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Parashat Tzav

03/25/2021 04:02:00 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

The time has arrived. Passover is no longer “coming up…”. It begins this weekend. Tomorrow will be the time to burn all of our chametz. As we watch our remaining chametz burn in the fire, think about all that you are letting go of. Think of all of the anger and the hurt that you’re enslaved to and place that in the fire side by side with your chametz. We hold onto so much hurt in our world. We hold onto so much negativity and anger. Take this opportunity to reflect and say dayenu, it’s enough. I have enough… the world is enough… I am done chasing things that elude me, because as a free person, I am able to choose what I want to do and be and how I want those things to come to fruition.

Seder can be overwhelming. So many people together with different viewpoints and different goals. So many people who are hungry for dinner. At the same time, those same people come not only hungry for dinner, but also hungry for knowledge and growth. At the beginning of Seder we declare כל דכפין let all who are hungry come and eat. Think of it a bit differently, let all who hunger for nuance come and eat from our plates of discussion and learning. Seder cannot be just about brisket and chicken and charoset. It cannot only be about wine and parsley. It must be about everyone at the table sitting together and learning together and growing together.

So here are some thoughts to share as we sit down for our Seders this year:

1.  God freed us from slavery with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. This reflects a physicality of means. The Torah teaches that God created the world by using words, but this act feels and is different. God chose not to just say “poof, you are free.” God chose to use a strong and mighty outstretched arm. God chose to not just make something happen, but to make it a process.  All too often we lament and talk about injustice and inequity in our world. We make outlandish and extreme statements but the reality is they are empty and hollow when not backed up with our actions. We need to emulate both of these techniques. We need to use our words, but we also need to employ our hands and our actions into doing good and freeing our world from all that enslaves us.

2.  Matzah is a complicated food. We call it the bread of affliction in the Haggadah and at the same time we see it as the bread of our liberation. (Side note: I see it as a delicious snack all year long). In the Seder, we read about Rabban Gamliel’s legal ruling that if we have not discussed three items during Seder, we have not fulfilled our obligation. Those three things are: Pesach (the shank bone), Matzah and Maror (bitter herbs). The bitter herb is all about hardship and the past. It’s all about angst and hurt, not about freedom. The Pesach is all about a one-night event that brought us freedom. The matzah on the other hand is all about slavery, being freed and living as free people. We baked the matzahs as slaves, we ate them while we were being freed and then we ate them in the desert while we traveled to the Promised Land. This means matzah is the most important food of the holiday. It means matzah is the one food that, while not required, we eat all week long. When we eat the matzah this year, let us all see that we need to look at the whole story and not just a portion. Let us all see that the things we love and adore are not only about one thing, but about many different complex things.

3.  Many of us mistake freedom for ultimate personal autonomy. “I am free and can do whatever it is that I want to do.” But on the nights when we gather to truly celebrate our freedom, we do so in a very ritualized and ordered way. We have a strict set Seder order that we go through each year to celebrate freedom. This is paradoxical, we are celebrating freedom by means of rules and order forced on us from our tradition. Why do you think this is? I would argue that it goes back to the mistake we make in seeing freedom as being ultimate autonomy. There is no such thing as absolute freedom. We all have obligations and rules to adhere to. We all live in societies, and as such, each of us must live within a certain framework that means we surrender a bit of our “freedom.” We can see this in the secular world with the many rights given to us by our legal system, but each of those rights has limitations placed on them. Try to think of some of those paradoxical issues in our everyday lives and in our Jewish lives as well.

4.  In the Haggadah, there are lots of numbers. There are the four cups of wine, the four questions and the four children. We have the ten plagues. We have the three matzot. We have the six items on the Seder plate. We also have the 14 or 15 steps of the Seder (to be explained below). All of these numbers serve to help us remember the rituals as well as the story. This year, let’s do something different with these numbers.

a.  Find 10 items in the room that remind you of pain

b.  Name four things that are different from last year and another four that are different from the previous year (2019)

c.  Name three things that you can do as a Jew to help our people become stronger and more connected

d.  Find six items that represent you and your freedom and bring them to the table

e.  Discuss 14 or 15 steps you and your fellow Seder participants can take to live more complete lives in the future

5.  There is a debate as to whether there are 14 or 15 steps to the Seder, which centers around the matzah. We say hamotzi before eating matzah because it’s the bread of the holiday and we always say hamotzi before eating bread. However, on Seder nights, we also say the berachah (achilat matzah) for eating matzah as those nights we are commanded to eat it. The debate is whether hamotzi and achilat matzah represent two different steps. They both are fulfilled with one action but they have very different purposes. One is to thank God for the gift of food and sustenance. The other is to acknowledge the obligation to eat matzah as a remembrance of the exodus. Which do you think it should be? Should there be 14 or 15 steps to the Seder? It’s up to you to figure out the answer and why.

Those are my thoughts as we prepare to celebrate this incredible holiday. This year we are separate, next year may we be together. This year we are filled with fear, next year may we be free of all fears. It may be aspirational, but we all need to reach in order to grow.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Hearshen

Mon, April 19 2021 7 Iyyar 5781