Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
April 22, 2016 / 14 Nisan, 5776
I want to wish you all a marvelous and meaningful Passover seder. If you are with family and friends, or alone; if you are healthy, or ill; young, or old–I hope you find ways to enjoy and celebrate our great festival of freedom. Below are three reflections, and at the end of each are some questions you might want to ponder either before or during your Seders.
Warmth and blessings,
Some Musings for the Seder Table
Charoset is the Glue That Keeps Us Together
Why is Passover the most celebrated home ritual? What continues to make it compelling to us, and to so many others who have adopted its messages?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes beautifully in his Passover Haggadah how we Jews live within an ancient structure of words, and how that story is itself a home for us–a home in which past, present and future are united. Remarkably, this home of words provides us with a deep sense of security and purpose. That home, that story, of course, is the heart of Passover.
I connect with this concept. I hear my ancestors in the Judaica passed down to us, in the family stories, and in the Jewish people’s rich intellectual history. My story is tied to the early kibbutznik in Israel and to my namesake who helped revive the Hebrew language in Napoleonic times, and in the seders of my childhood when the tables spilled over with family.
But its also true that many of us are only now rediscovering our connection to this story. Some of us have just begun on this Jewish path, choosing it like the early Israelites did when they first became a people. Others are, like Jacob, returning home after years away in a foreign land. And how many of us were born Jewish, but never were raised with any content or experience to help us connect with these ancient stories on a visceral level?
Given our diverse backgrounds, this is the narrative of our people that I am thinking about this year:
We were a slave people, and an oppressed people.
We learned to organize ourselves and clamor for our freedom so that we would be ready to seize hold of the waiting miracle when God proffered it.
We achieved sufficient liberation of mind that we could learn to have compassion for our oppressors. This is expressed in the midrashic story, written by the rabbis, of how God scolded us for not weeping over the demise of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds.
We discovered that God’s world is a moral place, and that simultaneously, the expression of justice can take 400 years to fully execute, which is how long our ancestors spent in Egypt.
That in turn taught us the type of resilient patience that only the long-enduring discover.
What is the story that you will be telling this year at your table? And how will you make it compelling for those with whom you are sharing the night?
There is a nullification of hametz (biur hametz) that occurs on the night before Pesach, and on the morning. The specifics can be found at the beginning of many a Passover haggadah and in easy web searches. But the principle behind biur is rather remarkable. After all, one recites the nullification after our houses are clean and free of any hametz, any leavening. What nullification do we need to still do? The insight here is that we hold on to things in our lives, even when they are already behind us. Sometimes, rituals help us let go of that which is gone, so that we fully relinquish its control over us.
This year, what are you still holding on to? Why is it still haunting you? What might you do to liberate yourself from its power?
Our miraculous and faulty food system
People who care about kashrut get exposed to our global food system in its strange complexity. On the one hand, there are nearly seven and a half billion people on the planet. On a daily basis we manage to adequately feed six and a half billion of them. This is both remarkable and disheartening. On the other hand, those of us in the developed world often have less idea of what is in our food than a subsistence farmer does.
Nowhere is that strange reality more visible than during Passover. I answer more questions about kashrut during the month leading up to Pesach than the rest of the year, which forces me to peer down the rabbit hole of industrial food processes. Your tofu can have grain in it that never shows up on any label. Your decaf coffee has suspect chametzy ingredients in the chemicals that extract the caffeine. Industrial peeled hard boiled eggs apparently use some sort of grain-derived coagulant, but the gentleman at the OU with whom I spoke couldn’t provide me with specifics. No wonder people have strange allergies that are hard to track down. Even some lesser quality highly processed rice is sprayed with starch as a processing aid. We don’t know what we are exposing ourselves to. We don’t know what we are eating.
For Pesach, this gives us three main choices. We could choose to buy only food that is labeled “kosher l’Pesach.” This is the most expensive, restrictive and in some ways, wasteful option. It is often a less healthy option as well. But it is the clearest hedge to fulfill the Torah’s mandate that hametz should not be seen, found or eaten by us.
The second choice is to abdicate our heritage’s legacy because the nitty gritty of all this forces us to focus on the absurdity rather than the majesty of Pesach. Or is too overwhelming.
The third option is to research and invest time to learn, each year, the status of our ever-changing food supply, and/or to embrace the eating of kitniyot, as the Conservative movement’s recent decision permits. Doing so means there will inevitably be surprises because of the complexity and opaqueness of the food system.
I think there are genuine spiritual dangers to each of these choices. As a rabbi, I’d opt for choice one or three, because there is a strong upside to balance the risks.
In so many ways, our lives grow more and more complex. When do you listen to others, so that you won’t have to exert energy thinking? When do you avoid dealing with an issue entirely because it’s just too much? When do you find yourself up for exerting energy to make an informed decision? What sort of freedom does each approach offer? What sort of bondage does it exact from you?
Sale of Hametz attached form
Passover Guide here