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Word of Wisdom; Pesach

04/16/2019 09:48:28 PM


Sam Shnider

This week is the week of Passover, which begins on Friday night, and
continues for seven full days, until next weekend (yizkor will be on
Saturday the 27th).

The night of the Seder has been a night observed in every generation
of the Jewish people, in communities across the world, each with its
own customs. While the Seder is a night traditionally planned long in
advance, with its designated guests, and it insular families and
groups, the Haggadah - for nearly two thousand years - has opened with
a brave welcoming greeting, almost an invocation: (1) This is the
bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt, (2)
Let all who hunger come forth and eat...(3) Now we are here, next year
we will be in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year
we will be free people.

The relationship between these three verses is not clear. The saintly
Rav Huna is mentioned as inviting the poor with these words to every
meal (See BT Taanit 20b). But why would we invite the poor
specifically to the seder night? Why would we offer the bread of
affliction to our guests? Why would we be opening our table at this
moment when we are most together as a community?

It is the bread of affliction, the memory of Egypt, the knowledge that
we were slaves that gives us the power to empathize, to be generous.
We remember where we come from, we remember what it teaches us. The
torah teaches us not to mock the stranger, for we too were strangers:
to the extent that we remember our meager beginnings, our times of
adversity, the fact that we too are strangers, we become stronger and
more generous.

But opening our table and welcoming the poor is difficult at the best
of times, and it can take almost superhuman effort to invite the
stranger, or to open our hearts and minds. Something about this
invocation to the poor is meant to irk us, to make us feel
uncomfortable. We should be asking ourselves: in what ways can be more
generous? How can we contribute to the world around us? What is the
best allocation of our resources?

This leads us to the third sentence, "this year we are slaves, next
year we will be free." Our discomfort can be remedied by optimism. The
feelings of lack, and the misgivings that block us, can be remedied by
an unbridled optimism and the feelings of redemption. In fact, it is
the same energy of optimism that tells that we can give, and continue
to give, and we shall never want, because, "Next Year in Jerusalem!"
We have the power to dream of our own redemption, to know that
whatever slavery we endure at this time will end.

It is for this reason that these three statements, even though they
may have their origins in different places and times, have an internal
logic to them. And they are an appropriate opening to the Seder night,
in which we are given an opportunity to relive the experience of the
Exodus, and allow it to transform us.


Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780