Pesach Commentaries

A section for posting commentaries from any source, as well as personal comments, about Pesach.

66 thoughts on “Pesach Commentaries

  1. Aryae Post author

    Reb Zalman

    From The Reb Zalman Legacy Project

    For Passover: “Of Four Children” Revised

    [Intro by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor:] In the traditional Haggadah, the Four Children are presented as One Wise, One Wicked, One Simple and One who Does Not Know How to Ask.

    Growing up, it didn’t really feel like four choices. I knew which one I wanted.

    And I daresay, for those of us who did not feel we could attain to a “Wise child,” we may have sometimes felt discouraged and asked, “Why bother being Jewish?”

    In Reb Zalman’s sefer, Yishmiru Da-at, he has given a text which can be substituted for the traditional one. It presents a four-dimensional kind of enneagram which is both universal and useful for teaching children.

    The original Hebrew is at the end of this post for inclusion in your Passover Seders. Here’s my translation:

    The Torah speaks of Four Children, (to be sung to the same nusach used for reading of the Passover Haggadah):

    One a lamden / Sharp Student, one a chossid / high Emotional Quotient, one a tamim / Good One and one she-ayn lo shum s’fekut u’b’eyot / One Who Does Not Doubt or Question.

    The Sharp Student, [what does s/he say?]: (Deut 6:20) “[What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws] which havaya our God has commanded you” and so you shall answer hir according to the capacity of hir sharpness of wit.

    The High EQ one, [what does s/he say?]: (Exodus 12: 26) “[What is] this service to you?” So you will make an effort to reign in hir longings, for s/he also wants to be a part of the integrity and perfection that comes with meaningful rituals. If you are loving, then s/he will understand devekut / cleaving, and s/he will get a taste of what it means to feel close to God.

    The Good one, [what does s/he say?]: (Exodus 13:14) “What is this?” and so you shall bear witness to hir from your own experience, that hashem yitbarach is assisting you with ‘a strong hand’, to take you out and to take hir out of Mitzrayim.

    The One who does not question, you will feed hir some maror / horse radish, so s/he will feel hir friends’ troubles and so that compassion will be instilled in hir heart.

  2. Aryae Post author

    Reb Zalman

    From The Reb Zalman Legacy Project

    Pesach: Freely Bestowed Chesed

    [Pesach is associated with the Sefirah of Chesed. The text is from The Ten Sefirot in Sacred Time, available from Aleph. [NOTE: Translation by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor. Words in brackets [] added for explanation by Gabbai Seth.]

    And on Pesach, it’s widely known that as we eat matzah we focus on haEMuNah / trust in God (Zohar II 183:) “michla dimhEMeNusa“ / “Food of faith,” (and michla d’asussa / “Food of remedy“). Pesach is the holiday of Abraham our father, (peace be to him), she-he-EMiN / who trusted in God, and who went down to Egypt, which created for us the possibility of leaving Mitzrayim. And, he was generous and charitable, and he put his attention to the freeing of captives.

    And when you contemplate the arrangement of the Seder plate, you will discern in the three Matzahs, 1) Chochmah, 2) Binah and 3) Daat.

    [Chochmah: Intuitive wisdom; right brain; conceptualization.
    Binah: The ability to distinguish, differentiate; left brain; analysis.
    Da-at: Experiential knowledge; reality testing.]

    And six divisions in the plate as follows:
    1) Z’roa / Shank bone in Chesed, [reminder of having been spared the killing of the first born],
    2) Beitzah / Egg in Gevurah [recalling the churban, our punishment],
    3) Maror / Bitter herbs in Tiferet [stirring compassion],
    4) Karpas / Celery in Netzach [reminder of the labor],
    5) Charoset / Pesach Mixture in Hod [mortar, mud, apple, sweetness],
    6) Chazeret / Horseradish in Yesod [slavery]-

    All six together being ze’er anpin / short face, [term which means these six Sefiros].

    7) And The plate itself, is the Nukva Malchut [final sefira which is a containing structure for the other six].

    And the four cups are the four worlds corresponding to the letters of the revered name, [YHVH/Atzilut, Beriyah, Yetzirah, Assiyah].

    And the seder begins with Kiddush in Atzilut [Keter, Chochmah] and with the telling in Beriyah [Binah, which, together with Chochmah, give birth to all the other qualities].

    And after the meal, the Birkat Hamazon / Grace and the great Hallel are in Yetzirah, [singing, celebrating, heart-level]. And The cup of Elijah is between Yetzirah and Assiyah [descending into redemption] until it gets to a point where we all come to rejoice in something real that will follow, [this text is from the Haggadah:] chasal siddur pesach… / “The Passover Seder is completed per requirements – just as we have merited to conduct the seder, so may we merit to do,” and that doing is Assiyah – l-shannah ha-baah birushalayim / “next year in Jerusalem,” bringing our vision into a better world – redemption.

    And so one can say: “I believe with perfect faith that Hashem yitbarach in Hir glory, (S/He Hirself, not through a designee, not an angel and not a Seraph, through Hir own effort), and through Hir sending a taste of supernal, freely bestowed Chesed and through a stirring from above, a kindly dew of generosity, (i.e., it didn’t happen because we deserved it; it happened irregardless), (cf Zohar III 128), God did all of this to redeem us with four phrases of redemption,

    [These are, (Exodus 6:6-7) “I will take you out from under the suffering of Egypt,” “I will save you from their service,” “I will redeem you with an outstretched hand”, and “I will take you as a nation”]

    “and S/he did it in all four worlds (Atzilut, Beriyah, Yetzirah and Assiyah), and with cures to the maladies of Mitzrayim and with the removal of those obstacles we face, obstacles to our bliss and to redemption.”

  3. Aryae Post author

    Reb Zalman

    From The Reb Zalman Legacy Project

    The Afikoman

    In this article, originally published in “New Menorah,” Reb Zalman takes us from that moment in our Seders when we will eat the Afikoman, to the opening of the door for Elijah the prophet, and beyond. Please consider these suggestions for your Pesach celebrations. (Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor)

    When we read through the section of the Hagadah that deals with the Wise Child, the way the response is written implies that one is to give the Wise one all kinds of instructions in Halakhah because of hir having asked an excellent and intelligent question. And one such Halakhah, singled out in the text is the laws of Afikoman. Specifically, it states: After having finished eating the Afikoman, one may not follow this with any dessert. This seemingly trivial law must be taught to the one who is wise.

    In the time of the Holy Temple, the afikoman rule meant that after having eaten the Paschal Lamb, one was not to refresh one’s palate with anything else; the taste of the Paschal Lamb was to linger.

    In our day, too, although we are no longer able to offer the sacrifice in animal form, the commentators say that we are to have the taste of the matzah, the Afikoman food of our time, linger with us for the rest of the night. The only other taste in which we can still partake at that point of the Seder is the wine in the cups that are to follow; and especially that of the cup of Elijah.

    Now I want to talk about these two points in the Passover Seder, (afikoman; Elijah’s cup), and I want to first draw upon something we have learned from Reb Arthur Waskow. Reb Arthur points out a way we can understand the image of the fringes at the corners, the tzitzit, which occur in many laws in the Torah. There are subtle extensions as a mitzvah injects itself into the fabric of our lives and Reb Arthur has described this as the tzitzit. So, I’d like to bring to mind this image, as we continue to look at the way that the lingering taste of the mitzvah of the afikoman extends.

    The celebration of the Passover Seder touches us deeply, such that even those with infrequent connection to Judaism during the year come and participate. It seems almost as if their souls must have the Passover “fix;” they want to be included in the Seder. This phenomen suggests that its motivation is beyond rational explanation, sitting deep, deep down in a shamanic area within the realm of soul.

    Although the Seder associates itself with meanings of freedom, equity and welcome to strangers, the real power and the elemental source stems from the shadowy realms, (as, for example, the inexplicable injunction, ‘break not the bone of the paschal lamb’ (Ex. 12 46), another of those “shamanic”, “totemic” practices of the past). So it is important for us to recognize that we will never rationally plumb all the trans-intellectual reasons for the Passover Seder. Thus, we can also look to the Seder as a time for contemplation and reflection.

    We may ask ourselves: How can we best fulfill all the processes and all the halachot, (translated as obligations, requirements, but deriving from the word tahallikh which in turn comes from the root HLKh, either “to walk” or “to proceed”), that the Wise Child would apply to the Seder?

    So I’d like to present the following possibility: Use the process of taking Afikoman as a time for the participants to share, each one going around the seder table in turn, expressing and naming those experiences that they feel are going to linger with them from this year’s Seder. And then, once your Seder gathering has begun to linger in this way, I suggest you now take hold of the opportunity that is to present itself soon afterwards to meet prophet Elijah.

    Elijah is the witness to our covenant, (he is said to be present at circumcisions), and he comes to every Seder. He is also said to appear to us in many guises. He is the messenger who brings us the messages of Eyl and YahHu, the two parts of his name, (Aleph-Lamed, and Yod-heh-vav), which are both theophorics, God bearing names.

    This Eliahu is a remarkable being!

    It may be worthwhile at this time to tell some stories of him. He is with us also every Saturday night at Havdalah, but this time, the special Seder time when we open the door for him after having poured him the cup of wine and invited him to come and inspire us, at this time, we need to ask him to tell us what we need to know in order to come closer to the Messianic redemptive point for the whole world.

    About Eliahu Hanavi here is a remarkable teaching:

    From Rabbi Levy Yitzhak of Berditchev

    because Elijah never died!

    Rabbi Levy Yitzhak asked:

    “Why do the Rabbis promise that all questions will be answered specifically by Elijah the prophet, who will also come to announce the Messiah, but not, e.g., by Moses himself, of whom it is said that he, too, will be resurrected at that time?”

    And he answered his own question:

    “Moses died, and we cannot hope to be helped in our current-day problems by him because when Moses, (Peace upon him), completed his life, at that time the Torah was placed into our hands.

    “If it should be that one happens to have been created with a soul from the side of grace, then every thing is pure, permitted and kosher. On the other hand, if it should be that one happens to have been created with a soul from the side, i.e., of rigors, then the opposite holds true.

    “Yet, each one, according to hir rung, is a vehicle for the word of the living G-d.

    “This is why the sages, realizing the need for grace in this world, set the halakhah down according to the teachings of Hillel (on the side of grace), for this is the world’s need.

    “Now, s/he who is alive and in this world knows well what the needs of the times are and which of the attributes, for the particular time, we need to live by. But the one who isn’t alive and on this plane at the particular time, does not know the attribute which we need to live by in this world at this time.

    “Now since Elijah is existing, and alive, and he never died, and he never tasted the taste of death, and he remained all that time right here on this plane, for this reason, he is suited more than another to resolve our doubts.” (Q’dushat Levi, Muncazs 108b)

    So Reb Levi Yitzhak is another very special guest to have at the Seder.

    There are many important stories about Reb Levi Yitzhak and Passover:

    One year, before the blowing of the Shofar, Reb Levi Yitzhak uttered the following prayer:

    “May it be thy will O Lord Our God, that if the holy angels whom we create though the Shofar blasts of t’Kiah, Shevarim, t’Ruah t’Kiah (making K’SH’R’K) are too frail, then they can be given extra assistance by those angels that we create through the vigorous cleaning as preparation for Pessach, by Kratsen, Shoben, Reiben Kasheren, [scraping, sanding, scrubbing and koshering] (also K’SH’R’K.)”

    What Reb Levi Yitzhak meant was that the vigorous angels of Jews preparing for Pesach are very powerful ‘ombuds-beings’ to help us complete our cause as begun on Rosh HaShannah.

    There is another teaching from Reb Levi Yitzhak about the white letters of the Torah:

    As we read “The Song of the Sea” at the end of the Passover week, and as we observe how it is written out in the Sefer Torah resembling a kind of lattice brick-work, so we are reminded that there are white spaces interspersed with the places of writing. And in this regard, Reb Levi Yitzhak raised these questions:

    “Why is it that no letter in the Torah may touch another letter in the Torah?” and, “Why is it that those white spaces are there?”

    And in the answer to the question, he said:

    “It is now before the coming of the Mashiach, before that time of full realization and enlightenment for all of us. And so it is now a time in which all we can read are the black letters of the Torah.

    “But when the Mashiach comes, we will also be able to read the white letters of the Torah. Then, the whole truth will be clear for us.”

    How interesting it is that this idea is also reflected in the words which the prophet told us, that (cf., Hebrew from Jeremiah 31;21-22), “It is the female that surrounds the male.”

    Thus, every letter that represents the figure is surrounded by a white ground, the matrix in which it finds itself.

    Thank God that in our day we are closer to receiving the insights from the white letters of the Torah which represent the Torah of the women.

    So as I mentioned above, I would like to invite us to do the following in our Seders: Before we open the door for Eliahu Hanavi, sit quietly and ask deep inside, “What questions are so important for our lives going on after Pesach that we would want to invoke the presence of Eliahu Hanavi so that we can pose them to him?”

    Then, when we sing “Eliahu Hanavi, Eliahu Hatishby“, and we open the door, we should sit quietly and try to address the questions to Eliahu from within our deepest places; and not rush to resume the Seder. Please wait at this time for what you might hear as Eliahu’s response for us.

    In this way, we can all experience the wonderful grace of giluy eliahu / the revelation that comes to us through Elijah.

    It may be that we will find ourselves ready and available to discuss the questions with our friends at the Afikoman time; but it may be that we are not ready and we will have to take it deep inside of ourselves, to keep it in our heart before we make it public and speak about it.

    And one additional thought: After Pesach we will have the opportunity to count sephirah again. I so look forward to that time in which every day is given extra meaning as we move from the Chesed of Chesed of Pesach all the way to Malkhut of Malkut before receiving the Torah.

    There are several wonderful resources available for us to do that, for instance, Rabbi Ted Falcon in his work (, Rabbi Yonassen Gershon (, Gloria Krasno’s Sefirah (e.g., and the Meta-Siddur of Reb Dovid Wolf-Blank, (z’l).

    May you have a deep and holy experience this coming Seder and may the Afikoman of counting Sephirah night by night accompany you all the way to the receiving of the Torah on Shavuos.

  4. Wendy

    From Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman

    I Am To My Beloved and My Beloved Is To Me

    It is customary to read during the three pilgrimage holidays – Pesach, Shavuot and Succot – three different books from the Writings that relate to the themes of those holidays. During Pesach we read the Song of Songs, on Shavuot the Book of Ruth and on Succot we read Ecclesiastes.

    The Song of Songs, an exquisite allegorical love poem, can be understood on many different levels. It is at once a story of budding human love, but on deeper levels it is a love song between the Jewish people and God, the soul and its Divine source and the love of the Jewish people and the land of Israel. For this reason Rabbi Akiva stated that all the books of the Bible are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.

    The question is what is the essential connection between Pesach and the Song of Songs? On a simple level the imagery in the Song of Songs is set during the spring and much of its references are examples of nature that can be seen and felt in the land of Israel, even today. In the spring new life, love and liberation are in the air, thus its connection to Pesach which also takes place in the spring. But on a deeper level the Song of Songs is all about relationships and so too is Pesach the true beginning of the passionate and ongoing love affair between the Jewish people and God, as it says: “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me…” (Song of Songs 2:16).

    The categorization of the relationship between God and the Jewish people as a love relationship is deeply imbedded in hundreds of references in the written Torah, Prophets and Writings, and the full gamete of oral tradition from the Talmud to the Kabbalah. Jewish prayer, song and poetry are replete as well with these idyllic allusions. Beyond the notion of Pesach being the time of our freedom and redemption, its even more fundamental idea is that of our entering into a relationship as a people with the Creator of the universe.

    Many religions and philosophies have a concept of a Creator or of a Divine force in the universe. The unique aspect of Judaism at its inception and even still today is the idea that we can not only have a dialogue and relationship with God, but that it can take the form of a covenant of love as between husband and wife.

    Regarding the beginning of this relationship at the time of Pesach Jeremiah proclaimed: “So said God: I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you followed Me in the wilderness in an unsown land. The two names – Pesach and Chag HaMatzot, the holiday of matzot – both imply a leap of faith into a new relationship. God, as it were, leaped over the fact the Jewish people had fallen to the forty-ninth gate of impurity, while the Jewish people leap over all logic and precedent and follow God into a new physical and spiritual land.

