Special Reading for Pessakh 5764! Print & Use, Please!

Shabbat Pessakh 5758

This Shabbat we are celebrating the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Time of our Exodus from Egypt.  We shall read in the Torah in Shemot, Exodus, 12:21 to the end of chapter.  The reading begins with the words, "Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said to them, Draw out and take a lamb according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb.  And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out from the door of his house until the morning.  For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not let the destroyer come into your houses to strike you." [Ex. 12:21,22] The Night of the Passover was a seminal point in the history of the Children of Israel.  They had been members of a family that had come down to Egypt out of need, because of the famine in the Land of Canaan – and who remained in Egypt out of convenience and because they had done well in Egypt.  Why struggle to survive in a land that rewards hard work and creativity when one can live a good life of affluence and influence in a land that rewards industry and inventiveness with wealth and well-being.   The Israelites did well in Egypt, and their success was the trigger of their downfall into slavery.  We lived in Egypt, but we did not become Egyptian.   There were internal and external reasons for this.  Our forefathers wished to remain unique and different – for they treasured their roots even then, before Sinai, before the Torah.  They
continued to talk among themselves in the tongue of their fathers, Hebrew.  They married within their own families.  Because of their success in Egypt they were able to have large families.  They were
‘fruitful and multiplied,' as the text tells us.  These internal factors had an effect on the Egyptians, the people in the midst of whom they lived.  A natural suspicion of strangers, foreigners and people who are different even within any established society, was used by the authority to establish a policy that would keep these productive people in the land, but as slaves who work merely for their survival, rather than to receive a reward fit for their contribution to society. The conditions of their subjugation and humiliation proceeded apace, until the "value" of living in Egypt became a negative value.  Suddenly the Israelites became sanguine only of the promise of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He shall remove them from slavery and return them to the "land of the promise."  Moses came back from the desert promising deliverance, and for a moment they thought that redemption is at hand.   However, Pharaoh overturned their zeal and their celebration by making their task ever more difficult by not providing the straw they needed to make bricks.  Many stopped listening to Moses.
Many gave up hope.  Moses and his brother Aaron began to bring the signs of God, the plagues, to convince Pharaoh and his entourage that they need to release the Israelites, and with the increasing severity of the acts of Aaron, and with the continued refusal of Pharaoh to succumb to the will of God – there were Israelites who were convinced that they will never be rescued.. Now, Moses comes and tells the Elders of Israel, "take a lamb according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb."  The lamb was a holy animal for the Egyptian, and choosing a lamb and keeping it for four days in the home would bring a reaction from the Egyptians.  To be sure, the position of the Jews changed since Moses and Aaron began raining plagues on Egypt.  The taskmasters were unsure of whether they should push the Israelites or relent – but taking the lamb was a provocation. Further, killing the lamb, sprinkling its blood on the doorposts, and roasting the lamb for a meal – these were acts of open rebellion, and many an Israelite was ambivalent about following God's instructions at the hand of Moses. That is the whole point of the "Night of the Passover."  God was coming down to Egypt to free Israel.  But you have all heard the saying, I am sure, that ‘God helps those who help themselves.'  Well, for God to free Israel from Egypt, the Israelites had to first free themselves – from fear and from doubt, if not from the yoke of the taskmasters.  The Israelites had to commit themselves to live as free men.  They had to negate all that was Egyptian.  Slaughtering the lamb shut the door on continued life in Egypt; eating the lamb was a physical manifestation of digesting and completing the sojourn in the land of the Pharaohs.  Once experienced, the lamb meal became a staple for the Israelites, and sent
them out of the midst of the Egyptian nation.  They lost their place as Egypt's valued servants – and they became what Moses was charged to make them, servant of the Lord of Abraham.  Having made that commitment, they were ready for rescue, for redemption and for enfranchisement as God's
people through the Sinai experience, through Torah.

