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Showing posts from April, 2016

Passover and Dreams of Jerusalem

People often ask me why some celebrate seven days of Passover and others eight. Should we eat matzah for seven days or eight, celebrate one seder or two? The Torah specifies that Passover be celebrated for seven days. “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread…” (Exodus 12:15) In Israel the holiday is observed for seven days. In diaspora communities such as our own it is celebrated for eight days with two seders. Why the difference? Millennia ago when the rabbis established the calendar they insisted that witnesses attest to the beginning of the new month. Despite the fact that they had already developed mathematical calculations to make this determination, they asked for witnesses to come before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. “Where did you see the new moon?” they asked a witness. (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2:6) Once they were satisfied by the testimony they declared the next day Rosh Hodesh, the first of the Hebrew month. Beacon fires were set on hilltops to declare the news thro

Passover and the Cup of Unresolved Questions

Our seder tables are arrayed with many symbols. There is, for example, the matzah, the bitter herbs, charoset and, the four cups of wine. Which of these is the most important? Is it the matzah? We eat this unleavened bread for the week of Passover to remind us that we were slaves in Egypt. The story is told that when the Israelites hurried to flee slavery the bread did not have enough time to rise and so they ate matzah. In actuality our Egyptian oppressors may have designed this unleavened bread. It is cheaper than regular bread and as many can attest, requires a longer digestion period. It was therefore the perfect food to feed slaves. The maror and charoset, are these the most important? They likewise remind us about the bitterness of our years in Egypt. With every taste of these symbolic feeds we remember our slavery. The haggadah proclaims: “In every generation one is obligated to see oneself as one who personally went out from Egypt.” These symbolic foods help to mak

Metzora and Misplaced Words

A Hasidic story, although retold through this rabbi’s modern eyes. One day a man (let’s call him Mike) heard an interesting, albeit unflattering, story about another man (let’s call him Steve). It was an amusing tale and so Mike shared it with others. Everyone found the story entertaining. Mike reveled in the laughter. Soon Steve noticed that people gave him strange looks as he passed by on the street. He quietly wondered why. “Was it his hair style?” Then he noticed that people frequented his store less often. Soon he discovered the unkind words people were saying about him. He asked a friend what they were saying. He could not believe his ears. He soon found out the source of the tale. It was Mike! Steve confronted the town’s storyteller, complaining that he had ruined his reputation by repeating this one, unflattering episode. Steve remains convinced that he is in fact an excellent dancer and that his gyrations were not inappropriate. Mike tried to make excuses that it

Five Suggestions for Improving Your Seder Fun

Passover begins on Friday evening, April 22. This holiday requires far more preparation than most, especially in the kitchen. What follows are some concrete suggestions for enhancing your Seder and adding to its fun. This year spend some extra time preparing to have a great time. First of all view the haggadah as director’s notes rather than a script in which every word must be recited. Use it as a guide rather than a book that should be read cover to cover. The point is to relish in our freedom. 1. Recite the blessing for karpas (vegetables) early and put out crudités to nibble on to sustain your guests until dinner. It is never a good idea to sit for hours staring at food. Add hummus (the Sephardi are absolutely correct on legumes; the Ashkenazi need to lighten up) and salsa for dipping and of course added sustenance. Let everyone nosh as you make your way through the first part of the Seder. 2. Really act out the maggid (story). Assign parts. Use this as a guide: Sedr

Tazria and Sharing Our Pains

People often treat illness as a private affair. Disease is only to be shared with the most intimate of friends. Judaism holds a contrary view. Although I would never share such confidences, we should understand, and appreciate, that our tradition believes sickness is a public concern. Alleviating pain is incumbent upon every person. Once the Gerer Rebbe asked his disciple. “How is Moshe Yaakov doing?” The disciple shrugged his shoulders and stammered, “I do not know.” “What!” screamed the Rebbe, “You don’t know? You pray under the same roof, you study the same texts, you serve the same God, you sing the same songs—and yet you dare tell me that you don’t know whether Moshe Yaakov is in good health, whether he needs help, advice or comforting?” The Torah relates. “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the pries