Torah Reading, Leviticus, Chapter 7, verse 11 through Chapter 7, verse 38.
We read about the various sacrifices, an echo of last week’s Parsha, but this time it’s from the point of view of the Kohanim, the Priests who administered the rite of korbanot.
This Shabbat has the special name of Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath, a designation taken from the last line of the special Haftorah of the day that cites the coming of Elijah, a major, if invisible, guest at each of our Seders.
During this week leading up to Passover, we can spend some time in making our Seders more meaningful than ever. A few suggestions follow. All of them are found in the Haggadah. This little text, I would suggest, is more than just a storybook but a guide that can help us experience the full meaning of Passover and life. So here they are –four ways to prepare for Passover, just by opening the Haggadah.
--Number One: Get rid of all the Hametz in your life. If you open a Haggadah, you'll find that the first thing it instructs us to do is search for all the left-over hametz in our homes and to get rid of it by burning it and relinquishing ownership of it. Hametz, of course, is bread, cake, cookies, cereal and anything that contains a mixture of water and grain that has been allowed to sit for an extended period of time. But more than that, Hametz symbolizes the evil inclination in each of us. It's arrogance and anger, despair and distress. It is all those behaviors that enslave us in our daily lives. Getting rid of hametz, then, is more than spring-cleaning; it's all about renewal and an inner spiritual cleansing of our lives. As you get rid of the physical hametz in your home this week, take the time to work on getting rid of the emotional and social shmutz that hampers your relations with others and makes you unhappy.
--Number Two: Formulate some new questions. Every one anticipates the recitation of the four questions usually by the youngest child at the Seder. But the four questions should be more than a formula. In fact, they are not even questions. They are queries that are supposed to make us curious and inspire us to ask our own questions. The whole point of the Seder is to ask questions - real questions. Nobel Laureate, Isadore Rabi once said that his mother was responsible for making him a great scientist. Each day when he came home from school she used to ask him: 'Did you ask any good questions today?' And the same applies to the Seder and Judaism in general. Take the time this week to compose some questions for your guests, (or for your host if you're attending another Seder). Ask about the significance of the Exodus, what it means to be Jewish, how we can believe in God today, and what our lives mean. Ask questions that will challenge your guests. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Why am I here? What can I learn from Passover? And who am I?
--Number Three: Ask yourself whether you're really free. At the Seder we say: "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt but the Lord took us out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." This is a great time to do an inventory of our freedoms. We ought to consider whether we can be completely free if others aren't. And what responsibilities does freedom imply? In an age of cell phones, texts and e-mails are we ever truly free? What does it really mean to be free today?
--Number Four: Prepare for Passover by writing your own Haggadah. Now, before you say - "Hey, what's wrong with the old one," let's look more closely at what the Haggadah says: "Each person is obligated to see himself/herself as if he/she personally went forth from Egypt." The Seder, then, is more than just a story; it is about coming to recognize that we are part of the stories we tell and that we relive the story of the Exodus in our own lives. If we just tell our ancestors story, we have not really celebrated Passover. Mitzraim, Egypt, is not just a place but a state of being. It's often pointed out that the word Mitzraim can also be read "Maytzarim," literally "the narrow straits." If we look back at our lives, we can tell our own story of liberation from the narrow straits of illness, anxiety, fear, or maybe ignorance. We all have a story to tell. We need to share our own story at the Seder and not just our ancestors.
While COVID still affects our lives, I hope that we can commune with some family and friends for the Seders and have truly memorable gatherings as we celebrate the ancient Mitzvah of commemorating our beginnings as a nation and the birth of our freedom. A Sweet Pesach to all!
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman