Broken and Holy Remnant

This last week during the Seder right before we did Yachatz my mother shared an experience she had growing up. It was not clear if it happened once or if it was actually an regular ritual growing up, but her father should share the names of all of their family members who were killed in the Holocaust. I found that very moving to do ritualize this memory. And while I doubt it was on purpose it seems particularly compelling to connect this to the activity of Yachatz.

So what is Yachatz? During this ritual we break the middle matzah on our Seder plate. There is no prayer recited. We recognize that, like the broken matzah, we are incomplete, not whole, and in need of redemption. We take the larger portion of that matzah and hide it way for later to be found and eaten as the afikomen. For we recognize that parts of ourselves are yet unknown. We are still discovering what makes us whole. For we recognize that more is hidden than revealed.

This year Yachatz changed for me. First I started thinking about Anne Frank and what it means to be hidden away. But unlike years past where I focused on the afikomen, this year I really focused on the piece that was left. Does this left over piece from the middle matzah represent us as the Remnant of Israel– שְׁאֵרִית יִשְׂרָאֵל?

This term denotes the belief that the future of Israel would be assured by the faithful remnant surviving the calamities that would befall the people as a result of their departing from the way of God. On the one hand the prophets foretold the forthcoming exile and destruction of Israel, and on the other they held forth the hope and promise of its survival and eternity. As Jeremiah said,

… and I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries whither I have driven them and will bring them back to their folds, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. Jeremiah (23:3)

After World War II the phrase the “remnant which survives” (she’erit ha-peletah) was applied to the survivors of the Holocaust. As there are less and less survivors left, what changes for the rest of us? What is the responsibility we carry as those that remain after the remnant is gone? This week I got that list of family members who were killed from my mother was filled with a sense of survivors guilt. On Yom HaShoah through the lens of Yachatz I realize how truly broken and holy we are.

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