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D'var Torah - Pesach

04/05/2018 05:05:00 PM

Apr5

Rabbi Kassorla

It's always a little sad for me on the 7th and 8th days of Passover. I know that the Sedarim are over and I'll not have the opportunity to sit around the table with family and friends studying the Haggadah for another year.

Passover is a tremendous amount of work, but at the end of the day most of us feel that it's worth it - the interplay of tradition, scripture, family, memories and good food is wonderful.

What is it that makes this holiday so special? The Seder is the Jewish version of 'the perfect storm.' It brings together the things we love best about our tradition for two nights. It combines the personal, the communal and the universal. It reminds us who we are and challenges us to think about our responsibility to the larger world. I'm always amazed at the ways in which people use Passover to express their own deeply held beliefs and passions. More and more people are writing their own Haggadot, and using tradition to wrestle with the larger world. There's something for everyone in the Seder.

It all begins with Mah Nishtanah: "How different is this night from all other nights!" It's no accident that we open the Seder with a question, or at least a statement that is meant to inspire other questions. Everything we do at the Seder comes back to Mah Nishtanah! We go out of our way to point out that things are different on this night: we drink four cups of wine, eat different types of foods, play games at the dinner table, and provoke children and adults alike to ask questions.

And yet the Seder really is not so different 'from all other nights.' The key elements of the Seder are essential to how we're supposed to live all year. So instead of asking Mah Nishtanah, "How is this night different," maybe we should ask Mah domeh halaila hazeh, "How is this night similar and can it be similar, to all other nights and days of the year?"

With the Sedarim behind us I'd like to point out some of those similarities. By doing so, I hope you'll carry the Seder table into the year ahead and make Passover - or at least what it stands for - part of your daily life.   Who says the Passover Seder only has to take place twice a year? The following elements of the Seder that are not unique to Passover but at the very heart of how we live all the time.

Similarity Number One

 "All who are hungry come and eat." We begin the Seder by symbolically inviting those who are needy to join us for a meal. Hospitality, however, is not unique to Passover. It is something we should be doing all year long. Unfortunately, our homes have become fortresses protecting us from the outside world. We rarely invite people into our homes, particularly strangers. 

The opening statement of the Seder, then, is a reminder: help those in need and open your homes and hearts to others. This is something we're supposed to do all year long.

Similarity Number Two

One of the things that makes Passover different 'from all other nights' is that it's one of the few times that we actually sit at the dinner table together for an extended period of time. Recent studies suggest that the average family dinner is only 18 - 20 minutes long - for those who even manage to sit down together at all. Sociologists and Psychologist suggest that the ability of a family to share the dinner table has beneficial results.

The Society for Research in Child Development lists the following results:

--Regular mealtimes have a protective effect on children. Children who take part in regular family mealtimes have more vocabulary growth and academic achievement than those who don't.

--Frequently shared mealtimes protect against obesity in children and eating disorders in preteens.

--In families with young children, eating together means fewer behavior problems.

The Seder table, then, is something we need to re-introduce into Jewish life. We should try sitting down together more often: traditionally the table as a place of dialogue and encounter. It was considered to be an altar, a sacred place where we encounter both God and one another.

Similarity Number Three

The Seder is all about gratitude. We give thanks for the blessings of life, the gift of our tradition, the freedoms we take for granted and the miraculous history that has led us to this point in time.

We stop to consider how fortunate we are and how important it is to be able to say dayeenu, what we have is more than enough. We sing praise and we even give thanks to God for the maror, the bitter herbs. But it's not enough to thank God once a year or on a special occasion. Berachot, reciting blessings, is a way of life that we do dozens of time a day from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night. What we do at the Seder, then, is model of what we ought to be doing every day and all the time.

Similarity Number Four

One of the things we do at the Seder is to encourage others to ask questions. In fact the Seder can't begin until someone at the table asks a question, and according to the Mishnah, the classic code of the Oral Law, if the child can't do so, a parent should prompt his child by saying Mah Nishtanah, "Look how different this night is from all others!" In other words, the Mah Nishtanah was not meant to be recited by the child but by an adult as a way of getting child to ask questions.

Nobel Prize winner Isidor Isaac Rabi once said that his mother was responsible for making him a great scientist. Each day when he returned from school she used to ask him, "Isaac, did you ask any good questions today?" 

All knowledge begins with a question - that is why the four children play such an important role in the Seder.

So maybe the Seder is really not so different...its power lies in the example it sets for our daily lives. It highlights the best in our tradition not for two nights a year but for the whole year. And the lessons of the Exodus are something that we try to incorporate into our lives each and every day by treating others with compassion and justice, by protecting those who are vulnerable, by striving to create a society of goodness and godliness.

Passover is at the very heart of our way of life: we think it, we live it, and we strive for it.

So this year as we continue the observance of Passover in the two days ahead, maybe what we should say is Mah domeh: How this holiday is so similar and so important for us in the year to come.

Chag Sameach, Pessah Allegre, and Shabbat Shalom

Mon, July 16 2018 4 Av 5778