Our sages teach that we walk sightless among miracles and crafted Judaism to arouse us from our slumber and awaken us to the beauty and the marvels that surround us each day. Sadly, many of us take all this for granted until it is too late, and we have only a few days left to live and would give anything just for one more year of life. Passover and the other Jewish holidays offer us continuous opportunities to appreciate life now, and to gain a glimpse into the sanctity of this amazing cosmos. Each ritual can lead us to the spiritual, if we approach this holiday with the proper kavanah or in the vernacular of our day “mindfulness”, which helps lead us from the mundane to the sublime.
On Passover, we consume sacred foods to literally internalize the timeless values and ideals of Pesach. The parsley reminds us of the miracle of nature, the best evidence of a power greater than ourselves, and the numinous splendor and subtle beauty behind all existence; the matzoh symbolizes the miracle of food growing from the ground that we enjoy in this nation in abundance and our moral obligation to help those who have little more to eat than a cracker, the egg, “egg”zemplifies the miracle of birth, including our own, the rebirth of nature and the rebirth of the Jewish people through the courage of our ancestors who defied all odds by surviving the numerous Pharaohs who have risen up to try to destroy us throughout history, the bitter herb reminds us of the bitterness of oppression which Jews have not only overcome, but have used to sensitize our people, such as Elie Wiesel, to help the suffering, the family gathering is the glue that holds our people together in good and bad times, and inculcates timeless values to the next generation, the cup of Elijah is included at every seder to ensure that we never lose sight of the prophetic vision of a world of love, justice and peace, and the role of the Jewish people to help usher in a Messianic age.
Passover also provides 20/20 hindsight as we approach the elections of 2020, by portraying archetypes of what we should seek and what we should avoid in a leader. Moses was selfless and humble, attributing all his achievements to God, and describing himself as “of uncircumcised lips” his colorful way of saying that he was not a great speaker. He is almost ignored entirely in the hagaddah to avoid deification or self-aggrandizement. The antithesis of Moses was Pharaoh who exploited his people, bragged about his greatness, was a bully and a tyrant, and considered the climate change all around him in the form of devastation of the Nile, hail, locusts and darkness as some type of elaborate hoax, which kept him in de”Nile”, and whose hardened heart brought untold misery to his nation.
We must also ask ourselves do we sometimes act like Pharaoh, viewing others as commodities to exploit or do we see others as friends and mishpachah (family), for us to love, serve, and work together with in order to improve this awesome world and make it better.
Jews have evolved by taking the best of surrounding cultures and using them to enhance our eternal Jewish values. Passover has borrowed from the Greeks with its afikomen, a Greek word for “after the meal”, it’s reclining on pillows, and the use of the Socratic method, by asking 4 questions. We must ask continue to ask question, evolve, and incorporate the revolutionary revelations of science, so that we can witness the survival of the Yiddish (the Jewish people) and help improve humanity.
Moses was a very humble man who described himself as of “uncircumcised lips”, his colorful way of saying that he did not consider himself a great speaker. Yet, his simple message still resonates thousands of years later reminding us that any of us can wax eloquent when championing a good cause as Moses did when he told Pharaoh, “Let my people go”. These words have become the rallying cry for freedom fighters ever since, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who transformed this nation with his call for social justice, and inspired by Moses, proclaimed these stirring words shortly before his assassination, “I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you..,”
as he led his people out of the wilderness of Jim Crow laws.
Passover also shows us the difference between a good leader and a bad one. Moses was selfless, and always attributed his success as a leader to God, taking no credit himself. In fact, when others were said to be prophesizing among the Jews, and his second in command asked Moses if they should be silenced, Moses responded “I wish all my people would prophecy, let them speak. When God threatened to kill all the Jews and start over with him, after the golden calf incident, Moses selflessly asked God to take his life and spare his people, since he was responsible for them as their leader. How rare such leadership is today. Instead, we all too often see the opposite among our leaders. Instead of bringing out the best in others, they bring out the beast in others, encouraging violence and anger towards their political opponents. Moses did not want attention drawn to himself, and thus he is hardly mentioned at all in the Hagaddah, which tells the story of Passover, and there are no monuments in his name. In fact, he was not known as Moses the conqueror, the liberator or the prophet, but instead is referred to as “Moshe Rabeynu” (Moses our teacher) because in the Jewish tradition our highest accolades do not go to war heroes, generals, conquerors or even prophets, but to teachers. Moses also urged us to love the foreign born as ourselves, and repeatedly admonished us to feed, clothe and provide health care to the poor.
