One of the best things about being a rabbi is reading the diverse and wonderful insights from our ancient, medieval, and modern scholars. I happily share one of the best pieces I read last year about the lessons of Passover (with modest adaptations). True to form, many modern rabbis quibble about both the details and major premises expressed by Rabbi Osher Jungreis’. May you enjoy agreeing with and disputing him this Passover.
Rabbi Jungreis writes:
“If there is any one holiday that is of special significance to our existence and gives us viable solutions to every problem it is Passover. Just consider:
Passover comes to remind us that it is the family that is the center of Jewish life. The Seder is celebrated, not in the synagogue, but in the home. And it is not a teacher who must impart our heritage to the child, but the parents who must answer the child’s questions.
Passover teaches us that parents always had problems with their children. The four children of the hagaddah include the rebellious child as well as the wise one. And the parents must relate to each of them, on each child’s level, and to each child, the parent must impart our Torah.
Passover teaches us never to give up hope, that every darkness is followed by dawn, that there is some purpose to our suffering, although the reason may elude our understanding. And so, even as our ancestors went forth from bondage to freedom, so we too shall ultimately emerge triumphant. We must only have faith.
Passover teaches us that the greatest stumbling block to the observance of the commandments is pride and ego, and so, there is a play on the words “matzos” and “mitzvos”, for matzoh is the unleavened bread which is not permitted to rise, which is, suppressed before it can flower and bloom. By disciplining and controlling our egos, we can absorb the mitzvot and make them the raison d’etre of our lives.
Passover teaches us that we dare not be complacent about our observance and commitment, but must search in the recesses of our hearts and souls to determine whether we are observing God’s commandments fully. Even as we must search for chametz with a candle in the darkest corners of our homes, so we must search our lives, our souls. It is written, “The candle of God is the soul of humanity.”
Passover teaches us that the Jewish home must extend hospitality to the lonely, the forsaken, the poor, and the hungry — that before the family gathers around the table, the doors must be opened to the stranger.
Passover teaches us that the agents of redemption in every generation are our women, for it is in their merit that our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.
Passover teaches us that we dare not rejoice in the fall of our enemy, and therefore, as we mention the ten plagues we spill a drop of wine, for our cup is not full if others suffer.
Passover teaches us that even in the midst of exile, assimilation, and oppression; the Jewish people survived, for there were three cardinal principles on which our people would not compromise:
1. They never forgot their Jewish names, their identity or their heritage.
2. They never abandoned their distinct Jewish dress – the tallit, the tefillin.
3. They never forgot the holy tongue, the language of the Jew, the language of prayer, the voice of Torah. (Please reflect on the Traditional and modern meanings of these principles and whether or not you agree or disagree.)
Passover teaches us that at the heart of all our laws is the commandment of gratitude. To this day we are called upon to give praise to God for having redeemed us from Egypt. Every Jew, in every generation, is charged with the obligations – to remember, to consider that if not for The Divine One’s mercies, they and their descendants would still be enslaved in Egypt.
This concept of gratitude is the cornerstone of our religion. In order for us to learn the art of appreciation towards God, we must first learn how to express the same to our parents, to our teachers, and to all those who have helped us.
Finally, Passover teaches us that even as we were redeemed from the first exile, so we shall once again be redeemed through miracles and wonders. The Holy One, in infinite mercy, will gather us from the four corners of the earth and bring us home to our land, even to Jerusalem.”
Arthur and I wish you Chag Kasher V’Sameach and spirited seder conversations!
Rabbi Aviva Berg