With sunset tonight we welcome not only Shabbat but the first night of Passover.
It is a seemingly interesting juxtaposition: the weekly day set aside for rest and slowing down, and the annual celebration of the Exodus, of movement. Indeed, unlike the challah we eat on Shabbat, which takes time to rise and bake, the symbolic food of Passover, the matzah, is identified in the Torah specifically as food that is hurried and rushed—the bread that did not have time to rise before the time to leave Egypt arrived.
The Seder is not much different when it falls on Shabbat, there are a few additions to the liturgy in the Haggadah, but most of the activity of the Seder is the same. We eat the symbolic foods, we drink the wine, sing the same songs, tell the same story. The acts are not different.
But the intention may be. Shabbat and the Exodus story that we commemorate on Passover are already linked in the Torah. While we usually associate the reason for Shabbat with the story of Creation—God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, so we too engage in creative work for most of our time but also rest one day a week—that is only one reason for Shabbat. The other is the narrative of slavery and liberation:
“And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Eternal your God brought you from there with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm; therefore the Eternal your God commanded you to keep Shabbat.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)
Thus Shabbat, like Passover, is a remembrance of the story of the Exodus.
In the two remembrances, however, we focus on different things. With Shabbat we remember the experience of slavery itself, and that the need to rest comes from knowing that there was a time that we—and currently now, others—who do not have the luxury of rest. With Passover we remember the experience of leaving slavery, and that we were are able to transform our circumstances and therefore we commit to bring about that transformation for others.
On Shabbat, we remember the condition of oppression. On Passover we celebrate how that condition can become a mere remembrance in the first place.
So Passover on Shabbat this year is very much “slow down to speed up.” We are mindful of the Shabbat practice of rest. But we know too that the rest only serves to prepare us to act.