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A Special Message from Rabbi Joel for Passover 5782 / 2022
THE HIDDEN PASSOVER STORY
It’s us against them! This seems to have become the foremost narrative of our times. Whether at school board meetings, in the streets of our cities, on Twitter, or in the halls of government, our society seems on the verge of fraying beyond repair. As the war in Ukraine has reminded us, this drama also is ascendant around the world. Perhaps conflict among peoples has always been the dominant human saga. The themes of Passover — from slavery to freedom, the season of renewal, next year in Jerusalem —are tailor-made to provide us with the necessary fortitude to endure and soldier on. From our current difficulties, we hope and we pray that hatred — whether ancient or modern — will ultimately fade away.
Yet there is counter-narrative to the Passover holiday, one that is often hidden behind the more common one of “they wanted to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” It is a story of two competing tribes who miraculously put aside their differences to unite for a greater good. The two groups were fundamentally at odds with each other. The first were the natives, rooted to their piece of land and their structured society. The second were the wanderers, who never stayed anywhere long enough to establish roots, but were nonetheless able to build a sustainable culture. These two peoples of course saw the world differently, yet each were able to recognize that it was not their adversaries that defined them. Rather, each group recognized that its ability to survive and flourish was dependent upon the beneficence of the Divine.
The natives were farmers, and every spring they thanked their gods for surviving the winter by celebrating the new crop. Perhaps they rid themselves of last year’s sour dough and ate the foundational food of all agrarian societies: flat unleavened bread of spring barley or wheat. Living in the highlands — nearby but apart — were the wanderers with their flocks. These shepherds also gave thanks for making it through to another springtime. To celebrate their flocks’ fertility, perhaps they offered a sacrifice of a young sheep, smearing its blood on the doorposts of their tents. Later, they enjoyed eating their barbecued feast while singing and dancing around the campfire.
The Passover story in the book of Exodus brings together these ancient customs of getting rid of chametz, of eating matzah, and of making the pesach offering, thus demonstrating the union of the farmers and the shepherds, the natives and the wanderers. How did they come to realize that comradeship is better than enmity? We do not really know. Perhaps grilled lamb on warm flat bread is just too good to resist!
It may seem that our current divisions are just too deep and too complicated to overcome. Passover reminds us otherwise. The farmers and the shepherds were able to figure it out; so can we. This year, as we eat the Hillel Sandwich of matzah, marror and charoset during the korech portion of our seder, may we all consider ways to bring together the disparate voices in our world toward a more peaceful, more loving future.
Harriet and I wish all of you a zissen Pesach, a sweet, joyous Passover!
If you would like to arrange to sell your chametz prior to the holiday, please fill out this form available from the Rabbinical Assembly. The deadline is Thursday by noon.
Also at this link: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/webform/sale-hameitz-5782
There are some wonderful new Passover-related resources available at the websites of both the Rabbinical Assembly, www.rabinicalassembly.org and at Exploring Judaism, www. exploringjudaism.org — NL.