The Bread Our Forefathers Ate in the Land of Egypt


The celebration of Khag Hamatzot and the Festival of our Freedom is much more than a mere commemoration of past history. A Jewish holiday is first and foremost a an event to be personally experienced and relived, a lesson taught with audio-visual, olfactory, tactile and tasteful to the pallet aids. Furthermore, every Jewish holiday has a contemporary message for Jews in every time and place. This is particularly true of Pesakh and Khag Hamatzot.

As our Sage s declare, "In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he personally left Egypt." This is the purpose of the Seder on Pesakh eve: to provide every individual with an opportunity to experience an exodus from his own personal house of bondage. The opening of the Seder with the declaration, Ha lakhma anya - "Behold the bread of affliction" expresses this concept by introducing the recitation of the story of the Exodus. According to some sages, we actually have to say K'ha lakhma or Ha k'lakhma ("This is like the bread of affliction"), since the matzah we are eating is not the actual bread our forefathers ate. However, the traditional text does not say "like" and the experience is not meant to be "iffy." This is the bread, we are told, "In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he personally left Egypt." This emphasizes that the Seder is intended to move us to the point where we ourselves experience a liberation from slavery, and view the matzah before us as "the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt."

But we are not really the children of the Exodus, and we have never been in Egypt, nor experienced actual slavery – so how can redemption be real for us? The sages explained Egypt is not only a geographical location but also a state of mind. In fact the Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzra’yim, is almost identical to the word meytzarim, which means straits or limitations. In other words, our personal exodus from Egypt involves self-transcendence, lifting ourselves out of our natural limitations. We each possess a soul, a spark of the divine, the "image of God" that the story of creation speaks of. And, like the Almighty Himself, this spark is infinite and unbounded. On the personal level, Egypt symbolizes those influences and forces which confine and limit this spiritual potential that is in us.

Our religious tradition commands us that the responsibility to aid the helpless has the highest priority. How can a person be free to explore the wonders of God’s universe when his body is starving for nourishment, or when his mind is never at peace? We are required to act affirmatively by taking personal responsibility for our fellow human beings. In ancient Israel, and until rather recent times in the lands of our dispersion, it was customary for the head of the household to bring home to the Seder any stranger in the synagogue on Pesakh eve who did not have a place at a Seder of his own. Furthermore, at the beginning of the seder in the home, the leader would step into the street to recite the "Ha Lakhma," proclaiming in full sincerity, "let anyone who is hungry come and eat with us!"

So the night of the Passover reminds us of the kinship and solidarity of all of God’s children. We must recognize that liberation from "meytzarim" (straits) makes it incumbent upon us to work to ensure that our communities and nation are fully responsible - and see to it that we, as individuals, fulfill our own personal responsibility for each other. We do not understand the meaning of Pesakh if we fail to realize that we must help all those whose lives are in jeopardy. Our spirit can be free only when all are set free; free of hunger, free of joblessness, free of discrimination, free of intimidation, free of fear. When the basic necessities of life are fulfilled, then and only then can we be free.

When the cry of hunger is heard in our land, when fellow human beings are homeless, lacking shelter for the night, when children are unsafe - we must respond to the command of the Passover Seder itself, to invite all who are hungry to eat with us. We must keep alive the hope for a better world, free of oppression, recalling the words of Rabbi Tarpon: "The day is short and the labor is great. It is not for you to complete the task - but neither are you free to desist from it." We must keep in mind the words of Rabbi Hillel, who said, "If l am not for myself, who shall be for me, and if am for myself alone, what am I, and if not now, when?" We must become proactive and diligent in seeking peace for all of God’s creatures. When the Exodus is understood this way, every dimension of Jewish conduct and every mitzvah a person performs becomes a step out of Egypt and an expression of his inner Godly potential, an opportunity to realize his true self. When we make this kind of a commitment to our less fortunate brothers, when we recognize others’ limitations and constraints, we can experience a spiritual redemption that makes the whole experience worth-while.


Shabbat Shevi'i Shel Khag Hamatzot



How is this night different?

There is a saying among many Jews that Pessakh is a time of trouble for the Jewish people. It is the time of our redemption, and yet it is a time of our undoing. In some communities, it became a tradition to celebrate the holiday using white wine rather than red wine. Why is that, you ask? Because of the proximity of Pessakh to the Christian holiday of Easter, which recalls the resurrection of Jesus three days after his cruxifiction. Why should we care about "their" holiday? Because to this day they still teach that WE are responsible for his death, and they still teach that they have "superceded us" as God’s covenant people. If you don’t think this is so, just look at this week-end’s BC in your comic section of the newspaper. You shall see a most objectionable Christian message in which the seven candle menorah of Judaism is extinguished and turned into a cross. The message is clear.

The days before Easter are a time of religious fervor for the Christians, and well they should be. It is the time before "their" God-figure made, willingly, the greatest of all sacrifices, that of life itself, to redeem them from sin and grant them life after death. This is what they believe. "Jesus died to save our souls," they say. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life," [New Testament, John 3:16] is another way they put it. The holy writ of Christianity, the New Testament, tells this version of the story.

Yet, throughout their history, they continued to blame us for his death. One of the early "church fathers," Gregory of Nyssa, (c. 331-396), issued this indictment against the Jews: "Slayers of the Lord, murderers of prophets, adversaries of God, haters of God, men who show contempt for the law, foes of grace, enemies of their father’s faith, advocates of the devil, brood of vipers, slanderers, scoffers, men whose minds are in darkness, leaven of the Pharisees, assembly of demons, sinners, wicked men, stoners, and haters of righteousness." Another leader of the church, John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), who became the archbishop of Constantinople, a great orator, preached absolute enmity to the Jews: "The Jews have assassinated the Son of God! ...O Jewish people! A man crucified by your hands has been stronger than you and has destroyed you and scattered you."

Very early in the conflict between Christians and Jews, the allegation that Jews murder non-Jews, especially Christians, in order to obtain blood for the Passover or other rituals originated. Called "blood liable," it was a complex of deliberate lies, trumped-up accusations, and popular beliefs about the murder-lust of the Jews and their bloodthirstiness, based on the conception that Jews hate Christianity and mankind in general. It is combined with the delusion that Jews are in some way not human and must have recourse to special remedies and subterfuges in order to appear, at least outwardly, like other men. The blood libel led to trials and massacres of Jews in the Middle Ages and early modern times; it was revived by the Nazis. Its origin is rooted in ancient, almost primordial, concepts concerning the potency and energies of blood.

It is interesting to note that blood sacrifices were practiced by many pagan religions. When the Children of Israel received the Torah, blood was expressly forbidden for Jews to consume. The laws of kashrut command meat-salting (melihah), which is designed to prevent the least drop of blood from remaining in kosher meat. Yet, what originated in pagan practices, led to charges of ritual killing by the new religion of Christianity. This can be understood by the fact that Christianity claimed that it was "the blood of the Anointed" which brought them salvation. Therefore, the antithesis of this pure blood of salvation would have to be the blood of innocents shed for the unredeemed.

Actually, some historians claim that the first blood liable predated the Maccabeean revolt. A Greek victim who had been found in the Jewish Temple being fattened by the Jews, to be taken to a wood, where his body would have been sacrificed with the customary ritual. The Jews would have partook of his flesh, and while immolating the Greek would swear an oath of hostility to the Greeks’s king. Antiochus Epiphanes saved this Greek man by invading the Temple, thus justifying his profanation of the Temple. This tale is obviously not true, but it shows the Greeks’ hatred of the Jews and lack of comprehension of their religion .

