Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum
There has been much discussion in recent years of how to bring democracy to countries and cultures where it does not yet exist. Most scholars agree that freedom is more than the right to vote. Hitler was voted into power. So was Hamas. And, if an election were held in Iran today, Ahmadinejad might still win.
The story of Pesach provides us with guidelines for understanding freedom today. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh taught that there were three aspects of Egyptian slavery. The first was gerut. The Egyptians treated us as strangers, outsiders. Human kindness is based on empathy, the ability of each of us to identify with the troubles of our neighbor. Once the Egyptians convinced themselves that we were not quite human, persecuting us became psychologically easier for them.
The second stage of slavery was avdut,the removal of our political rights. Laws were passed removing our right to leave the country, to choose our way of worship, and to decide for ourselves what kind of work we wished to do. In Germany in the 1930’s, Jews were first isolated from their neighbors, forbidden to attend the same schools and forced to wear a special badge of shame. Only after the stages of gerut and avdut were entrenched was the third stage of slavery implemented. This was inui,physical torment.
Beyond the negative definition of freedom, the rabbis added a positive formulation. Freedom is the right of each person to fulfill her unique human potential. It’s the right to give, to be useful to others in a way that challenges our particular God-given gifts. So, said the rabbis, a person may say to his employee, ‘hoe this field.’ But, he may not say, “hoe until I get back from my trip.” In the latter case, a person is merely being kept busy. Every person has the right to feel a sense of achievement. A factory worker doing mindless work can feel accomplished if she is saving money for her daughter to attend college. But, a person who has no hope of growth is enslaved.
Finally, the Exodus story measures freedom by how a society treats its outsiders. “Love the stranger, “we are told, “because you know his heart.” By our Tradition’s definition, even a country that treats its own citizens equitably cannot be called free if it harbors prejudices and hatred against foreign cultures and newcomers.
These principles provide us with guidelines for evaluating the progress of freedom today. One election does not create a free society. Genuinely open societies contain a wide variety of freedoms: there is freedom of the press; there are term limits on positions of power; there is religious tolerance and pluralism—an atmosphere of mutual respect among different religious traditions; there is respect for the rights of minorities and immigrants from other countries; there is a culture of self-criticism; there is a rejection of racism and prejudice against any group for religious or ethnic reasons; and a free society is constantly improving the ability of each of its citizens to grow as a human being and to develop her own unique voice in a way that also contributes to the welfare of others.
These ideals lead us to a multi-faceted approach to championing freedom today.
We must fight against gerut,,attempt to turn another human being into a non-person. We must protest the daily teaching of hatred of Jews in the Muslim world. Those societies that demonize others can never be free. We must use our political and economic leverage to insist that the systematic promotion of anti-semitism be stopped.
We must support all those who resist avdut,political subjugation. We must become advocates for every dissident in the world who has the courage to advocate for democratic change. We must learn their names, and encourage our leaders to press their cause in meetings with foreign nations.
We must work for the end of inui,physical slavery. Over twenty million people are enslaved today, more than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century. We cannot call ourselves free if we turn a blind eye to the suffering of so many people.
Through local efforts to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and promote education among the illiterate, we can help increase each person’s ability to rise to their truest potential.
We live at a time of great hope and great challenge. America has raised the art of freedom to a new level. The State of Israel gives us unprecedented ability to determine our own destiny as a people. But, there is much work yet to do in the world. May the coming Pesach holiday inspire us to take up the cause of freedom with new energy and new effectiveness. May we realize the words of the haggadah, by advancing the world mei’afelah l’orah, from darkness to light in the way, that we treat each other and our fellow human beings.
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, Herzl Ner Tamid, Mercer Island, WA
OR LA YEHUDIM NISAN 5769
A Light to Our Fellow Jews in the Month of Nisan KEEPING THE STORY ALIVE: QUESTIONS AND REFLECTIONS AT THE SEDER TABLE Every year, we gather with families and friends to recreate the story of the Exodus and celebrate our passage to freedom. It is no easy job keeping the Seder experience perpetually meaningful. Without additional help, the yearly repetition of the Haggadah text may bring about diminishing returns – causing us to lose a valuable opportunity for learning and sharing.
A hallmark of the Seder is the practice of asking and answering questions -- a process which educates participants and helps to keep them alert!
Kiddush. The Kiddush we say over the wine every Shabbat or on holidays serves to sanctify the day. The Kiddush we recite at the Seder over the four cups of wine serves an additional purpose. At the Seder, we not only sanctify the holiday but also remember four deliberate acts of God: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians and I will deliver you out of their service, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm and with great judgments; and I will take you to Me for a people ...” (Exodus 6:7) No one act alone fulfilled God’s mission. It was the series of actions that made the exodus from Israel a significant event in the history of our people. As we recite the Kiddush, we reflect that these four actions were behaviors with a purpose – actions with intent. God redeemed us so that we would be His people and He would be our God. This is both a privilege and an obligation.
How can we fulfill our obligations to God? The Kiddush prayer reflects upon the uniqueness of special nature of the Jewish people. How are we different? Why is it important that we continue to identify as Jews in today’s society, which emphasizes “equality” and “sameness”?
Halahma Anya. We read: “Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are needy come and celebrate with us.” The Torah makes clear that every Jew is obligated to partake of the Pesach offering. The Talmud teaches that even the poorest person is to be provided with four cups of wine. Pesach teaches us that for a Seder to be properly observed, all segments of our community must be included. The language of the Haggadah is in the first person plural – WE. Our celebration is only complete when we celebrate together.
Participation in the Seder is a mark of Jewish identity. Do you agree? How would you define the concept of “identity”? We may derive from this section the teaching that we must meet the needs of all those in our community who require help – whether it be physical assistance or spiritual and emotional support. How can we show our fellow Jews that they have not been abandoned or forgotten?
Ten Plagues. The Pesach story reminds us that human beings do not control the environment. It was a result of a famine that the Children of Israel went to Egypt. Egypt had food because Joseph had convinced Pharaoh to store the excess food during the years of plenty. God then punished the Egyptians for their treatment of the children of Israel by sending plagues that negatively affected their environment. As Jews, we are deeply concerned about the environment. Our tradition teaches us to respect nature, and it is filled with injunctions concerning our responsibility to preserve and protect our planet. In Leviticus 25:23, God commands us to respect the land because “...the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.” We live in a world we did not create – a world we do not own. We are the tenants of the land; God is the ultimate “Owner.”
How do the first nine plagues compare to contemporary natural disasters? Identify other instances in the Bible where God used the environment to achieve His goals. Are we truly in control of the environment? Our neglect of the ozone layer continues to lead to serious problems. We are responsible for acid rain, the greenhouse effect and chlorofluorocarbons. Yet, we have no control over such natural phenomena as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados. How do we reconcile this?
Avadim Hayyinu. Speak about current situations where people are being oppressed and explain how these are similar to what happened in the past. Does history repeat itself, or do problems appear in different guises? The structure of this reading follows a principle stated in the Talmud: “Begin with degradation and end with praise” (Pesahim 116a). Jews are constantly reminded that our ancestors were slaves in Egypt and were liberated by God. This occurs not only at the Seder, but when we chant the Kiddush on Shabbat and Festivals, when we read the Ten Commandments, and also when we say daily prayers. It helps us appreciate the importance of freedom and impresses our responsibility to strive for the freedom of mankind. We are meant to remember the pain of enslavement so that we will be sensitive to the pain of others.
The lesson of slavery could have been one of self-pity, causing us to flaunt our suffering in front of other nations. We could have learned that the way to survive is to be constantly wary of others. We know that to believe these things and to act in this fashion would mean that the Egyptians had taught us their ways. We are commanded: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 23:9).
What lessons can we learn from our experience as slaves? Is it possible to be free and yet feel like a slave? Why? How? What is the difference between spiritual freedom and physical freedom? Prepared and Edited by Lois Goldrich
Originally distributed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to its congregations from the Department of Public Affairs, 1998.
ACT AS A JEW TO IMPROVE THE WORLD
RANSOMING THE AFIKOMAN When we think of the afikoman, chances are we also think of the joy surrounding the discovery of this broken piece of matzah (probably by the youngest child at the Seder). But is this simply a game, or is there a deeper meaning to this custom?
Tzafun, the eating of the afikoman, has tremendous significance. The matzah eaten at the beginning of the meal was symbolic of the past, of our redemption from Egypt. The matzah reserved as the afikoman and put away to be eaten at the end of the meal is symbolic of our future redemption. “Tzafun” means hidden. In most households, the afikoman is hidden either by the adults or by the children, who then demand a ransom for its return. The hiding of the afikoman symbolizes the hidden nature of our future redemption. When will the Messianic era arrive? How will the Messianic era come about? The answers are hidden – yet there are some hints.
The afikoman symbolizes the korban pesah, the Pesach sacrifice that every Jew must share. Today, each participant at the Seder must, as the final part of the formal meal, eat a portion of the afikoman. The cooperation of the children and adults – in bringing the hidden afikoman to light and making it available to all – is symbolic of the cooperation we must exhibit if we are to help speed up the arrival of the Messiah.
Only after eating the afikoman can we recite the Birkat Ha’Mazon and invite Elijah the Prophet, the harbinger of the Messiah, to our Seder table.
A NEW CUSTOM
In ransoming or redeeming the afikoman, instead of just “paying off” the children, each participant at the Seder should also “purchase” his or her share to eat. Let us make a pledge of action, vowing to carry out ma’asim tovim, good deeds, as well as acts of tzedakah and gemilut hesed, lovingkindness. We might pledge to bring food to a homeless shelter or begin to visit the sick at a local hospital. We might begin our search for the Messiah by engaging in Jewish learning or participating in personal and communal prayer.
Think of what you will offer for the afikoman. After Birkat Ha’Mazon, follow a beautiful custom initiated by Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz, in which each participant pours some wine into Elijah’s Cup. As you pour wine from your cup into Elijah’s, share with those at your Seder what you have decided to do this year to grow closer to God and to make the world a better place.
Leader (to the participants as the afikoman is distributed): To share in the afikoman, we must each pledge to make our world a better place and to make ourselves better Jews in order to hasten the final redemption. Think about this as we recite the Birkat Ha’Mazon. We will share our commitments when we welcome Elijah.
After Birkat Ha’Mazon
Each participant (while pouring a small amount of wine into Elijah’s Cup): This year I pledge to ... In this way may I do my share to help bring about our future redemption and hasten the coming of the Messiah.
Leader: As the Sages teach us: “Only through its own efforts will Israel be redeemed.” Just as our ancestors each did their part in preparing for the exodus from Egypt, the historic redemption over 3,000 years ago, so too must we each do our part to bring about our future redemption. We have each made a pledge to better our world in the year to come – symbolizing our cooperative pledge by pouring some of our own wine into the Cup of Elijah. It is only through cooperation, self sacrifice, compassion and generosity that we may truly improve the world.
Written by Lois Goldrich and by Ken Goldrich (z”l)
Originally distributed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (2003) from the Department of Congregational Planning.
LIVE THE JEWISH CALENDAR A ONCE IN A 28 YEAR OPPORTUNITY From Wikipedia: Birkat HaChamah “is a special Jewish prayer recited once every twenty-eight years, the period of the solar cycle. Jewish law stipulates that the prayer be said every 10,227 (28 x 365.25) days. The next date set is April 8, 2009 (14 Nisan 5769). According to the Babylonian Talmud (tractate Berachot 59b), at these times the Sun returns to the position that it had when the universe was first created. The tradition is that the sun was created in its spring equinox position, at the first hour of the night before the fourth day of Creation. Whenever the equinox is thought to occur at that same time of the week, the sun is said to have returned to its original position.
The Rabbinical Assembly is publishing a brief Siddur for use at this observance, to be entitled “Koch Ha-Berakhah: A Guide to Birkat Ha-Chamah, the Blessing of the Sun.” The Siddur is being prepared by Rabbi Joseph Prouser together with Gary Kitmacher, Manager of Communications of NASA’s International Space Station Program. In addition to the customary liturgy, the Siddur will include a 21st century analysis of Shmuel’s astronomy, a history, and songs and poetry (in a variety of languages) appropriate to the occasion. The Siddur also includes reflections on the renewed relevance of “The Blessing of the Sun” as it relates to solar power and environmental concerns.
“The Sun’s Special Blessing,” is a new Jewish children’s picture book. Talia is a third grader in a day school about to learn a special blessing for the sun, “Birkat HaChamah.” The author, Sandy Wasserman, has taught for more than 30 years, including many years at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Nassau County.
Talia and her classmates share an unusual experience at school. When the class learns about the teacher’s adventure 28 years ago, they unearth a 1981 time capsule in the schoolyard. It reveals that era’s secular and religious pop culture. After a lively discussion about the blessing, unique classroom plans are devised, which allow students to share their contemporary lives with Jewish children of the future. The book encourages readers to enrich their understanding of Judaism and explore the cycle of this special blessing. Soft paper cut illustrations by Ann D. Koffsky add warmth and imagination to the story.
Follow Sandy’s website, http://web.mac.com/sfwasserman. The book can be ordered from the United Synagogue Book Service: 1 800 594 5617 or www.uscj.org/booksvc. Hard cover $17.95 and soft cover $12.95 plus shipping. Pitspopany Press.
EATING AS A JEW ON PESACH
PESACH TERMS CHAMETZ: Fermented or leavened wheat, rye, oats, spelt and barley.
When these grains come in contact with water, they leaven within 18 minutes. In the case of hot or salted water, leavening takes place instantly. Chametz may not be consumed either by eating or drinking, and may not be held in one’s possession, nor may any benefit be derived from chametz. Grain flour is commonly produced from grains that have been washed and tempered, which is the process by which grains are softened by soaking in water. This flour and all products made with it are, therefore, potentially chametz.
KITNIYOT: Leguminous vegetables such as beans, peas, corn and rice.
The consumption of these foods is restricted by European rabbinic tradition, though these foods are not chametz. Unlike chametz, benefit from and possession of kitniyot during Passover are permitted. Yemenite, Sephardic and Oriental Jews are not bound to this custom by their traditions. The tradition of the kitniyot restriction has been steadfastly maintained by all Jews of European origin for centuries. This includes the Jews of France, Britain, Germany, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Austria and the Low Countries.
MATZAH: Unleavened bread prepared from the flour of grains that have not been washed or tempered, and have been milled under supervision, completely protected from any contact with water.
Matzah may be prepared only with water that has been stored overnight. It is kneaded into dough either by hand or machine, but only in a cool room, since heat may cause instant leavening. The dough may not be left idle for a period longer that 18 minutes. It is rolled into thin sheets and then baked. All equipment used in the preparation of matzah must be constantly cleaned of dough crumbs, and the oven in which matzah is baked must be set at the proper baking temperature. Insufficiently heated ovens cause leavening to occur. Once matzah has been baked properly, leavening can no longer occur, and the product can no longer become chametz. Therefore, matzah products -- such as ground matzah meal, flour and farfel -- may be cooked in hot water, baked or blended with any variety of Passover ingredients.
SHMURAH MATZAH: Matzah used for the Seder.
All Jews must fulfill the mitzvah of achilat matzah, the eating of matzah. This matzah is eaten at the Seder just before the meal, at which time the blessings of Hamotzi and Al Achilat Matzah are pronounced. Such matzah must be prepared with the express purpose of the mitzvah of matzah.Le’shem Matzot Mitzvah. It is traditional that the flour from which this matzah is prepared should be specially supervised from the time the wheat is cut -- shmurah misha’at ketzirah. When this special supervision has been instituted only from the time of milling – techinah – matzot prepared from such flour may be used for matzot mitzvah only when the traditional shmurah misha’at ketzirah matzah is not available.
MATZAH ASHIRAH: Matzah made from flour kneaded with fruit juice or eggs.
This matzah may not be used for the mitzvah regardless of which flour is used. This type of matzah is commonly referred to as egg or grape matzah. Water may not be used in the baking of this matzah since adding water to the dough would create instant leavening. According to Ashkenazic practice, such matzah may be consumed on Pesach only by the elderly, sick or young children who cannot digest regular matzah. Sephardim should consult their Rabbi.
BEDIKAT CHAMETZ: The search for chametz.
On the night of Tuesday, April 7, 2009, a search for chametz is to be conducted in the home, wherever chametz may have been brought during the year. The search is conducted in the evening, by a candle or a flashlight. Chametz found during the search is set aside for burning the next day.
BITUL CHAMETZ: The nullification of chametz.
Since chametz may not be held in one’s possession during Pesach, one way to rid oneself of the chametz is to nullify all types of chametz in one’s possession, and to declare them abandoned property. The bitul is pronounced immediately after the search, to nullify the chametz that may have been overlooked.
BI’UR CHAMETZ: The destruction of chametz.
It is not permitted to rely solely on the utterance of the bitul to fulfill the mitzvah of bi’ur chametz. Though any method of complete disposal is permitted, e.g., flushing into sewers or throwing into the sea, it is traditional to destroy chametz by fire during the fifth portion hour of the day, after which the bitulis pronounced to nullify any chametz that may have been overlooked.
MECHIRAT CHAMETZ: Sale of chametz to a non-Jew.
The requirement of biur chametz is limited to foods under Jewish ownership and possession. Chametz that has been transferred to a non-Jew need not be destroyed. Such transfer of chametz, by legal and binding sale with properly executed contract (shtar mechirah) gives the non-Jew full title to all chametz foods. This transfer is traditionally carried out by engaging the Rabbi to act as an agent, with power of attorney, to sell the chametz to a non-Jew. When the sale is carried out, a small amount of chametz is not sold and is set aside to be destroyed on the following day, in order to fulfill the mitzvot of bedikah, bi’ur and bitul. Chametz that has been sold must be put in a completely sealed-off place, inaccessible during Passover.
CHAMETZ SHE’AVAR ALAV HA’PESACH: Any chametz held over Pesach under Jewish ownership.
In addition to the prohibition of chametz during Pesach, any chametz that was maintained under Jewish ownership during Pesach remains prohibited after it. Selling the chametz before Pesach to a non-Jew avoids Jewish ownership during Pesach.
(This information appeared in the OU Passover Guide 2008)
LEARNING AS A JEW
LET’S TALK ON PESACH:
THE PERFECT TIME TO TAKE UP THE DEEP QUESTIONS WITH YOUR CHILDREN
By Batya L. Ludman Pesach is around the corner and, from a psychological perspective, offers tremendous opportunities for parents. It is an enormous opportunity for communication – especially about important family values.
The key to the Pesach Seder is the telling of the story of our exodus to freedom, our physical and spiritual journey from slavery to becoming a great nation. How do we make this relevant for our children in the year 2009 and make it meaningful in these very difficult times? The actual telling is what children will take with them when they have their own families and conduct their own Seder some day. If you can make the retelling of the story meaningful, then you will nurture both the body and the soul, and this event will be anticipated with great excitement.
Too often, people come to the table having given little thought to what they want their children to get out of the evening. Getting the most out of the Seder involves being prepared ahead of time, being creative – especially for the young children or teenagers present – and being committed to making the experience meaningful for everyone. These three things may be more difficult than they sound, given both the late hour and the length of the Seder, but there is lots of reading material available to offer help, great props to keep up interest and with a little imagination, the night can be a real winner.
We sat on pillows on the floor one year, and another year showed up in togas. These ploys worked well to keep our young children interested. Make sure your children nap beforehand so they can appreciate all you have to offer. The more you involve your children and guests, the more they will feel a part of the experience and want to be involved. This is a time for asking lots of questions; and with the discussion being far more important than the actual answers; your guests can be given “research” to do ahead of the Seder. Even the smallest child can be asked what he or she likes most about Pesach and provide meaningful insight.
Since Pesach marks the birth of the Jewish nation, now may be a good time to reflect on both the meaning of Judaism and the meaning of Israel in our lives. Perhaps this is the time to think about life’s lessons and the thoughts, feelings and values you’d like to pass on to your children and future generations. As you create memories that will last a lifetime, perhaps you’d like to explore what role freedom, or the lack of it, has played for you, your family and others in the past, the future and at present. What have the dark moments in history shown you?
