Pesach and the Calendar

Some of you may have noticed that this week there is a discrepancy between the calendar for Jews in the Diaspora, and the calendar for Israel and for Reform Jews in Diaspora (who follow the Israel calendar.)  For an explanation of why there’s a difference, check out this article by Ben Dreyfus.

If you are wondering what YOU should read, the easy answer is “ask your rabbi.” The senior rabbi of your congregation is the “Marah d’atrah,” the final word on the schedule and practice in your shul. If you don’t have a rabbi, well, get one!

So this week’s drashot are all over the map. Some are for the eighth day of Pesach, and some look ahead past Pesach to Acharei Mot. All are Torah, though, so it’s all good!

Crossing the Reed Sea by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

On Loving Our Neighbors by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

You Are What You Wear by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

Whatever you learn this week, I wish you a Shabbat shalom!

 

 

Bringing Along the Bones

So… Passover is nearly over. We’re on our way to Sinai, a journey from redemption to responsibility.

When Moses and the people of Israel left Egypt, they carried the bones of Joseph with them. (Exodus 13:19) He had requested that they do so when he prophesied that they would someday leave Egypt and go home. (Genesis 50:25) Those bones would wander with the people of Israel for over forty years, until they were finally put to rest in Shechem. (Joshua 24:32) Moses made sure they brought those bones with them because of an ancient promise. Joshua saw to it that the bones were buried in the soil of Shechem to fulfill the promise.

Likely the “bones” of Joseph were actually his mummified body in a wooden box. He had been a high official in Pharaoh’s government, so he would have been buried as an Egyptian courtier. Moses took the time and trouble to locate the box and to carry it along, despite the danger, despite the need to move quickly.

What would you bring along, if you suddenly had to leave your home on short notice? Photos? Legal papers? A precious antique? The pets? The children’s toys? What if you knew you were going to have to walk hundreds of miles? What would you choose to leave behind? What would be too precious to leave?

Passover is almost behind us now. It’s time to look around and say, what practices, what insights am I going to bring along with me, as I walk towards the future? What hurts, what old grudges, what outmoded ideas will I decide to leave behind in Egypt?

Passover Greetings

Image: A fresh spring salad. Photo by Jill111 via Pixabay.com.

Yes, Passover is still going on – the seders may be over, but we’re still scattering matzah crumbs at my house.

Most people know the simplest Passover greetings:

Chag sameach!” (Khahg sah-MAY-akh)  means Happy Holiday. The proper reply is simply “Chag sameach!” right back.

Pesach sameach” (PAY-sahkh sah-MAY-akh) means Happy Passover. The proper reply is simply “Pesach sameach.”

However, in the middle days of Passover are different. They are called the Chol HaMoed, which translates to “Ordinary (days) of the festival.” That means that regular activities like work are permitted (which they aren’t on the chagim, the holy days at the beginning and at the end).

There’s a special greeting for the chol hamoed, the middle days:

Moadim l’simchah!”  (moh-ah-DEEM l-seem-KHAH) – “Festival of Happiness!”

The proper reply to this is, “Chagim U’zmanim L’sasson” – (Khahg-EEM oo-z’mahn-EEM l’sah-SOHN”   “Holiday and Times of Joy!”

Thanks to Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, who reminded me of these special greetings in a facebook conversation.

Shalom, Salam: A Listening Tour of Twitter

Image: An Israeli-Palestinian peace poster. By I, Makaristos [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

I follow a lot of people on Twitter. Many of them are people whose beliefs challenge me. By following them on Twitter, I get leads on readings that sometimes will lead to a shift in my thinking. It’s a great way to learn, if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Recently I decided that I needed to review my thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so I began following people on both sides, from the far left to the far right. My Twitter feed filled up with voices like @naomi_dann and @j_t_rex on the left, members of Jewish Voice for Peace, and voices like @GushEtzion and @GolanShahar on the right. I followed Palestinian voices like that of @AliAbunimah. I tried to find individuals as well as organizations. I subscribed and I listened, and I read articles the twitterers suggested.

Unfortunately, I had to un-follow a lot of people, too. If someone indulged in name-calling or demonizing people they didn’t like, I unfollowed immediately, because on Twitter, followers are prized. I did not want to encourage bad behavior. I was interested in learning, not in filling my mind with sewage.

What did I learn? I learned that I have very little taste for either the far right or the far left on this subject, because both of them seem to have lost all compassion for one side of the dreadful situation in the region. People on the far left seem to have lost track of the fact that generations of Israelis were born in Israel and it is their home. People on the far right seem to have lost track of the fact that not every Palestinian is a terrorist, and that they have a right to live in peace. I don’t see qualifiers on either side that suggest that ordinary people on both sides are suffering in the present situation.

Torah demands that we see “the Other” with compassion. The Haggadah reminds us of this when we spill ten drops of wine at the seder in memory of the Egyptians who suffered from the plagues. The Jewish philosopher and Talmudist Emanuel Levinas built his entire philosophy around his experiences during the Holocaust, and he writes again and again that there is an ethical imperative to choose compassion in our treatment of the Other.

Just as God is called compassionate and gracious, so you too must be compassionate and gracious. – Sifre Deuteronomy 49

Some attempt to justify hatred of Palestinians by citing the case of Amalek. Amalek was an ancient tribe who attacked the weakest of the Hebrews as they traveled through the wilderness at Riphidim, and God decreed their destruction by Israel. (Num. 24:20; Exod. 17:8-16; Deut. 25:17-19) However, they reappeared in the Books of Judges and of 1 Samuel. The Book of Chronicles says that the last of them were destroyed by the tribe of Simeon during the reign of King Hezekiah. (1 Chr. 4:42, 43)

Still, there are clues in the name of Haman the Aggagite in the Book of Esther that he was a descendant of Amalek, and the legend has persisted that every time there is a great enemy of the Jews, it is a reappearance of Amalek. So in modern Israel even 13 years ago, I saw bumper stickers suggesting that Palestinians are Amalek. Some of the people I followed on Twitter made the same claim, and cited the commandment to “blot out Amalek” (Deut. 25:19) as a justification for violence against Palestinians as a group.