Moses left the comfort zone of the palace to side with the slaves. Thus, teaching us that if we want to reach our Promised Land, we must often leave familiar ways to achieve something greater and to become a blessing to others. Moses received a lot of criticism, but he was not deterred from following his calling to be of service. We too may experience nay-sayers and detractors if we challenge the status quo, but Moses teaches us that this is OK, and we must have the courage to do what is right, even if it antagonizes the Pharaoh of our day and others.
Moses had little in common with today’s Orthodox; he married a non-Jew, did not observe kashrut regarding mixing milk and meat, loved the stranger as himself, never attended a synagogue, and was a religious reformer who challenged the political power of his day, and altered the practice of Judaism forever with major innovations such as the Torah, our sacred prayers, and using a name for the creative power of the cosmos, unknown to his ancestors.
The Hillel sandwich combines the sweet charoses with the bitter herb to teach us that when things are going well, we should take time to “smell the charoses”, enjoy life’s pleasures, and share our good fortune with others, and conversely when things are tough for us, we should not become as morose as morror, and try to see the beauty in life.
The custom of removing chametz (unrisen bread) from our homes, motivates us to try to remove unelevated clutter in our minds and our lives which drag us down and to replace them with lofty ideals to imbue our lives with a higher purpose.
If we are not speaking out to protect our planet, then this Passover will be in vain and we will pass over yet another opportunity to protect ourselves
Sacrificing a lamb is a baaaad idea, that Jews have long since outgrown, but sacrificing the ewe (you) we are today, for the you we could become if we liberated ourselves from self-imposed manacles of thought and deed is what Passover is all about.
But according to my father, Rabbi Samuel Silver, “The greatest miracle of all miracles, is that we need not be tomorrow what we are today, but that we can improve if we use all the potentials implanted within us by God.” Passover presents us with the tools and the motivation to bring out a new “ewe”, just as Earth experiences its rebirth at this joyous time of the year.
We conclude with the words “Next year on Jerusalem” which commits us not only to support a strong and secure Jewish state, but a powerful Jewish state of mind to help guide us through the year and to fulfill our role as a light unto the nations.
So liberal that he constantly admonished Jews to love the stranger, (immigrant), feed the poor, let the hungry onto your land and take what they need, protect the planet and give thanks to earth and to champion animal rights so much that they too should have a day off from work
Let us remember that the great Jewish leader Moses did not attend synagogue, did not keep kosher, was an activist, not just “observant”, was very political by confronting Pharaoh, and repeatedly warned Egypt about climate change in the form of 10 plagues that awaited them if they did not change their ways.
The Orthodox should also recall that Moses did not marry a Jewish woman. To the contrary he married the black daughter of a Priest of Midian, and when his sister Miriam complained about his choice of marriage partner, the Torah says that God also believed in interfaith marriages, so he struck her with leprosy for her intolerance. It was only a prayer from her forgiving brother Moses, that she was cured. There were no endless prostrations or lengthy prayers, just one word in Hebrew “Rafuanah” which means in English “please cure her” and she was cured. Thus, love of all people, not clannishness, is the “law of Moses”.
How sad that some Jews think that by remaining in the synagogue and rarely, if ever, translating the teachings of Judaism into the real world is the way to follow in the sandals of Moses.
In the eyes of the elite and those who cherish the status quo, Moses was a basket case, but to the world of justice, Moses answered to a higher authority and left his comfort zone to side with the slaves to help end their tyranny. If we seek to follow in his footsteps, we must challenge any authority that treats others like a commodity and abuses power.
When Moses began a long soliloquy at the shores of the Red Sea, after a few minutes God said, “Why are you praying to me, get going”. This is good advice, especially for the observant among us, who are wont to pray in a synagogue all day, a place entirely unknown to Moses, while the world goes to hell in a hand basket. Let’s go do something and join with our fellow Jews to save this planet and our species from ourselves.