago which recounts the events encompassing the transformation of the Jewish people from a tribe to a nation. Seventy Jewish souls went down to Egypt but 600,000 and more emerged.

Our sages teach us that in every generation, each Jew must view him or herself as if s/he personally emerged from Egypt. (The Haggadah tells us this, though the source is Pirkei Avot.) Unfortunately, few of us internalize that deep understanding of the Pesach saga.

When we study our family history we search for our roots. For most of us, our sources dwindle in the 19th or 18th century, the limits of modern record keeping. But our roots go much deeper, all the way back to the Exodus, and we were all there.

Why is it important to view ourselves as if we came out of Egypt? I'll answer with a question: why is it important to research your family history at all?

As Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz taught, "Strengthening one's ties with one's own past is part of renewing one's connectedness with the sources of Jewish life in general."

Pesach is an opportunity to connect with the Source of Jewish life. Much of the Seder is designed as an educational tool; we do odd things to keep our children's interest. But all of that is moot if it is just a story, if it isn't our personal history. We retell our genealogical history with passionate engagement; we should approach the Seder with the same enthusiasm. After all, it is our family history, isn't it?

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, when asked about the value of genealogy, is said to have responded: "It doesn't matter who your grandparents are. It matters who your grandchildren are."

Pesach is a time when it matters who your grandparents are and who your grandchildren are. It is a time to bring the power of Jewish history — personal Jewish history — to bear for the sake of educating ourselves and our children.

Spend as much time studying the Haggadah as you do researching your family roots and you will be astounded how personal a history it is.

Hag kasher v'sameach to all!

For further context on why I do genealogy, see

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