“My ancestor was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation…” These words, perhaps familiar to us from the Passover seder, are articulated in this week’s Torah reading, parshat Ki Tavo. In the lines that follow, the Torah very concisely tells the story of the Jewish people.

As the Torah states, however, this short history was originally intended to be recited not at Passover, but when the Israelites brought their first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem at the holiday of Shavuot. As a result of this recitation, nearly every Jew was familiar with this story. And so when the ancient Rabbis sought a text on which to base the seder, they started with this one.

As we enter the High Holiday season, it seems a little out of place to think about the Exodus from Egypt. Yet the Jewish calendar is arranged such that we always read this section of the Torah a week or two before Rosh Hashanah. Why?

The High Holidays and Passover are both moments when we deeply focus on one of my favorite questions: What’s your story? At the High Holidays, we ask this question in a very broad, human sort of way: Have I lived a good life? Have I done the right thing? What has your story been this past year, and what do you want it to be in the year to come? By contrast, at Passover, we ask the question focusing more on our relationship to the Jewish people: What does it mean to me that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt? How I can make myself freer? How can we make the world freer?

The High Holidays are, generally speaking, personal; Passover is national and communal. Yet each of them end in the same place: We close the seder, and the Neilah service of Yom Kippur, with the song “Next year in Jerusalem.” This signals us to a more fundamental reality: Both Passover and the High Holidays are, in essence, times of renewing our own stories with the story of the Jewish People. One journey begins on the human side, the other on the Jewish side; but they both end up in the place where our Jewish and human identities meet.

Our slogan at Hillel is ‘Distinctively Jewish, Universally Human.’ Our work is an elegant dance that brings together the stories of our students with the story of our people. As we embark on the High Holidays and on a new school year, parshat Ki Tavo reminds us that the biggest question to ask is, “What will our story be this year?”

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