It is interesting to note that in the beginning of Christian history, it was they who were liabled. In the second century C.E. the Church Father Tertullian complained: "We are said to be the most criminal of men, on the score of our sacramental baby-killing, and the baby-eating that goes with it." During the Middle Ages some "heretical" Christian sects were afflicted by similar accusations. The general attitude of Christians toward the holy bread of the Communion created an emotional atmosphere in which it was felt that the Jews’ Passover bread was the opposite of the divine mystery of the partaken "Body of the Anointed." The popular 13th century preacher, Friar Berthold of Regensburg, felt obliged to explain why communicants do not actually see the "Body of the Anointed" by asking the rhetorical question, "Who would like to bite off His head or hand or foot?" As Christianity spread in Western Europe, influencing people’s emotions and imagination, even more than thought and dogma, various story elements began to evolve around the alleged inhumanity and sadism of the Jews. In the first distinct case of blood libel against Jews in the Middle Ages, in Norwich in 1144, it was alleged that the Jews had "bought a Christian child, the 'boy-martyr' William, before Easter and tortured him with all the tortures wherewith our Lord was tortured, and on Long Friday hanged him on a rood in hatred of our Lord." The motif of torture and murder of Christian children in imitation of Jesus' Passion persisted with slight variations throughout the 12th century, as in Gloucester, England, 1168; Blois, France, 1171; Saragossa, Spain, 1182 and was many other libels. On the eve of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, there occurred the blood-libel case of "the Holy Child of La Guardia" (1490–91). There, Conversos, forced converts to Christianity, were made to confess under torture that with the knowledge of the chief rabbi of the Jews they had assembled in a cave, crucified the child, and abused him and cursed him to his face, as was done to Jesus in ancient times. The crucifixion motif explains to some extent why the blood libels occurred at the time of Passover.

We Jews were well aware of the implications of sheer sadism involved in the libel. In a dirge lamenting the Jews massacred at Munich because of a blood libel in 1286, the anonymous poet supposedly quotes the words of the Christian killers: "These unhappy Jews are sinning, they kill Christian children, they torture them in all their limbs, they take the blood cruelly to drink." This ironical "quotation" contains an added motif in the libels, the thirst of the Jew for blood, out of his hatred for the good and true. All this, of course, is totally contrary to Jewish teaching: "And whoever there is of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among you, who eats any kind of blood; I will set my face against that soul who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said to the people of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. And whoever there is of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among you, who hunts and catches any beast or bird that may be eaten; he shall pour out its blood, and cover it with dust." [Lev. 17:10-13]

Nor were the Moslems any better. Christian anti-Semitism and popular Muslim anti-Jewish feelings came to a head in a most infamous blood libel in Damascus, Syria. On February 5, 1840, the Capuchin friar Thomas, an Italian who had long resided in Damascus, disappeared together with his Muslim servant Ibrahim Amara. The monk had been involved in shady business, and the two men were probably murdered by tradesmen with whom Thomas had quarreled. Nonetheless, the Capuchins immediately circulated the news that the Jews had murdered both men in order to use their blood for the Passover. As Catholics in Syria were officially under French protection, the investigation should have been conducted, according to local law, by the French consul. But the latter, Ratti-Menton, allied himself with the accusers, and supervised the investigation jointly with the governor-general Sherif Padia; it was conducted in the most barbarous fashion. A barber, Solomon Negrin, was arbitrarily arrested and tortured until a "confession" was extorted from him, according to which the monk had been killed in the house of David Harari by seven Jews. The men whom he named were subsequently arrested; two of them died under torture, one of them converted to Islam in order to be spared, and the others were made to "confess." A Muslim servant in the service of David Harari related under duress that Ibrahim Amara was killed in the house of Meir Farhi, in the presence of the latter and other Jewish notables. Most of those mentioned were arrested, but one of them, Isaac Levi Picciotto, was an Austrian citizen and thus under the protection of the Austrian consul; this eventually led to the intervention of Austria, England, and the United States in the affair. When some bones were found in a sewer in the Jewish quarter, the accusers proclaimed that they were those of Thomas, and buried them accordingly. An inscription on the tombstone stated that it was the grave of a saint tortured by the Jews. Then more bones were found, alleged to be those of Ibrahim Amara. But a well-known physician in Damascus, Dr. Lograso, refused to certify that they were human bones, and requested that they be sent to a European university for examination. This, however, met with the opposition of the French consul. The authorities then announced that on the strength of the confessions of the accused and the remains found of the victims, the guilt of the Jews in the double murder was proved beyond doubt. They also seized 63 Jewish children so as to extort the hiding place of the victims' blood from their mothers.