I have absolutely no difficulty with the rule of law, holding individuals responsible for their actions by way of a legal system. However, I reject the idea that every enemy faced by the Jewish people is “Amalek” and therefore anything goes.

Both sides of the dispute over the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River are suffering. In any given incident, there may be more wrong on one side or the other, but it does not justify the demonization of either group. Nor does it justify the teaching of hatred to children, whether they are Palestinian children or the children of Israelis living in the West Bank.

After all my Twitter reading and listening, I came back to my uncomfortable seat as a moderate. I reject the anti-Zionist position as a vicious fantasy based in antisemitism. I reject the far-right position that fantasizes about a “Greater Israel” in which Palestinians would be second-class citizens and that seeks to realize that fantasy via the establishment of more settlements. I reject both positions because they are both based in an utter lack of compassion for the situation of the other side.

May the day come soon when both sides choose to sit at the table at one time to find a genuine solution to a situation which is a nightmare for both.

 

Happy Earth Day: The Culture of Collards on Vimeo

It’s an honor to pass on this Earth Day post and video from Michael Twitty, food historian and peacemaker.

Afroculinaria

Enjoy this short film by my friend Aditi Desai featuring me, 3 Part Harmony Farm and City Blossoms DC in an exploration of the heritage of collards and culinary and food justice. I was privileged to see it screened at the DC Environmental Film Festival at American University, and in honor of Earth Day, you can see it tonight at my Alma mater Howard University!

Enjoy and happy Earth Day!

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Pack Your Bags, We’re Out of Here.

What does it really mean, to leave Egypt in our own time?

The name for Egypt in the Torah is Mitzrayim (meetz-RYE-yeem.) That means “a narrow place.” We can easily see how it got its name when we look at a map of Ancient Egypt:

Image: Map of Egypt by Jeff Dahl or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient_Egypt_map-en.svgThe green area in this map is the arable, liveable Egypt. The Nile is at its heart, source of food, source of water. Without the Nile, no one could live in Egypt. With it, it is the wealthiest, most stable empire of the ancient world. Just beyond the reach of the Nile, though, lies desert, one might even say deadly desert, on each side of it stretching for hundreds of miles.

We can learn a lot from this map, for instance: Egypt was the original “tight spot.” In a land so narrow, I imagine that there could be very few secrets, except the secrets everyone agreed to keep.

It took bravery to leave Egypt overland. Leaving meant not just leaving behind the bad stuff (like slavery) but things like food and water. The wilderness was scary, and for good reason.

So, now, thinking about our situation in the 21st century: where is Egypt, really? What are the tight spots in our own histories? Where have you felt stuck in a narrow place, with few choices and none of them easy? When and how (or were) you delivered?

At the seder, celebrate that deliverance. Or cry out for the deliverance that has not come.

Where are the tight spots in our hearts? Where are we narrow, confined in our thinking? What would it take to strike out into the unknown, to look for a more expansive way to think and feel? What would it take?

At the seder, start in Egypt. Own the narrow places in our hearts. Join hands and hearts for the courage to step into what is uncomfortable.

Where are the tight spots at our table? To whom do we say, “You are Other” and unwelcome? Who is too scary, too different, too disturbing to include at our table?

At the seder, notice who is not at the table. Who is too scary? Too different? Too disruptive? Ask, how could we make our table a little broader? How can this table leave Mitzrayim?

Passover is the time to leave Mitzrayim, not only in the past, but always, every year. Each year has a different story and different Egypts. Each year we strive to leave them, and sometimes we actually make it.

Our seders close with the famous words, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Those words can be literal: next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem. Or they can be metaphorical: Next year, we will be in a different place. We will live in a city on a hill, a bright light to the lands beyond. We will be different people, because we have been through the wilderness.

So we have a choice: Change, or stay the same. Be free, or be slaves. It’s up to us.

I wish us all a Pesach of sweetness and challenge!

 

 

What is Bedikat Chametz?

Image: Compost Recycling Can, by Alexas Fotos. Pixabay.com

The night before Passover, there’s a traditional Jewish ceremony called Bedikat Chametz.

Bedikat Chametz means “checking of chametz” and it has to do with making a last check for all the chametz in the house. That’s the stuff we’ve been cleaning out for the last month – all the products of the five forbidden-for-Passover grains: wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye. By the last night, there shouldn’t be any left, but the traditional thing is to save a bit back so that you can “find” it and destroy it. I have a half-package of fettuccini pasta waiting for bedikat chametz at my house. Now I’m waiting for sundown – traditionally, 40 minutes after sundown on the evening before Passover is the proper time for it.

Traditionally, you take it outside and burn it. I live in fire country in California, and even in the springtime, my neighbors would rightly call the fire department if I started a fire outside. So I put the last chametz in the compost can, which technically isn’t mine – it belongs to the city. I thereby move it off my property, outside my domain.

(An alternative: My friend and teacher Rabbi Stephen Einstein reminded me that for families with children, bedikat chametz can make an enduring Passover memory. If you have children, consider making the hunt for chametz a hunt for hidden chametz (pieces of bread, perhaps) through the house) then either burn them up or deal with their removal as safety demands. Some families even offer a finders prizes for chametz.)

Then I say the prayer for nullification of chametz:

All leaven and anything leavened that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.

And once I’ve done that, any chametz left in my house is inedible trash.

We’re almost there: Countdown to Pesach!