Passover 2024: The Four Difficulties


Today is Shabbat HaGadol which marks that the Passover seder is soon to start. Rabbi Yoshi shares about the four questions in the seder which is actually called the four difficulties. Every year at this time we are reminded that our people were once slaves. This year, I will continue to pray for the release of all the hostages, “Let My People Go,” and for peace and safety in Israel, on college campus, at home and everywhere in the world. I truly wish that Next Year we will all be in Jerusalem together.

Four Difficulties for This Year’s Seder


Our tradition interestingly calls this part of the seder the “Four Difficulties” (ארבע הקושיות – Arba HaKushiyot), not the “Four Questions.” It’s really just one question, “How is this night different from all others” with various challenges (difficulties) pointed out, i.e., “On other nights we eat both leavened and unleavened products. Tonight, only unleavened.” This year, the questions—and difficulties—seem even heavier. In this moment of collective pain and sorrow, I want to suggest four “difficulties” that are particularly resonant in 5784/2024.

WATCH: Columbia student @edenyadegar spoke at a Congressional hearing investigating antisemitism at her university, embodying courage and tenacity even as she and her fellow Jewish students increasingly face anti-Jewish bigotry on campus.

Today is 196 days since our captives were taken from us. Over six months into this terrible war, we continue to mourn those murdered on October 7 and the hundreds of fallen soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice since then. We sympathize with the more than 100,000 Israelis who are still internal refugees. We are still shaken from the trauma of this past Shabbat afternoon when we waited in fear to see how Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel would unfold. Each day, we hear another story of how our children are being forced to confront virulent antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric on their college and high-school campuses. We are tired. We are in pain. How do we not give in to despair? How do we hold on to hope?

After a few initial days of solidarity and sympathy, it seems that the world has forgotten why we are even fighting this war. But for Hamas, the cease fire that existed on October 6 would still be in place, and the suffering that has been inflicted on our people (as well as their own) would not have occurred. We feel at times isolated, an embodiment of the text from the Book of Numbers that describes our ancestors as: “a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations.” At such a moment, how do we acknowledge these feelings without forgetting that we have real friends, true allies who have stood with us through hard times and who will, God willing, be there for us in the future? 

The struggle we are engaged in is no sprint, it’s a marathon. If history is a predictor of what will unfold going forward, we will need the strength, courage, and resilience to stand up for ourselves in the face of antisemitism for many generations to come. In the face of double-standards, demonization, and delegitimization, we will need to defend Israel continually. Recently, Franklin Foer argued in The Atlantic that the “Jewish vacation from history” is over. In such a time, where can we find the koach (כּוֹחַ – “energy, strength”) to continue to build Jewish community and embrace our glorious, 3000- year-old heritage? How will we nurture the resilience we need in the face of real enemies who seek our harm to stand up for our inalienable rights as Jews and human beings to liberty, autonomy, happiness, security, and life?

I don’t know about you, but in addition to sadness and pain, I have felt a great deal of anger well up inside of me over these past six months. When I hear story after story of the victims of October 7, those who survived the trauma, and those whose lives have been upended as a result, I sometimes feel rage. In our traditional Haggadah, we ask that God “pour out wrath” on those who seek our harm. It’s an understandable response to thousands of years of antisemitism that has resulted in pogroms, massacres, and even Holocaust. But I fear that anger and hatred will ultimately consume us and distort the essence of who we are as Jews, a people described by our tradition as “compassionate ones, the descendents of compassionate ones (רַחְמָנִים בְּנֵי רַחְמָנִים).” Our essential nature is to be loving, good-hearted people. There are times for anger and wrath but our default must be love, empathy, and compassion. How do we remain a loving, kind-hearted people in the face of the very real hatred that is directed towards us?

Let’s just acknowledge that these four difficulties are a lot. Like most of you, I would guess, I’d rather just return to the traditional “Four Questions.” They are easierwhy do we eat matzah and maror, why do we dip our foods not just once but twice, and why do we recline while eating? The difficulties above are much harder, more nuanced and more painful.

But sometimes, often really, history acts on us and we have no choice but to respond.

The kushiyot (questions) of October 7 and its aftermath cannot be ignored. They are, tragically, part of a pattern of challenges going back at least until the time of the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph. And perhaps that’s part of the way we manage all of these new/old difficulties. As we sit at our Passover tables and retell the story, we remind ourselves of the many experiences of redemption, liberation, and joy that have been scattered throughout the moments of oppression, trauma, and pain.

We have crossed through narrow spaces before and made it to the Promised Land. We have experienced deliverance in our own lifetimes: 1948, 1967, and perhaps even this past Saturday evening. No matter the difficulties: עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִקְוָתֵנוּ (od lo avda tikvateinu) — we have not yet (nor must we ever) lose our hope.

May this festival of our freedom be one that inspires in us and all Israel strength, resilience, determination, compassion, love, and tikvah.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach, Rabbi Yoshi

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