I started writing this Shabbat Shalom message with a complete picture in my head of where I wanted to go. I had an amazing hook to bring you all in and then I was going to drop an amazing piece of midrash in your laps. This was going to be one of those Shabbat Shalom messages that I would get emails about saying, “Wow, that was something special.” But I sat down at my desk on Monday morning, read through what I had put down in writing, and with some keystrokes, deleted it all. I realized that by the time you probably are reading this it has hit DEFCON five in the preparations for your seder. This is most likely the first time in two years you have gathered safely in person to commemorate our exodus from Egypt. We have been incredibly brave and innovative over the last two years in creating ways to partake in the most practiced Jewish custom, holding a seder. Just visit our Passover Dropbox to see some of the amazing tools people have designed.
This weekend, in between our first and second seders, we will revisit Parsha Bo. It is the retelling of the Israelites’ march to freedom after 430 years in Egypt. Moreover, it contains the commandments to observe Pesach.
And Moses said to the people, “Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how the Eternal freed you from it with a mighty hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten. You go free on this day, in the Abib. So, when the Eternal has brought you into the land of Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which was sworn to your fathers to be given to you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall observe in this month the following practice:
“Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day, there shall be a festival of the Eternal. Throughout the seven days, unleavened bread shall be eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in all your territory. And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt.”
“And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead – in order that the Teaching of the Eternal may be in your mouth – that with a mighty hand the Eternal freed you from Egypt. You shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year.” (Exodus 13:3-10)
As you can see, there is a whole lot about eating unleavened bread. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of URJ, in his weekly podcast “Ten Minutes of Torah” equates the unleavened bread (matzah) to empathy. How are we, Jews that live in a free country with all of the resources at our disposal, supposed to relate and empathize with the Israelites who spent 430 in slavery? We cannot possibly do that. None of us have experienced anything close to being a slave. The commandment to avoid leavened bread gives us an opportunity to connect (even if it doesn’t compare to slavery) to the tribulations of our ancestors. The most recent comparison I can see is that of Russian-speaking Americans who currently must be concerned about the actions of a country thousands of miles away. One of our educators was sharing with me the challenge she now faces being Belarusian and Israeli, and the fact she feels she cannot share her identity in public without getting condemnation for actions of others. It’s difficult to think that our community, which usually embraces the stranger, would look upon our own in such a way. I hope that we as a Temple community can find ways to acknowledge the challenges we all face in life.