On the eve of Passover, in 1881, trouble was brewing in Russia. The first pogrom occurred in the town of Yelizavetgrad, in Ukraine. From there, the pogrom wave spread to the surrounding villages and townlets—about 30 in number. At the beginning of May, the pogroms spread to the provinces of Kherson, Taurida, Yekaterinoslav , Kiev, Poltava, and Chernigov. The most severe attack was perpetrated in Kiev over three days before the eyes of the governor-general and his staff of officials and police force while no attempt was made to restrain the rioters. One of the witnesses to this pogrom was a young girl who grew up to be prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir. The pogroms in Odessa were of more limited scope. During the months of July and August there was again a series of pogroms in the provinces of Chernigov and Poltava. During this period, the pogroms were mainly restricted to destruction, the looting of property, and beatings. The number of dead was small. The attackers came from among the rabble of the towns, the peasants, and the workers in industrial enterprises and the railroads. At the end of this period, the government forces reacted against the rioters and in several places even opened fire on them, leaving a number of dead and injured. The pogroms occurred in a restricted geographical region—southern and eastern Ukraine. Here there was a combination of aggravating circumstances: the traditional rebelliousness among the masses, a tradition of anti-Jewish hatred and persecutions from the 17th and 18th centuries (the massacres perpetrated by Chmielnicki and the Haidamacks), together with the presence there of homeless seasonal workers in the factories, railways, and ports, the rise of a rural bourgeoisie and local intelligentsia, who regarded the Jews as most dangerous rivals, and an extremist revolutionary movement which was unscrupulous in the methods it adopted.

After the pogroms in the spring and summer of 1881, there was a remission, although occasional pogroms broke out in various parts of the country. Among these was a severe pogrom in Warsaw on the Catholic Christmas Day and an Easter pogrom in Balta, in which two Jews were killed, 120 injured, and many cases of rape occurred. In Belorussia and Lithuania, where the local authorities adopted a firm attitude against the rioters, large fires broke out in many towns and townlets; a considerable number of these were started by the enemies of the Jews. The murder of individual Jews and even whole families also became a common occurrence during this period. In the spring of 1883, a sudden wave of pogroms broke out in the towns of Rostov and Yekaterinoslav and their surroundings. On this occasion, the authorities reacted with vigor against the rioters and there were several victims among them. The last great outburst occurred in June 1884 in Nizhni Novgorod, where the mob attacked the Jews of the Kanavino quarter, killing nine of them and looting much property. The pogroms of the 1880s greatly influenced the history of Russian Jewry. In their wake, the Russian government adopted a systematic policy of discrimination with the object of removing the Jews from their economic and public positions, a policy that reached its climax with the expulsion of the Jews from Moscow in 1891–92. A mass Jewish emigration began from Russia to Western Europe and the United States. While many young Jewish joined the revolutionary movement, others reacted to the pogroms by becoming militant in their desire to return to their ancient homeland, thus giving birth to a nationalist and Zionist movement among the Jews of Russia.

Maybe the most famous liable against the Jews in Russia was the Beilis Case engineered by the minister of justice Shcheglovitov. On March 20, 1911, the mutilated body of Andrei Yushchinsky, a 12-year-old boy, was discovered in a cave on the outskirts of Kiev. The monarchist rightist press immediately launched a vicious anti-Jewish campaign, accusing the Jews of using human blood for ritual purposes. At the funeral of Yushchinsky, leaflets circulating the blood libel were distributed by members of the reactionary "Black Hundred" ("Union of Russian People") organization. The police investigation traced the murder to a gang of thieves associated with a woman, Vera Cheberiak, notorious for criminal dealings. However, the reactionary anti-Semitic organizations led by the "Black Hundred" pressured the anti-Semitic minister of justice to channel the investigation as a ritual murder charge.

