April 2018 | Nissan/Iyar 5778
Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:
With the all encompassing holiday of Passover looming large over us, we focus on our preparations for the festival — which is the holiday on our calendar with the most mitzvot (commandments), traditions, symbols, and family participation of all Jewish holidays. This is not hard to understand when we consider that so many of the halachic obligations are part and parcel of our mandated script for the Seder nights. Over the course of those two opening nights of the holiday (just the first in Israel), we sing, dip, lean, ask, wonder, drink, answer, search, tell, pray, crunch, hide, thank, observe, discuss, and hopefully enjoy throughout our Seder ceremonies.
It is not hard to understand that in so many Jewish families, children, parents, and other family members criss-cross the country to be together for the Seder nights, regardless how detailed, traditional, or innovative our Seders may be. The family connection is likely the strongest on the holiday of Passover than for any other day on our list of celebrations. It is not hard for so many Jewish adults to look back in their minds’ recollections of their earliest participation in a Seder with Bubbies, Zadies, and extended family members. Such warm and fond memories!
The holiday itself, while filled with so much symbolism and significant rituals, carries with it four different names: Chag HaPesach, Chag HaMatzot, Chag HaAviv, and Zman Cheruteinu. In English respectively, they are: the Holiday of “Passing Over”, the Holiday of Matzah, the Holiday of Springtime, and the Time of our Freedom.
The recognizable reference to the most common of the four names: Chag HaPesach, the Holiday of Passing Over, is to G-d’s passing over the homes of the Israelites during the tenth plague as he slayed the first born son of every Egyptian family. This was the catalyst for Pharaoh having “had enough” and not only allowing us to depart Egypt but his thrusting us out of his country. Pharaoh learned that he met his match. This turning point in the events of the story of our Exodus is a featured theme to which we return over and over again throughout the text of the story of our departure in the Haggadah.
The inclusion of the name Chag HaMatzot – Holiday of Matzah has equal logic to the previous name, as Matzah is the most prominent symbol of the holiday. According to the most common explanation for our eating Matzah is the quick manner in which we needed to leave Egypt, thus not leaving enough time for the dough to rise. However, I would like to remind all of an additional reference to Matzah found near the beginning of the Haggadah in the Ha Lachma Anya (Aramaic selection after Kiddush, Karpas and Yachatz — at the beginning of the section of Magid — telling the story.) There, we refer to the Matzah as the “Lechem Oni”, the “Bread of Affliction” which may be a far more telling, meaningful understanding of Matzah. After all, free people, well-to-do individuals when given the choice, would prefer to eat fluffy, tasty, flavorful bread rather than the plain, flat, crumbly essence we know as Matzah. Matzah as a modest, unadorned, scorned type of bread is truly the bread of slaves and therefore appropriate, the “Bread of Affliction”. No wonder Matzah is not only the “star food item” of the Seder but commanded to be eaten during the eight days (seven in Israel) any time we choose to eat bread in place of usual, conventional leavened bread.
There is a curious reason for Passover being the “Holiday of Springtime” besides the parallels drawn by our sages to the ongoing themes of “new beginnings” . No doubt that Springtime is the season of renewal in the world and the time that all growing things once again begin and move towards flourishing and blossoming. Similarly, Passover is the birthday of the Jewish people and the point to which we can point when we first emerged as a Jewish nation. But practically speaking, G-d showed incredible understanding and compassion on us as he chose the springtime as the designated time for us to leave Egypt. Leaving in any other season, would have been a major hardship on the Jewish people as 600,000 people moved out with our possessions, animals, children, and elderly. Summer would have been brutally hot, winter would have brought with it the seasonal rains of the region, and fall – while similar to spring in its moderate temperatures, would have also have included the beginning of the season rains. Thus, springtime was the most conducive time for us to leave Egypt because of the Almighty’s kindness and consideration towards us.
The fourth of the four names: Zman Cheruteinu, the Time of our Freedom, needs little explanation but the point should be made that without the freedom we attained with the events of our Exodus, A.) we would never have been in position to receive the Torah 49 days later at Mount Sinai AND, B.) according to the understanding of the text of the Haggadah, we would likely have continued to be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. This theme is sufficiently important that this name is included in the Passover Kiddush said each of the first two nights at the Seders and the last two nights of the holiday.
I wish everyone a Chag Kasher V’Sameach — a happy, kosher, enjoyable, and meaningful, Passover to all.
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin