Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:

First and foremost, I hope you are all well, safe, and healthy.

The current Coronavirus crisis in which we find ourselves is unprecedented, frightening, and most trying to our senses of calm and peacefulness.

G-d willing, and with the help of those whose wisdom and knowledge will lead the way, may we see the resolution to this upheaval quickly and completely.

No doubt that our Passover plans have been altered – no matter where or how one’s family was planning on observing the holiday and the opening nights’ Seders.

With that in mind, and with whatever adjustments we will ALL need to make in our Passover planning, I share the following with you concerning Passover preparations.

Once again, with G-d’s help, may our Passover observance and celebration reflect as closely the manner in which we have ALWAYS commemorated the holiday AND the way in which we were planning and hoping to do so this year.

On Tuesday night, Apr. 7, 2020, we conduct the Bedikat Chametz, the Search for Chametz, with the entire family involved, if possible. We do this as soon as darkness is upon us – after 8:15 p.m., with all members of the family involved.

There is no set number of pieces of chametz that are set out for the search. The correct number of pieces should correspond to the number of rooms in which we likely ate chametz in our homes throughout the year. For example, typically, the bathrooms and utility rooms would not be included.

We save up the chametz pieces and burn them the next morning before 10:17 a.m.

We must conclude eating all our chametz on Wed. morning by 11:35 a.m.

If we go out-of-town, we must take a perfunctory search before we leave town.

The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol. It is marked by a specially-designated haftarah after the Torah reading. On this Shabbat, typically the rabbi’s drasha (sermon) focuses on the observance of the holiday.

This Shabbat looms large for us every year as we believe that, according to tradition, – it was on this Shabbat that the Jews were told and internalized that “they were really leaving” Egypt.

The concept of Shabbat HaGadol is similar to the example of children (and the teachers) who count down the days until a long-anticipated break or vacation from school, or, someone who has long anticipated a joyful, restful, and/or meaningful vacation or trip. T he excitement that the anticipation creates is often a celebration itself. So it is with Passover, as we gear up for the holiday, looking to the holiday with great excitement, anticipation, and intense preparation.

As you well know, Passover, like so many of our holidays, is a unique festival with traditions, ceremonies, and customs all its own. In fact, Passover is the holiday with the MOST mitzvot (commandments) to observe and uphold throughout the holiday as well as during the Seders.

So we might ask, if EVERY holiday has its own specific way of fulfilling that holiday, why do we never ask, at any other time, on any other holiday, why THAT holiday is different from all other days? On Chanukah we light the Menorah; on Rosh Hashanah, we blow the shofar; on Sukkot we eat in the sukkah and shake the Lulav & Etrog. These CERTAINLY don’t resemble ANY other holidays. T hese would be great times to ask why THOSE holidays are different from any other holiday.

And I respond: We SHOULD ask the “Mah Nishtanah,” “The Four Questions” questions on Passover. It IS different from any other holiday. Passover is the ONLY holiday that has happy AND sad symbols included in its commemoration. We have both signs of joy and tragedy at our Seder and we prominently recognize them both throughout the Seder service. And the main symbol of the entire holiday: matzah, is itself a symbol of both joy and sadness.

On one hand, Passover is our personal Independence Day, the day on which we came out of bondage, leaving Egypt and the hardships of slavery, becoming free and independent of the oppressing, torturous afflictions heaped upon our people. We Americans also have our own Independence Day, July 4th, the day we mark our independence from England, celebrated with fireworks, picnics, outings, and barbeques of hot dogs and hamburgers.

On the other hand, Passover is also our personal Memorial Day, the day on which we recall the afflictions of slavery which included pre-Nazi acts of torture, suffering, and murder, perpetrated against our people. And again, we Americans also have our own Memorial Day, the day we commemorate all those brave men and women who gave their lives so that this bastion of freedom and justice can lead the way among the nations of the world, which we celebrate – ironically — with picnics, outings, and barbeques of hot dogs and hamburgers.

Because the fourth of the Four Questions conspicuously asks why it is we recline during the Seder, we learn out from our Gemara that eating in a reclining manner is a sign of our relaxation, a further sign of our freedom and the stark distinction between eating in a leisurely, free fashion (as we do today in our Seder meals) and eating in a forced, sitting-up straight posture, with a rigid, slave-like position, in which our ancestors, we learn, were forced to eat.

Because reclining is a sign of our freedom and therefore of our joy, when we drink the four cups of wine and when we eat the matzah, we are commanded to eat while leaning (to our left) rather than eating or drinking these items while sitting straight upright.

On the other hand, when we eat the maror, the bitter herbs, we find that we must eat them WITHOUT reclining just for that reason. The maror is the most prominent symbol at our Seder table reminding us of our slavery and the miseries of our oppression in Egypt.

In so many ways, Passover, by way of recalling both JOY and sadness, is a symbol of ALL of Judaism, and really, of life
itself. Life tends not to be all filled with pleasure and ecstasy and Baruch Hashem, thank G-d, tends not to be completely filled with tragedy and sadness. We recognize that Judaism and life are truly combinations of celebration AND times of grief. Whenever we recognize that we are blessed with the special privilege and gift of joyfulness, it behooves us to jump on those occasions, to revel in the opportunity to celebrate and to take full advantage of G-d’s provision of such an event on which we are free to, and encouraged to reap as much pleasure, bliss, and meaningfulness from such a milestone.

With G-d’s help, we hope and pray that THIS Passover will be one such an occasion. We hope that this year – in spite of unanticipated, unprecedented conditions and circumstances, each of you has the opportunity to create a memorable and fulfilling Passover, together with your families, and that the joy you gain be only eclipsed by the joy you gain by NEXT year’s Passover.

Chag Kasher v’sameach — a happy, healthy, kosher Passover to everyone,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin