Monday, April 02, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Pesach (aka Passover) (Redemption: Past, Present, Future)

This year I thought I would lead my first seder a little differently than usual. First of all, I'm replacing Manischwitz Malaga with a Apertif-Semi Dry-Dry-Dessert wine menu (this is gonna be good). My crowd this year has little patience for pomp and circumstance so I decided to eliminate the Arami Oved Avi stuff and instead talk about why Passover is so pertinent today. If you are at my seder tomorrow night I suggest not reading this. Drawing largely on the paper I wrote a few years ago and posted as my Passover Dvar Torah last year (and which I still haven't reread since I originally wrote it two years ago, though I really should), I plan on discussing the importance of the seder experience to our own lives. People get easily bored at sedarim, perhaps this is because they cannot see themselves identifying with the rites involved. But that is the ikar, the most important essense of the seder! "In every generation one must consider if they themselves have left Egypt!" The Passover Seder is more observed than Yom Kippur or Hanukkah rituals. Perhaps the only thing that is more popular is circumcision, but remember that that can only apply to less than half of the Jewish population.

The Rabbis of the Mishnah, in their wisdom, wrote Vehi Sheamda and realized that this must apply to their time. How could they have known that their words would even ring more true, amplified every generation following them for over 2000 years. Just as it stood for our ancestors, so too for us: That not only one [Pharaoh] has tried to stand against us to annihilate us, rather in every generation they try to annihilate us, but the Holy One blessed be He saves us from their grasp. We experienced Pharaoh in Hitler in the Holocaust and I fear many Pharaohs are conspiring against the Jewish people even in our own times, for example, Mahmud Ahmadinijad and Hassan Nasrallah. And yet through all of this God has not let his chosen nation perish. This is why we give thanks to God on this Leil Shimurim, the evening which the Torah says not only was a night of special protection in Egypt 3319 years ago, but forever shall be a night where God especially protects the Jews.

And in Ha Lachma we say that "today we are slaves". But wait, I'm reclining at a table and I seem pretty free! There is a line that disturbs me as the penultimate line of Birkat HaMazon, the Grace After Meals, "I was young and I grew old and I never saw a righteous man abandoned nor his children begging for bread". Having lived in Jerusalem I can say that this is not true. However I think this is an ideal for which we are meant to strive for. We cannot always count on a supernatural miracle. True, I may actually see righteous people reduced to panhandling, but God demands that I do something about it. I might not be a slave, but there are people who are slaves in the world. An ethical kashrut for fair work wages might be in order.

My focus this sedernakht will be on the four son... er... four children. I have compiled images from many haggadot from over 500 years and will have my participants analyze specific images. I present one which is clear cut, featuring the Marx Bros. and another which is ambiguous to which of the children each represents (each child is represented by a different book). There is so much room for discussion beyond the droll "who's feeling especially wicked tonight?" or "if I get asked to read the wise son one more time I'm gonna make sure they consider me the wicked one in the future". We know it, we've done it forever. We know what all of them represent. When you compare the son who doesn't know how to ask to a chassid who won't ask because he unquestionably accepts everything he learns as God's word -- Now you've got my attention!

Chag Kasher V'Sameach,

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