In July 1911, a lamplighter testified that on March 12, the day Yushchinsky disappeared, he had seen him playing with two other boys on the premises of the brick kiln owned by a Jew. He also alleged that a Jew had suddenly appeared and kidnapped Yushchinsky, pulling him toward the brick kiln. Based on this testimony, Mendel Beilis, the superintendent of the brick kiln, was arrested on July 21, 1911, and sent to prison, where he remained for over two years.

The trial continued from spring 1911 to fall 1913, and became a major political issue and the focal point for anti-Jewish agitation in the anti-Semitic press, in the streets, at meetings, and in the Duma. Russian liberal and socialist opinion was ranged behind Beilis' defense, and even a section of the conservative camp. Leading Russian lawyers conducted the defense, and in Russia and throughout Europe hundreds of intellectuals and scholars, headed by V. Korolenko and M.. Gorki, joined in protest against the trial. The case attracted universal attention. Protests by scientists, public and political leaders, artists, men of letters, clergymen, and other liberal-minded men were published in western Europe and the United States affirming that the blood libel was baseless. Eventually Beilis was found not guilty and released. The exoneration of Beilis was a political defeat for the regime. After the 1917 Revolution, the Soviet government interrogated the instigators of the Beilis trial and tried them soon after the revolution.

Needless to say, the Nazis used the same tactics when they began their political activities, and though the carried it to the most wicked extreme, we must not believe for one minute that theirs was a new or special version of anti-Semitism. The U.S.S.R. continued the liable, as do the Arabs and Moslems to this day. Only a week ago, there was a reference to the Damascus liable in the Egyptian press - as a true event!

And now comes BC, with "Replacement Theology," 2001 edition. How very little we have moved forward in the last millennium! Can we hope for the coming of the Messiah when the blind still lead the innocent to the slaughter? Let the coming holiday bring peace, and let all recognize the sanctity of all life, even as the Jews were taught from Sinai.


