IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP AND SMELL THE CHAROSES
Our sages teach us that we walk sightless among miracles and crafted sacred days to arouse us from our slumber, and awaken us to the beauty, marvels and sanctity of the world around us. Each ritual leads to the spi”ritual”, if invoked with the proper kavanah, or in today’s vernacular, “mindfulness”.
On Passover, we consume sacred foods to literally internalize its timeless values. The parsley reminds us of the miracle of nature, a power greater than ourselves and the source of all life; the matzoh symbolizes the marvel of food growing from the earth and our mandate to help those who subsist on little more than crackers; the egg, “egg”zemplifies the miracle of birth and the rebirth of the Jewish people through courageous ancestors who defied all odds and outlasted the Pharaohs who sought to destroy us; the bitter herb represents the bitterness of oppression which has sensitized Jews such as holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, to alleviate the suffering of others; Elijah’s cup brings to each seder our prophetic vision of a world transformed by love, justice and peace; and the family which celebrates together, is the strength of our people, inculcating Jewish ideals and our indomitable spirit to the next generation at each seder.
Passover provides 20/20 hindsight as we approach 2020 elections, of qualities we seek in a leader. Moses was selfless and humble, describing himself as “of uncircumcised lips” his self-deprecating metaphor for lack of mellifluence, he is almost ignored in the haggadah and has no buildings in his honor. Yet, his powerful message still resonates millenia later, reminding us that we can all wax eloquent when championing a good cause as Moses told Pharaoh, “Let my people go”. These stirring words have inspired freedom fighters ever since, including Dr. Martin Luther King who predicted that he may not reach the Promised Land, but like Moses, he had been to the mountaintop and had seen it from afar with a Mosaic dream that transformed this nation.
Moses renounced wealth and the comforts of the palace to side with the slaves, demonstrating that we must often leave our comfort zone if we wish to reach our own Promised Land and be a blessing to others. Moses taught us to love the foreign born as ourselves and to feed, clothe and care for the poor and oppressed, lessons which America’s leaders sorely need to hear.
The antithesis of Moses was Pharaoh who exploited his people, bragged about his wealth and greatness, was a bully and a tyrant, and was in de”Nile” to the climate change that swirled around him with hail, locusts and darkness. He considered the Nile turning to blood a hoax and refused to change his ways. His hardened heart destroyed his nation, just as the denial of climate change and the plight of others in Washington today, is destroying the world as we know it and undermining what America stands for as reflected in our Statue of Liberty, with its stirring words by Emma Lazarus, the famous Jewish authoress.
Moses was an unorthodox political activist who married a non-Jew, had no rules against mixing milk and meat and never attended a synagogue. Moses fundamentally transformed the practice of Judaism forever with major innovations such as Torah, novel prayers, and a new name for God, unknown to his ancestors, and a spirit of reform, which he urged us to follow, when he told the elders “I wish all of my people would prophecy”.
From Greek culture, we adopted the Socratic method with children asking 4 questions as the foundation of learning and science. Like Moses, Jews still question religious dogma and ask ourselves each Passover if we can emulate Moses, who viewed others as friends and family to love, serve and cherish, rather than like Pharaoh who viewed others as commodities to exploit.
The Hillel sandwich combines the sweet charoses with the bitter herb to teach us that when things go well, we should take time to “smell the charoses”, enjoy life’s pleasures, and share our good fortune with others, and when things get tough, we should not become as morose as moror and still see the beauty in life.
The custom of removing chametz (leavened bread) from our homes, motivates us to remove the clutter in our minds which drags us down so that lofty ideals and a higher purpose can rise up and elevate our lives.
Sacrificing a lamb is a “baaaad” idea, that we’ve long since outgrown, but sacrificing the ewe (you) we are today, for the “you” we could become once liberated from the self-imposed manacles of our own bad habits is the essence of Passover. As my father Rabbi Samuel Silver said, “The greatest of all miracles, is that we need not be tomorrow what we are today, but we can improve if we use all the potentials implanted within us by God.”
This Passover, may each of us liberate ourselves from all that holds us back by sacrificing the “ewe” we are today, for the “you” we could become if we live up to the “you” our parents saw in us, our spouses fell in love with, our children looked up to, that we have dreamed of becoming, that Judaism says lies within us, and that we were meant to be.
I hope to see all of you in the coming weeks when we have some great programs including an Earth Day concert, Israeli and international dance and wonderful Passover celebrations.
Rabbi Barry Silver