Posts Tagged 'Pesach'

Framing the Passover Story

I hope that you are having a wonderful Passover. Lodged in between the first days of Passover commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the last days commemorating the division of the Red Sea I must ask what is the climax of the Passover Story? Having just sat through two wonderful Sederim at my Brother’s house I am left thinking that it must be the 10th Plague. It is clearly the highlight of God’s acting history that lead to their leaving Egypt. But, as we get closer to the end of Passover I am lead to believe that it might be the Splitting of the Sea. So which one is it? Looking at the Torah reading from  Shabbat of Passover (Exodus 33:12-34:26) you might be tempted to claim that it is neither. Maybe both are just warming up the crowd for  the main event of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. But before we give up let’s try to answer this question.

At the end of the Torah reading we read:

18 You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread.  Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Aviv, for in the month Aviv you came out from Egypt. 19 All that opened the womb is Mine; and of all of your cattle you shall sanctify the males, the first-lings of ox and sheep. 20 And the first-ling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. All the first-born of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before Me empty. 21 Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. 22 And you shall observe the feast of weeks, even of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of in-gathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you, and enlarge your borders; neither shall any man covet your and, when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year. 25 You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.  26 The choicest first-fruits of your land you shall bring unto the house of the Lord your God. You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.’ ( Exodus 34:18-26)

The Torah is describing what Passover was to look like after the Exodus from Egypt. It is interesting in that it predicts a time when we have a land to call our own. It is additionally interesting in that it connects the ideas of the Exodus from Egypt, “All that opened the womb “, and “the choicest first-fruits of your land”.  This reminds me of  “arami oved avi” one of the most difficult texts in the Haggadah.  These verses from Deuteronomy 26 are part of the formula that was recited when the First Fruit offerings were brought to the Temple in ancient times. We learn in the Mishna that we need to learn this at the Seder. There we read:

They pour him a second cup, and here the child asks the parent [about what makes this night different]–and according to the child’s understanding, the parent teaches, beginning with shame and concluding with praise, interpreting from arami oved avi (‘My father was a wandering Aramean’) until he finishes the entire passage. (Mishnah Pesachim 10:4).

It is interesting that the main Rabbinic discourse on the Passover Seder is rereading the dialogue between the Priests and the Israelites bringing their First Fruit. In this respect we see through the lens of bringing  “the choicest first-fruits of your land” the connection between the Exodus from Egypt, the 10th Plague, the splitting of the Sea. and   “All that opened the womb “. The 10th plague shows God sparing the first-born Israelites. The Splitting of the Sea depicts the entire nation of Israel being born out of this miraculous birth canal. In both cases God demonstrates God’s connection to the People of Israel. Our response to God’s love is a ritualized giving of the First Animals and the First Fruit to God. In a world without a Temple to reciprocate this love the Rabbis ritualized the explication of this text .

And now back to the question as for which is the climax of the Passover story. With this ritual of the First Fruit in the middle it seems that 10th Plague and the Splitting of the Sea are quiet comparable and of similar significance. It seems that in fact they frame (or even give birth to) the entire Passover story. Yes, I realize that this is just another way of not answering the question.  Moadim L’Simcha V’Shabbat Shalom

Timely Growth

I am excited. Tonight we will begin celebrating Chag Ha Aviv – Passover, our spring holiday – also named Chag HaMatzot the holiday of unleavened bread. But why do we eat unleavened bread –matzah –  on Passover? We read in the Haggadah:

Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, revealed God’s self to them and redeemed them. Thus it is said: “They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions.” (DIY Haggadah)

aviSo yes, as the Haggadah says, when the time came for the Jews to finally leave, they did not delay. Yet, the final plague was not the first time they heard of their pending exodus.  Moses came and told the slaves long in advance that they would be leaving. While they did not have Ziplocs and Tupperware to pack provisions for the trip, I still think they could have done a better job preparing for this arduous journey. They weathered the elements so well before that you’d assume they would have prepared some bagels for the trip.  Now wouldn’t a holiday where we just needed to eat a lot of bagels be a great one? So,why matzah?

It is understandable that the slaves would be reticent to leave the only world they knew, could it be that was not the only reason that they were not well prepared for their trip? We all run late, waiting until the last-minute to get things done. Even when  we are told that something is going to happen, or that we have an assignment, we can be surprised and unprepared when it comes to pass or be due. While completely natural and common place, this procrastination comes from an interesting lapse of faith. Maybe Pharaoh was not alone in doubting the God of the Israelites. While we call matzah “the bread of affliction,” it appears that the affliction itself is procrastination.

So we have Chag HaMatzot a holiday that you cannot do last-minute. We actually start to prepare for Passover a month in advance. As we eat this “bread of procrastination” it is a time to reflect on our faith. When I am running late or procrastinating, I assume that other people will understand because I am doing God’s work, but God forbid someone wastes my time… We all have ways we can grow; matzah is there to flatten us out and remind us that this growth might not fit neatly into our schedule.  Which is why I am excited, because after spring comes summer and with summer comes … camp a time for growth for so many of our children!

- As seen on the FJC Canteen on My Jewish Learning

Always End It

A few days before Passover I was talking with Yadid and Yishama at dinner about school.  I am not sure how it came up or even what it means for a 5-year-0ld, but it became apparent that Yishama had been fighting on the bus.  I immediately launch into one of  my Opa‘s maxims. As my grandfather Alfred Katz was reported to say, ” You never start a fight, but you always end it.” This was a conversation I have had a number of times with Yadid, but I realized that I had not yet shared this pearl of wisdom with Yishama. So I went on to explain who my mother’s father was. I tread carefully in that I have not wanted to tell my children too much about the Holocaust. I tell Yishama, that as the story goes, during WWII my Opa bought a farm in Venlo just across the German boarder in the Netherlands. He would drive a wagon back and forth over the boarder smuggling Jewish children under the hay out of German to  safety. As I am telling the story Yadid and I trade knowing glances teeming with pride of our lineage.

I want my children to understand that we never start fights. It is just something we do not do. But that does not mean that we are to be treated as a shmata- rag.  We cannot let ourselves get pushed around. Jews are not destined to be the doormat of history. When the situation calls for it we need to be ready to risk our own safety and security to stand up for those who need our help. We must be brave enough to end fights. But even in those situations we need to know when to call it quits and move on.

I have very few memories of my Opa. I think I was about Yadid’s age when he passed away. From every thing I have ever learned about him Alfred  Katz was a noble, wise,  and loved man. I would have loved to learn about the children he saved. I would have loved to hear from him what compelled him to be so brave. I also would have loved to learn when he knew that it was time to move on.  I feel that much of my life I have spent striving to live up to his example.  I also know that I would not be alive if he had not made that choice to leave when he did.

So a few days later we were at the Seder.  With a little help from me and his cousins Yishama got up and asked the Four Questions. And then with a little push from me he asked his Oma a fifth question. What did his great-grandfather do during the War? On Passover we commemorate the redemption of our people from Slavery. We were led to freedom by a man (Moses) who had escaped being killed as a child because his sister (Miriam) hid  him away in an ark of hay. There we were, descendents of Alfred Katz, realizing our own redemption by paying tribute to a man who quietly saved children’s lives.

Tonight we  commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. For most of us this is a commemoration of the horror of the Nazi effort to exterminate 12 million people. Or worse it is day in which we are reminded how our people were led like lambs to slaughter. But that is not the real story of the day. This day is the 69th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Today’s story is the story of our standing up for ourselves. Freedom will never be given, it needs to be taken. In the spirit of Mordechai Anielewicz and in words of my Opa today we can say, “You never start a fight, but you always end it.” Over the course of my children’s lives I look forward to see where they take today’s and my Opa’s  lesson.

A Cinderella Story

The familiar plot of the story of Cinderella revolves around a girl deprived of her rightful station in the family by her horrible stepmother and stepsisters. Forced into a life of domestic servitude, she is given the cruel nickname “Cinderella” as she is forced to tend the cinder from the fireplace. She accepts the help of her fairy godmother who transforms Cinderella so that she can attend the royal ball and attract the attention of the handsome prince. But, the spell will only work until the first stroke of midnight. While at the party Cinderella loses track of the time and must flee the castle before she blows her cover. In her haste, she loses one of her glass slippers, which the prince finds. He declares that he will only marry the girl whose petite foot fits into the slipper. Cinderella’s stepsisters conspire to win the princes’s hand for one of themselves, but in the end, Cinderella arrives and proves her identity by fitting into the slipper.

It seems that the story of Cinderella is the story of Passover. We were lowly slaves in Egypt and then out of nowhere Moses comes in as the fairy godmother to invite us to the big ball  ( insert 3 day holiday here). Pharaoh and his court play the role of the stepmother and stepsisters afflicting the Israelites with back-breaking work.  We were not prepared for this moment and at the first strike of midnight we had to run off (insert Matzah here). It is interesting how we commemorate this anxiety every year by mandating that we finish eating the Afikoman by midnight.

At this point in the yearly narrative, we have had our first encounter but still longing to rejoin God who is playing the role of the prince. While Cinderella was counting down to be discovered by the prince, the Jewish people are counting “up” to Shavuot. We are reminded that we are but slaves and we are on the march to complete freedom. It is understandable that we might get lost in the excitement of being asked to elope with God, but we are not yet secure that we will be discovered and ever escape our slavery. We are waiting for God to return to see if the slipper fits (slip on Torah here). Ah, you got to love stories with happy endings.

 

Playing with Your Food

Soon enough the Seder will be here. After we sit down and have our first cup of wine we will say, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and celebrate Passover.” These are not original, but I wanted to ask three questions. Why do we open the Seder with these words? Why do we make the Matzah the focal point of our discourse on freedom? Isn’t it a little late to be inviting people to our Seder?

Both literally and figuratively we want to make sure that everyone has a place at the table. So while we should be concerned about people who are hungry and are excluded due to poverty, we are also concerned with those who for other reasons are excluded from joining in the celebration. At its core, Passover is a holiday in which we celebrate becoming a nation. As we start the Seder we remind ourselves that we need to retell the national narrative in a way that includes everyone.

It is not surprising to see food as the media of choice for a ritual. We do love our food. In many respects we preserve memory with all of our eating. At its core Passover is a celebration of the vitality of the Jewish People. From its conception we split up into family groups to celebrate the Passover sacrifice. In reality as much as we talk about living in a greater Jewish community; we all live in many different smaller communities. So while we have a mitzvah to sit and eat and remember, inviting people to our Seder knits together our communities into this ideal larger community.

We might think that it is too late to wait until we are sitting at our Seder to invite people. I prefer to think about the fact that we are challenging ourselves for the work of the entire upcoming year. Whether the issue is poverty or inclusion in the community, there is not going to be a quick fix that we can accomplish in the night of the Seder. To the contrary, we are actually committing ourselves to do the heavy lifting throughout the course of the whole year. Through sharing meals we each can connect to the network of Jewish tables, but is one meal enough? We need to work all year to link these communities in a deep and lasting way.

The Seder begins with this Matzah and it ends with the finding and eating of the Afikoman. In the Seder, the Matzah keeps our attention focused through a game of hide and seek. Through the course of year we are also playing another game of linking people to our common table. Similar to what we see on Purim it would be an interesting game of connecting the dots if we were to map out how a network of Mishloach Manot was connected.

Thanks to a grant from Avi Chai this past summer I attended Games for Change. This is a wonderful conference on using games for education and social change. There I learned about Macon Money. Macon Money is a community-wide social game designed for the residents of Macon, Georgia. Using a new local currency with a fun twist, the game builds person-to-person connections throughout the community while supporting local businesses. This game seemed to have been an amazing way to create positive incentives around the people of Macon building community. I would encourage you to learn more about how the game worked. In addition to giving its participants the feeling of community, it produced amazing data.

I am not trying to limit our imagination about Passover to a large social game like Macon Money, but you have to admit that there are some similarities and they are both fun. I have no doubt that if you mapped out the Mishloach Manot from your community or our efforts to invite people to our Seder it would look like this data from Macon Money.

In addition, there is no doubt that realizing this network on Passover has an effect on community throughout the year. What would it look like to play a version of Macon Money in a local Jewish community? How might this change how we think about and even do community throughout the year? What would it look like as an experiment to take some money out of core allocations from our local Federations and give that money to the users to create community and let them use this communal currency to “play Jewish community”? I am not only interested in making participation fun; I am also interested in inverting how we spend our time and money. What would it look like for agencies to be spending less energy, money, and time arguing and reporting on the importance of their work to the people who volunteer and work at Federations and more time reaching out to people to use their services and participate in the community? The work of Federation is serious work, but this does not mean we should overlook the value of games. I am not overlooking the fact that games can craft serious fun, but this kind of game is important because the game mechanics themselves create incentives for the desired behavior at every level.

I am not suggesting that we leave the future of our community up to chance. I realize that there might be a risk of putting this spending power in the hands of the players, but this will all be happening within the larger planning process for a community or what the players call the rules of the game. But structuring this like Macon Money ensures that our communal currency is current and up to date with the changing needs of our community. It might be interesting to see how this kind of game might play out (pun intended) in terms of including the people most excluded from our Seder. Our future is way too serious to not have fun with it. It is time to play with our food.

Chag Kasher V’Sameakh- Have Fun and Liberating Passover

-As seen on Avi Chai’s Education Technology Blog and Adapted from my blog on Purim


Second First Impression

In many ways Passover represents the story of our national birth. It was during the Exodus that the Israelites learned of God and it was their first chance to introduce themselves to God. We the Jewish people revisited this ritual every year by reenacting the Korban Pesach, and later the Passover Seder.  As we learn in BeHalotecha, this week’s Torah portion, there were certain cases in which people did not have that chance to make that first impression. As we read:

5 And they kept the passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at dusk, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel. 6 But there were certain men, who were unclean by the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the passover on that day; and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day. 7 And those men said unto him: ‘We are unclean by the dead body of a man; wherefore are we to be kept back, so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season among the children of Israel?’ 8 And Moses said to them: ‘Stay you, that I may hear what the LORD will command concerning you.’ 9 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 10 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover to the Lord; 11 in the second month on the fourteenth day at dusk they shall keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs; 12 they shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break a bone thereof; according to all the statute of the passover they shall keep it. (Numbers 9:5-12)

It is natural to blink and make snap decisions, but that does not mean we are always right. It is great that we a model for how to have a second chance to make a first impression.

As first time campers are getting off the bus in the next few weeks, I cannot stop thinking about how we all saw Susan Boyle. If you are one of the few people who have not seen this you must.

We all should heed the call of Pesach Sheni from this week’s Torah portion. We should all think about what it would take to not judge people too quickly. If this is true for the first time campers, is it not also true for the returning camper who wants to reinvent him or herself? What would it take to find it in our hearts to give everyone a second chance to make a first impression?

The Tardy Animal

On Shabbat Chol HaMoed we read a section of Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 33:12- 34: 26). The portion that we read is post Golden Calf Incident (GCI). We read of the creation of the second tablets which seem to speak to the repairing the relationship post GCI. What is the meaning of recalling the GCI on Passover?

Earlier in the portion in Ki Tisa we read:

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him: ‘Up, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.’  (Exodus 32:1)

For people who had just experienced so many tremendous miracles they seem pretty quick to make an idol. But that is secondary to their leaving no room for Moses being tardy. Have any of us known any world leader who is actually punctual?

In our context of Chag HaMatzot- Passover the Holiday of Unleavened Bread- their not excusing Moses running late is particularly poignant. Why do we eat Matzah on Passover? As we read in the Haggadah:

Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, revealed God’s self to them and redeemed them. Thus it is said: “They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions.” (DIY Haggadah)

So yes, when the time came for them to finally leave they did not delay, but that final plague was not the first time they heard of their pending exodus. Moses came and told the slaves that they will be leaving before all of those plagues. While they did not have Tupperware to pack great provisions for the trip, why did they not prepare a little better? You think they would have prepared some bagels for the trip, they travel quite well.  It seems that is was not only Pharaoh who did not believe in the God of the Israelites. The slaves themselves procrastinated in getting ready to leave the world they knew. While we call it the bread of affliction, the affliction is procrastination. We all run late and wait until the last-minute to get things done, or worse did not believe we were actually leaving until it was too late to prepare.

So we have Chag HaMatzot a holiday that you cannot do last-minute. We actually start to prepare for Passover a month in advance. As we eat this “bread of procrastination” we should remember where we were in terms of our faith and be more forgiving of Moses who was running a little late receiving the Tablets on Har Sinai. When I am running late or procrastinating I assume that other people will understand because I am doing God’s work, but God forbid someone wastes my time. We all have to work on this double standard. Maybe if we work on this quality we will bring the Messiah a little faster, thou s/he may tarry.


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