The mere fact that you can hold a Seder is in itself one of the best ways to show children just what freedom is all about. Contrast your Seder night with the situation of Jews during the Holocaust, Soviet Jews in the ‘70’s, our missing soldiers and those in Israel whose Seder could be interrupted at any moment by a siren warning of a rocket attack. This will help our children appreciate what they have and what being free really means. Often, our children take things for granted and don’t realize what is involved in our struggle to be free.
The Haggadah has so much to offer as a teaching tool. Pesach is the time to be inclusive. It is the time to open our home to others. “Let all who are hungry come and eat” suggests that this is the time to think of our greater community – those whose needs far surpass our own. Perhaps our children have a charity project in mind that we can help facilitate.
Belonging to a community implies that there are rules and rituals. Can our children draw up a list of how people living in a family or community should act? What values do our children see as important and how does the Haggadah make them come alive? What message does the story of the “wicked child” teach each of us? Can we learn to be forgiving, let go of anger, recognize that while everyone has certain bad attributes, we have so much more that is good? In what ways are our children curious? In what ways is this positive?
Have you told your children what you love about them lately? Where do you stand on ethical and moral values? While bitterness is represented by the maror, can you see a path of optimism? Can you find the sweet? What bitterness or pain have people sitting at your table endured? How have you learned from your pain? In what ways have you grown? Can you engage in a discussion of whether you are really free now? Do you really have free choice?
The Seder offers the opportunity to talk about our home and the specialness of past Seders. What makes your children’s Seder special? Why? “Seder” means order. How are the importance of time and structure reflected in your lives? Does it bring you meaning and enhance your lives or add to your stress?
At the Seder we are all teachers and students. There is something for everyone to learn. The Pesach Seder gives people an opportunity to reflect their lives individually and collectively. Who are you? Who have you become, and are you happy with the direction in which life takes you and you take your life? Are you happy with the role you play toward insuring freedom for others? Are you being a decent, honest and ethical individual?
If you can explore these questions as you sit with your loved ones, then your children will clearly answer for themselves, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana, Israel. THE FOUR STUDENTS
Prepared by Rabbi Stuart Seltzer The Wise Student
What kind of questions do we want our students to ask?
What is a good question?
In this passage, the wise child is well educated in the tradition. What other kinds of wisdom might students bring to the classroom?
What are the best kinds of questions that we can ask our students?
How do we encourage our students to ask questions?
How do we encourage our students to be curious?
How do we encourage our students to be respectful?
How do we create a classroom environment that fosters serious engaged dialogue?
How can we encourage the very knowledgeable student to learn in less intellectual/cerebral ways?
How can we make sure that the wise child doesn’t dominate discussions because the other students are going to be like them?
The Wicked Student
Who are our wicked students?
In this passage, the wicked children are provocative. Do we ignore the feeling of provocation?
Do we acknowledge the feeling of provocation?
How do we interpret this provocative behavior?
Why do some students not feel part of the community?
How can we encourage our students to feel less alienated?
When is shame a good technique in education or in the classroom?
When is it good for the teacher to mirror the wicked student’s behavior?
How does the student become wicked?
The Simple Student
Who are our simple students?
What does the simple student’s question tell us about this student?
How do we understand the simple student’s question?
Why is the simple student good for the teacher?
How personal should we be with our students about the subject matter?
What are some of the ways we can make the simple student feel part of our community?
How do we help the simple student grow?
The Student Who Does Not Know How to Ask
Who are our students who do not know how to ask?
What do we do with the quiet kid in the back of the room who never speaks?
How do we open conversations with students who never speak?
When is it appropriate for a teacher to talk personally in a classroom?
What are the pitfalls in talking personally?
What are the pitfalls of not talking personally?
PASSOVER: ANSWERING THE WISE CHILD
Rabbi Chanan Morrison
The Haggadah speaks of four children. Each one asks his own question, and each one receives a personal response. Education, the Sages taught, is not something that can be mass-produced like a Model-T.
The first is the wise child, who is troubled by the abundance of rituals and minutiae in Judaism. For the intelligent and percipient, everything should be rational and reasonable. What meaning can there be in these myriad details and rules?
