My Temple Beth Abraham bulletin column before Pesach in 2015, still spot on!
Why do we care about what's in the past? Why do beginnings interests us, whether it's the origins of the universe or the first lines of a book?We look to the beginning to give us the essence of the whole. Origin stories are about identity and values. Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, is the story of the origin of the Jewish nation. And it doesn't disappoint.
We talk about being in Egypt – because who were are, are people who know how important a home is, and that you don't take that for granted. We talk about being slaves – because we are defined by our identification with people who are oppressed and not free.
We talk about God fighting on our behalf against Pharaoh – because we were the lowest on the ladder, worth nothing, yet we were designated to carry a message of hope and possibility into the world.
When the world looks at the Jewish people, it looks in the mirror. Our story reveals that there is Pharaoh in the world, and there is God. Our origin is testament to the idea that the Mishnah teaches about the story of Pesach. Mat'chil big'nut um'sayaym bish'vach – start with shame and end with glory. On the road from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, through the desert toward Israel, we taught the world that no people and no person is too broken to be a vessel for divine wisdom and compassion.
That's all right there, at the start of Jewish history. Almost everything else is commentary. The stories we tell on Pesach are the seed, the Big Bang, the constitutional convention for the Jewish people and Judaism itself.
At our Seders, we talk about this and act it out. For the rest of the week, we ingest it and digest it.
For a lot of people, the Seder is the big highlight and then there is a slog. Eight days of matzah in various forms – crunched, spread on, microwaved with sauce and cheese, crumbled into kugel.
This year, think different. First of all, think about difference itself. Why is this week different from all other weeks? We're sitting at work eating (making crumbs) different things from other people. Give an answer when they ask: Why are you doing that? It's because of what happened to me when I and my people went out of Egypt. It takes us a week to meditate on that, and we're using our bodies and not just our mouths and minds to sort out the meaning of it.
Second, don't get hung up on what a friend of mind calls the “Passover-industrial complex.” Ditch the boxes of cake mix and dissolving noodles, and eat simple.
Matzah itself a simple food, while chametz (leavened food) represents human complexity and arrogance. Did you know that according to the Torah, Pharaoh built his tyranny as a system of food production and distribution? Eating fresh produce and simple dairy products cleanses our bodies, humbles our souls, and collapses the distance between us and God, the Source of sustenance.
Once again, the American Jewish World Service and Equal Exchange are partnering on Fair Trade chocolate, which you can find in our Sisterhood Gift Shop. And don't forget tomatoes, which many American rabbis have adopted as our anti-slavery project. Try to eat.... (I need to add a couple sentences here, doing a little research)
And don't forget, as we say at the Seder, “let all who are hungry come and eat.” If you have a place at your Seder even now for someone who doesn't have one, let me know and I'll make the match. And while we focus on our own food, please remember to give to organizations like the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter especially at this time of year.
Pesach connects with us high and low – in stories and how we reflect on them, in food and how our bodies process them. There is a lot to chew on, in both senses!
Chag kasher v'samayach – Wishing you a joyful and kosher holy day,