Shabbat Pesakh 5763

This Shabbat we are celebrating the first intermediate day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Time of our Exodus from Egypt. For the last two nights we celebrated the "seder" – the order of the Night of the Passover – which was a seminal point in the history of the Children of Israel. They began their history as members of a family that had come down to Egypt out of need, because of the famine in the Land of Canaan – and who remained in Egypt out of convenience and because they had done well in Egypt. Why struggle to survive in a land that barely rewards hard work and creativity when one can live a good life of affluence and influence in a land that recompenses industry and inventiveness with wealth and well-being. The Israelites did well and prospered in Egypt, and it was their success that triggered their downfall into slavery. Our forefathers lived in Egypt, but they never became "real" Egyptians. There always exists a natural suspicion of strangers, foreigners and people who are different from the mainstream within any established society, and in Egypt of old, as in many societies since then, it was used by the authority to establish a policy that would keep the (productive) "other" people in the land, but as slaves who work merely for their survival, rather than to receive a reward fit for their contribution to society.
The story of how Moses and his brother Aaron began to bring the signs of God, the plagues, to convince Pharaoh and his entourage that they need to release the Israelites, is well known – and more often than not taken to be totally fictitious. "How is it possible for God to have caused all those miracles in that time, and in our times no miracles occur?" Ask the doubters.
"Why don't you look around you," answer the faithful, "and recognize the great miracles that the Holy One, Blessed be He, performs for us, day after day?" I remember past seder nights, in my lifetime – and I see the hand of God and His great redemption.
One of my earliest memories is the Italian air raid on the oil refineries in Haifa. I have spoken about it before – how my mother took me to an open air concert on mount Carmel, how the planes came, the air raid sirens began to ululate, and the orchestra stopped their rendition of Schubert and struck up "God save the king" – while the audience stood at attention before running for the public shelters... Well, what I have not mentioned was that we were in Haifa on our way home to Jerusalem from one of the least satisfying Seders celebrated with my grandparents in Tiberias. You see, the war had been going on for over a year for us, the U.S. was still not in, and British fortunes were at their lowest. Palestine-Eretz Yisrael was the temporary home to thousands upon thousands of British forces, as well as "free Poles, free Czechs, and free French", and there was very little food to go around. I remember, in particular, the matza we used that seder night. It was a pale grey board, made of unbleached, low quality wheat, mixed generously with wild wheat grain, and a lot of sand. Truly, it was "lakhma an'ya" – a bread of sorrow!
The Germans were in the western desert of Egypt, and there was talk of a possible collapse of the British line. If that happened, we would be on the battle front! The air raid was just the exclamation point on a bad situation, and our celebration was full of question marks. When we sang the "ha lakhma" and came to "this year we are here – next year we shall be..." I am sure that the question in everyone's mind was, "where??"
Two years later, I believe it was – we were sitting at the seder table, while the remnants of the Warsaw ghettoes were waging their heroic battle for the honor of God Almighty and the name of Yisrael. We read the "Vehi she'amda," and had a lump in our throats and a heavy heart as we realized just how very true the words were: "Vehi she'amda lavoteynu velanu – It is what has sustained our fathers and us. For not only one enemy has risen against us to annihilate us, but in every generation men rise against us. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hand." We read it and we prayed silently for deliverance – though the prospect looked bleak, indeed!
Five years after that, we had no doubts of God's great redemptive powers. Deliverance had not occurred quite yet – we were in Jerusalem, under siege, unsure if the British will actually leave and allow us to established our yearned-for Jewish independent state. But we were holding guns in our hands, and with us were some of the survivors of the Warsaw ghetto and other veterans of the struggle to defeat the Nazi enemy who sought to annihilate us. With Hitler, Jewry's worst and most deadly enemy gone, we were convinced of God's ability to intervene on behalf of His people. Soon, we knew, we would have our sovereign state, and the second great exodus would begin.
Need I remind you, dear friends, of the astounding miracles that took place in our own days, before our eyes? Did we not all see the sea and the sky accommodate the Children of Israel in the mass migration of God's people from the very ends of the earth, back to their homeland? The remnant of European Jewry, the Jews of the Moslem diaspora, the "strangers" (Falasha) of Ethiopia – all found a home in the land promised to Abraham. The mighty Soviet empire would not let our people go, and God made the iron curtain fall like a rotted cotton drape.
The modern miracle of Israel's return is a witness and affirmation of the first deliverance. We emerge at the end of the long dark night full of faith and conviction in His protecting power. We raise the wine cup and offer Him a new song of thanksgiving. Halleluya - praise Adonay always.