"What is the meaning of the testimonies, statutes, and laws which the Eternal our God has commanded us?"
Why all the Details?
In one short sentence, the wise child has challenged the very foundations of a ritually-rich religion. Why do we need all of these details and halakhot? Why isn't it enough to be satisfied with the Torah's fundamental teachings and the basic tenets?
The Haggadah's response is enigmatic, ostensibly irrelevant to the question:
"You shall explain to him the laws of Pesach: one does not eat any dessert after the paschal offering."
Are we to explain to him all the laws of Pesach? Or just this one rule about not eating after the paschal offering - and nowadays, the afikoman-matzah - eaten at the end of the meal? What is the significance of this particular halakha?
The Seder Frog
My six-year-old daughter was full of excitement, watching us unpack the Pesach dishes. The special pots and pans that she remembered from last Pesach were back once again!
Then we uncovered a small piece of green velvet-cloth that fits over a finger. Once upon a time it sported two plastic eyes and even a little red tongue. Our eldest brought it home from kindergarten one year, and ever since it has graced our Seder table, making a special appearance during the passage about the plague of frogs.
I wondered: would my daughter remember this unrecognizable lump of green cloth, only on display for a few minutes each year? I need not have worried. Her face immediately lit up when she saw the Pesach 'frog.'
The detail laws of mitzvot serve an important function. They create an atmosphere, enhancing the mitzvah-experience. They deepen the impression the mitzvah makes on the soul. Our involvement in all aspects of mitzvot leads to deeper love of God, the ultimate source for the Torah's mitzvot.
Therefore, for the rational, intellectual child, we call attention to the rule about not eating after the afikoman-matzah. Why is matzah the very last food we eat on Seder night? We want the experience of Pesach to make a lasting impression. We want the taste of matzah to remain in our mouths for as long as possible. So we eat the afikoman at the very end of the meal, even after dessert.
The detailed laws surrounding each mitzvah etch the experience of that mitzvah onto our souls. Like the matzah on Pesach, we want the taste of the mitzvah to stay with us as long as possible. Just as our own personal additions to Pesach customs – and even formless pieces of faded green velvet - may serve to conjure up memories of frolicking frogs and past Pesachim.
[adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. II, p. 275] from the writings of Rav Avraham Kook
PERPETUATING JEWISH LIFE
A MOTHER’S DVAR TORAH IN HONOR OF HER DAUGHTER’S BAT MITZVAH:
BETWEEN PURIM AND PESACH
Women’s Tefilla Dvar Torah – March 17, 2001 As I was thinking about what I could say this afternoon, I realized that my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah is sandwiched between two holidays. One week ago, we celebrated Purim. Three weeks from today, we will celebrate Pesach. And the more I thought about that, the more I realized that there really aren’t two more diametrically opposed holidays on the Jewish calendar.
I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about the differences between Purim and Pesach.
Purim is the public reading of the megillah.
Pesach is the private reading of the haggadah.
Purim takes place in shul, with the congregation.
Pesach takes place at home, with the family.
On Purim, the community makes merry.
On Pesach, the mood is much more somber.
The Purim story is built on a declaration.
The Pesach story is built on a conversation.
The mitzvah of Purim is likroa megillah, to read the megillah.
The mitzvah of Pesach is v’hegadeta l’vincha, to tell our children.
Purim is about fun, which is a secular experience.
Pesach is about joy, which is a religious experience.
On Purim, we drink wine to forget.
On Pesach, we drink wine to remember.
The Purim seudah is an experience of the senses.
The Pesach Seder is an experience of holiness.
On Purim, we eat lots of junk food.
On Pesach, we eat matzah, a sacred food.
On Purim, we wear costumes to make us feel different on the outside.
On Pesach, we imagine what it would have been like to be slaves, to make us feel different on the inside.
Purim is the holiday that forces us to deal with the vulnerability that comes with living as a Jew in the secular world.
Pesach is the holiday that provides us with the sustenance we need to live as a Jew in the Jewish world.
Purim is the story that happens to them.
Pesach is the story that happens to us.
And I think that’s probably the most important difference between Purim and Pesach. Because not only is Purim a public story, it’s also a complete story. We read Megillat Esther, and there’s nothing we can add to that story.
