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18/04/2024 09:30:06 PM



For many of my waking hours, and for too many hours that should not be waking hours, I ponder this: what do folks want their rabbi to be saying right now?

I know what I would prefer to be offering: creative and uplifting visions about the Passover seder; creative and uplifting invitations to count the omer between the night of the second seder and Shavuot; creative and uplifting words about our capacity to care for each other and the world out of our particularity and our humanity.

The words get stuck in worry, as if my airways and brainwaves were jammed with sticky fly paper that catch only the residue of concern.

So I remind myself that Passover offers this amazing opportunity to notice the season and mark the beginning of our calendar, just as six months ago was that amazing opportunity to notice the season and mark our new year. Then, as now, we had existential worries, fears, a welter of emotions and thoughts and reactions. And memes and articles and analyses. And conflict and contention and distress.

Yet it was still Tishrey and Simhat Torah, and we still danced. This Nisan, this month that also is called Aviv – our Miracle of Spring – is upon us, and we are called to celebrate liberation, to invite folks to our tables or be invited, to wrestle with the layers of meaning this ancient story of the Exodus bring to bear on this very moment. 

We always wrestle with the questions. There are always more than four. Our collective number five: how do we celebrate this night, this year?

My colleague Rabbi Joshua Boettinger comments on the phrase near the beginning of the Maggid section of the hagaddah:

“ ‘Anyone who expands on the telling the story of the exodus from Egypt — behold they are praiseworthy.’ Immediately after the statement praising the one who expands on the telling, the Haggadah relays the anecdote of the five rabbis in Bnei Brak who get so caught up in their telling the story that they do not realize that they have been up all night and that it is time for morning prayers… Rabbi Yael Levy, in her translation of the Psalms, rendering yeshuah (usually translated as “salvation”) as expansion. I like applying this to the Seder, because it seems to suggest that our expansion of the Passover narrative is not just about adding fanciful flourishes to the story, but that somehow our collective fate hinges on our ability to make this text larger.”

From the rabbis of Bnei Brak and the Mishnah and the Talmud through to my cherished colleagues -- our collective fate rests indeed on the vitality and meaningfulness of our expansion of our texts, the texts and rituals we have inherited, have claimed, and the ways we infuse them with what we value, with our consciousness, our conscience.

Rabbi Boettinger invites us to consider what our retelling stirs up in us and answers his own query: “Maybe the core prayer of the Seder is that our suffering brings us towards others.”

This is a powerful teaching, and one that is probably already at the heart of many of your seder-leading or seder-going experiences. May it serve to ground you in both the beautiful expansiveness of Judaism and our people and our stories, along with the beautiful expansiveness of humanity, of kol yoshvey tevel, all who dwell on earth. And may that grounding lead to a world of justice, mercy and goodness. This is what I want to say this Passover. 

Rabbi Liz

Tue, 23 July 2024