    Just as a couple who look back frequently and nostalgically at their wedding pictures to arouse the initial attraction between them, the Jewish people relive the beginning of their relationship with God by reciting at every Shabbat and holiday in the kiddush the phrase: “a rememberance of the going out [to freedom] of Egypt.” In fact one of the mitzvot in the Torah is to remember leaving Egypt every day and therefore it is part of our prayers both day and night. These reminders call to mind a constant awareness of the ongoing dynamic aspect of a living and dynamic relationship.

    When putting on tefillin, phylactaries, each day we wrap our finger with the straps as if they were a wedding band and recite: “I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy. I will betroth you to Me faithfulness, and you shall know God” (Hoshea 2:21-22). The use of the word “know,” is an allusion in Scripture to intimate marital relations. This is but one of the more graphic descriptions of what we have been discussing.

    An amazing piece of Talmud discusses figuratively what is written in the parchments in God’s tefillin. Our tefillin contain the fundamental statement of Jewish belief: “Hear Oh Israel: The Lord is our God, The Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The Talmud informs us that in God’s tefillin are the words from the Shabbat afternoon prayers: You are One and your name is One; and who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth.” Each partner in the relationship wants to proclaim the uniqueness of the other.

    There are seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. These seven weeks are compared to the seven days a bride prepares herself in great anticipation for her marriage to her groom. Shavuot in fact is described in Jewish tradition as the wedding between God and the Jewish people.

    When the foundation of a relationship is strong, any difficulty or difference of opinion can be weathered. Pesach represents the arousal of love whose bonds can never be broken, as it says: “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it… (Song of Songs 8:7). There is no doubt that the Jewish people have disappointed and tested God many times throughout history. Conversely, many Jews throughout the ages have been puzzled or even questioned God’s justice and rulership of the world at times. Nonetheless, both partners are committed to each other in a covenant that binds them together for all eternity. Pesach is when we relive those auspicious initial moments, committing ourselves once again to strengthen that great love of which it says: “I am my beloved’s and his desire is to me” (Song of Songs 7:11).

    The Fifteen Steps of the Hagadah

    The Hagadah of Pesach and all the rituals and mitzvot of the night are ordered according to fifteen steps. These fifteen stages in which the Seder unfolds are also referred to as “signs.” Our Sages tell us that signs and symbols have great significance (Kritot 6a). For example, we begin the year on Rosh HaShanah night by eating all sorts of foods, each one symbolic of certain blessings we hope for at the beginning of a new year. The steps of the Seder likewise have great significance and symbolize the process of personal, national and world redemption. There is a custom of calling out the name of each step or “sign” at the Seder as if announcing a lost object which needs to be reclaimed and redeemed (See The Chassidic Haggadah by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger).

    The fifteen steps of the Seder also relate to the fifteen physical steps in the Holy Temple, on which the Levites stood while singing praises to God. King David wrote fifteen “songs of ascent” to parallel the fifteen steps of the Levites in the Temple. The correspondence of the fifteen steps of the Seder and the fifteen steps of the Temple gives us the feeling of rising from one level to the next during the Seder, as if being carried on the wings of song to ever greater heavenly heights.

    The numerical value of fifteen equals the Hebrew letters yod and heh, the first two letters of the four letter name of God, and a name of God in its own right. This name significantly appears in the book of Exodus in the story of Amelek, the arch enemy of the Jews, when God figuratively puts His hand on the throne of God and promises war with Amelek in every generation (Exodus 17:16). Rashi points out that only the first two letters of the name of God are written and the word for throne is also written missing a letter. This, Rashi explains, indicates that until Amalek, the embodiment of evil, is wiped out, God’s name and throne are, as it were, incomplete.

    The recital during the Seder of Pesach of the words: “ In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us…” reflects the same archetypal reality as expressed in the story of Amalek. The primordial energy of good versus evil, as expressed first in the story of Adam, Eve and the snake, and their final confrontation in the prophesies of the “end of days,” is very relevant to the energy surrounding Pesach and our present situation in Israel.