Pesach, however, is a private story. And it’s not a complete story. When we read the Haggadah and tell the Pesach story, we’re supposed to add as much as we can. “V’chol hamarbeh l’saper b’yitziat Mitzrayim, harei zeh meshubach,”the more we add to the story, the more praiseworthy we become.
And that’s really the message for today. As my daughter becomes a Bat Mitzvah, I think about what she adds to my story, to our family’s story and to the community’s story.
(This lovely Dvar Torah and powerful message was written by an eyshet chayil, Sara Shayndel bat Shraga Feivel u’vat Peninah. May her light burn bright on this Pesach and many more.)
BUILDING A BRIDGE TO ISRAEL
MIRIAM’S CUP OR BOWL A custom for Pesach has emerged in the last 10-15 years in which we honor Miriam as a mover in the Exodus story. We assign a cup or bowl of water to represent the legendary Well of Miriam.
Midrash tells us that when the Israelites made their way through the desert, Miriam had a Well that acted as a way-station for them. Our people stopped and were refreshed by clear, cold water. They resumed their journey with resumed dedication and energy. Midrash goes on to tell us that the water came from a miraculous Well and was given to Miriam by God. Not only did “Miriam’s Well” quench thirst, it also cured body and soul. People came to the Well for healing. Then, with Miriam’s death, the Well disappeared.
The custom is still evolving. Mini-rituals are being devised and tried out at seders around the world. Many include passing around the vessel, with seder participants dipping in their fingertips and asking for healing, for body and soul, for themselves or for someone else. My own family has incorporated this custom into our seders. It is a way to recognize not only Miriam and her prominent role in the Pesach story, but female personalities of the Pesach story in general. It enables us to raise the status and importance that women have played in Jewish history.
The custom has become widespread and artists have indeed been prolific in their creation of vessels to honor the custom. Many artists are making matching cups for both Miriam and Elijah. While this might enhance the appearance of the seder table, matching Miriam’s cup to Elijah’s cup provides some problems.
By placing matching cups on the seder table, the message might be that Miriam and Elijah are mirror images of each other. It loses individuality and its unique Pesach place in the story. Their place on the table and in the seder are very different. Elijah represents our yearning for the Messiah’s arrival, a hope against slavery and an end to the miseries of our history. Miriam has a more direct place in the Pesach story and the Exodus from Egypt. She placed herself as the guardian over her baby brother and made sure he was saved and placed in good hands. Later, she leads the women to dance at the Sea of Reeds and carries the Well of healing as B’nai Yisrael wandered in the desert. With this in mind, a cup matching Elijah’s is not the direction we should pursue to fulfill this new ritual. My choice would be a bowl.
By using a bowl and calling it K’arat Miriam (Miriam’s Bowl), or Ma’ayan Miriam (Miriam’s Well), we are being more authentic to its purpose. By keeping it as visibly distinct as we can from the Kos Eliyahu, we are allowing both the Elijah ritual and the Miriam ritual to have independent places in the seder.
Nita Pollay Levin, Education Field Worker, NJ Region, USCJ
TIME TO GO
This is the 88th COMPACT, Nisan 5769. Enrich your life as a Jew. Transformation is a step- by-step process of learning and questioning, of doing and inquiring, of participating and asking.
Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein, the USCJ Executive Vice President, welcomes your comments about COMPACT (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rabbi Moshe Edelman, the USCJ Director of Congregational Programming, Director of Leadership Development and SULAM, prepares and edits COMPACT (email@example.com).
Dr. Raymond Goldstein, the International President of the United Synagogue
Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein, the Executive President of the United Synagogue wish you, your family and friends a Hag Kasher V’ Sameach
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MEMBERS AND THE ENTIRE CONGREGATION EACH MONTH. SHALOM
April 8, 2009 at Shacharit is the Siyyum Ha’Bchorim (Fast of the First Born) recalling their saving and remembering the Egyptian first born who perished. Also, at the same service... Birkat Ha’Chamah (The Once In 20 Years Blessing Of The Sun) What is your synagogue’s plan for that morning? Don’t miss the moment!