Pesakh Shabbat 5764

Shabbat shalom and Khag same'akh to all. We are celebrating the Shabbat of the "middle days" of the Festival of unleavened bread. I am sure that you have all had a great Seder experience wherever it was that you celebrated it. Now that we are sitting in the sanctuary and not around the table, we can spend a few minutes thinking about the experience of the "night of watching" - Seder night.
Our prayer-book for the occasion, the Haggadah, takes us through the history of our people. We begin with, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord our God took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Had not God taken our fathers out of Egypt, then we, our children and grandchildren would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Even if we all were wise, and perceptive, experienced, and versed in Torah, it would still be our duty to tell about the Exodus from Egypt. The more one talks about the Exodus, the more praise he deserves."
So we begin to tell the story, and we note well what the text tells us, "In every generation it is man's duty to regard himself as though he personally had come out of Egypt, as it is written: "You shall tell your son on that day: This is on account of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt." It was not only our fathers whom the Holy One redeemed from slavery; we, too, were redeemed with them, as it is written: "He took us out from there so that He might take us to the land which He had sworn to our fathers."
Of course, you realize that all this talk of "You shall tell your son on that day" leads us to think or surmise that the holiday is merely for the ‘kids' – and, indeed, it is! It is an ordinance from year to year and generation to generation of the Children of Israel – for we are all, are we not, our parents "kids," and do we ever grow too old to learn? I believe that we do not, and that is why the Haggadah tells us the strange story of ‘the four sons.'
Blessed be God who has given the Torah to His people Israel; blessed be He. The Torah speaks of four sons; a wise one, a wicked one, a simple one, and one who is not able to ask a question.
The wise son asks: "What is the meaning of the testimonies, statutes, and laws which the Lord our God has commanded us?" Explain to him the laws of the Pesakh: that "no dessert may be eaten after the Passover sacrifice."
The wicked son asks: "What does this service mean to you?" By the words "to you" he implies that this service is only for you—not for himself. By excluding himself from the community, he denies God. So tell him bluntly: "This is done on account of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt." For me, not for him; had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.
The simple son asks: "What is this all about?" Tell him, "With a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt from the house of slavery."
As for the son who is unable to ask a question, you must open up the subject to him, as it is written: "You shall tell your son on that day: This is on account of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt."
This is a very strange passage, and often we either rush through it without giving it much thought, or else we examine it superficially and think of the four as "good, bad, twiddle-dee and twiddle-dumb." We honor the first, hate the second, and patronize the other two. Yet, let us look at these four ‘types' of people, not as kids but as Jewish arch-types. The wise, obviously, is the Jew who is steeped in our heritage and our traditions. He is the Jew who knows what he is about and how to go about manifesting his personhood.
The wicked son – well, actually he is not much different from the first. He, too, is knowing and aware. However, he is not in any big hurry to participate. He is the "modern Jew" who knows more than any old fashioned Jew knows. He knows that modernity conflicts with tradition – and he makes a choice to be modern. That is why he asks, "What does this service mean to you?" He is wicked because he should know better than to ask... However, he is not beyond help – for if you answer him "For me, not for him," maybe he will snap out of his sophistication and return to the fold. God waits for the wicked to turn away from their evil ways and return to Him – and if they do, He accepts them forthwith.
The third son is just what the text tells us, "The simple son." His ability is diminished and therefore one cannot blame him for looking at events of the evening with incredulity. He cannot "connect the dots." He fails to see the forest because the trees get in his way. He cannot experience a vicarious experience of something that happened thirty-five hundred years ago. He must be told, it simple terms, "With a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt from the house of slavery."
Which leads us to the last, and least understood type. The text of the Haggadah calls this child "She'eyno yode'a lish'ol" – which does not mean "the son who is unable to ask a question" but rather, "who does not know to ask." The sages explain: The verb "yode'a" – to know, is used in two ways. You can "know that" – as, for example, knowing that it is good, knowing that it is late, knowing that it is safe, knowing that the sun will rise again tomorrow; and you can "know to" – which is usually followed by another verb, as in knowing [how] to read, knowing to place things in a special order so that things "fit," or knowing to keep quiet so that one can listen and learn.
The son that "does not know to ask" is not a simpleton. Nor is he too young to comprehend what is around him. Actually, he is a mimic – he knows quite well to ask what he hears other asking. He is one who knows nothing but to ask. He is so busy asking questions that he never hears the answers.
Who are you; what are you doing here; where do you come from; what are you looking for; who do you expect to meet here; how long will you be here; who will leave with you; why do you not answer me; do you have an answer; can your answer be meaningful or meaningless to me; shall we sit, or stand, stay or go, speak or be silent; when, where, who, why, how... Oh, never mind, just forget about it...
Yes, this is the most difficult son to deal with. The wise will get wiser; the wicked can always change and become wise; the simple son will rise to the level of his ability. He will endeavor to succeed, to please his parents, to please his God. But the one who knows not to ask – he is the truly difficult one, and there is no way to deal with him except by force. "Be quiet, fool. Enough with your answers. Just listen and accept, "This is on account of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt." Enough with questions, enough with showing off like a wise guy. Sit and listen. Do what I do, and commit to my instruction. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.

Shabbat shalom and Khag same'akh.


Return Home Khag Hamatzot