Friday, March 22, 2013

Passover

Some thoughts about Passover.  Let me begin by offering an apology.  I told many of your children that they can recline at the Seder table.   I know that you probably spend a good deal of time telling them to sit up at the table, or not to slouch or perhaps even not to put their elbows on the table, so I am sorry for undermining your authority, but at the Passover Seder all are permitted.  At the Seder we are supposed to express our freedom, even if it appears ill mannered by contemporary standards.

The fourth question asks: “Why is this night different from all other nights?  On all other nights we can sit upright or recline, on this night all of us recline.”  The rabbis modeled their Seder after the Greco-Roman banquets of antiquity.  This was how the free ate their meals, they reasoned.  Free people reclined.  Others served them.  It is also customary to serve those sitting next to you at the Seder table, most especially pouring wine for them.  Make sure their glass is never empty!

The Seder is replete with symbols.  I explained to our Religious School students that all the symbols and prayers seek to accomplish the teaching of one of two ideas.  Each point to one of these messages: 1. We were slaves in Egypt.  Or 2. Now we are free.  If you take in these messages then you have understood the purpose of the Seder.  Its goal is to teach these lessons.  The food, the words and the songs are not ends in themselves.  They seek to have us reach beyond ourselves.  Each and every year we must take to heart our freedom.  We must re-learn that it can never be taken for granted. 

This morning I delivered 100 lunch bags, packed by our seventh graders, to a local soup kitchen where they were immediately distributed to day laborers who were found huddling at street corners in the cold (spring!) air.  On Monday evening we will read: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.  Let all who are in need, come and share the Pesach meal.  This year we are still here—next year, in the land of Israel.  This we are still slaves—next year, free people.”  For Jews, freedom was never about eating as much of whatever we want.  All of the food arrayed on our Seder tables might suggest otherwise, but the point of the bitter herbs and charoset are, for example, to remember the taste of slavery, the message of the delicious brisket and wine is to remind us of the sweetness of freedom.

It was never about the taste.  It was always about the message.

So how remarkable indeed to be reminded of our holiday’s import by the President of the United States! There in Jerusalem, President Obama said: “[Passover] is a story of centuries of slavery and years of wandering in the desert; a story of perseverance amidst persecution and faith in God and the Torah. It’s a story about finding freedom in your own land. And for the Jewish people, this story is central to who you’ve become. But it’s also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering but also all of its salvation.”

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