    There are “signs” all around us as Israel and the world confront the terrorist threat so prevalent today. But, as in every sign or dream, much goes after how we choose to interpret it. We are most certainly being challenged and are being spoken to by God through the events around us.

    As much as we need to react to evil and deal with the perpetrators, a more fundamental spiritual accounting is called for. We are told that the month long search and cleaning process for chametz, unleavened products, preceding Pesach must be accompanied by the realization that physical chametz is but a reflection of the inner spiritual work we need to do to truly prepare for Pesach. It seems clear that each person, community and all of Israel needs to look deeply within to see what we can do to rectify the present situation. There is certainly a need for a renewal of commitment to personal spiritual growth. To increase Torah learning and observance, to integrate sound Jewish morals and ethics, to greater love of our fellow Jews and humanity, for greater support for the land of Israel and a recommitment to Jewish collective responsibility. Let no one be oblivious to the fact that if Israel is seriously weakened (God forbid), every Jew in the world will be effected in a very negative way.

    The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that every Jew contains a spark of the Messiah deep within their soul and that the ultimate arrival of the Messiah depends on each and every person activating their greatest spiritual potential, thus creating a critical mass of redemptive energy. This then will be transformed into the figure we call the Messiah.

    In Egypt, when the slavery became so unbearable, we cried out in unison from the weight of our burdens and God heard and acted. Once again, we as a people need to feel the suffering and danger surrounding us and shake off our numbness and complacency in order to cry out to God to deliver us. There is no more auspicious time for us all to do this than on Pesach. We as a people have suffered enough – We Want Redemption Now!!

    The Seventh Day of Pesach

    On the seventh day of Pesach we celebrate the crossing of the Reed Sea. On this day the Jewish people left the borders of Egypt and watched as the pursuing army was drowned in the sea. According to one Midrash the sea did not split until Nachshon Ben Aminadov entered the sea determined to cross it (Tzror HaMor). Only when the water reached their noses did it split (Shemot Rabbah 21:9). The obvious lesson to be gleaned from this Midrash is that it took human initiative to draw down God’s intervention – in this case the miraculous splitting of the Sea.

    After the people reached the other side and witnessed their enemies being drowned they burst out in song. The Midrash tells us that even the simplest hand maiden was granted a vision of the Divine greater than even the vision of Ezekial of the Divine chariot (Michilta on Exodus 15:2).

    On the second night of Pesach we start counting the omer, the seven week, forty-nine day period culminating in Shavuot and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. This period is very conducive to rectifying different aspects of our personality. According to Kabbalah, the seven weeks of the omer correspond to the seven lower sefirot, the channels of Divine flow into the world. The sefirot manifest themselves at all levels of reality, including that of the human psyche and personality. Each sefira, according to the principle of interinclusion, actually contains within itself an aspect of all the others, therefore we are taught that each night of the omer period represents a combination of two sefirot – the primary sefira of the week as well as an interincluded aspect. The combination of sefirot on the seventh night of Pesach is the aspect of yesod, foundation, within the aspect of chesed, mercy or loving kindness.

    When translated into human experience this means that there is a connection between yesod shebe chesed, the “foundation of lovingkindness” and the events that took place at the crossing of the Sea.

    Every person at some point has a vision of what they would like to accomplish in life, who they would like to be, what their true beliefs are and what their innate potential could achieve if activated. To translate that vision into reality is one of the main struggles and challenges of life. Many have the vision, but completely lack the inner fortitude to bring it to fruition. Others lack the confidence or faith in themselves to even begin. Others may attempt to realize their visions, but when the water gets up to the knees, they panic or lose determination. Others still, drown out the vision in alcohol or drugs or work or petty pursuits in order not to have to face the challenge of becoming who they know they could be.

    But for those who have the “guts” to try to be all they could be, they must cross the Sea – there is no other way to get to the other side. For those fortunate ones who don’t give up, their vision becomes the foundation of their lives, the inspiration to try to fulfill their unique vision and mission in life. Upon this foundation their entire life rests.

    The inner motivational dimension of yesod, foundation, is called emet, truth; the truth by which we live and make decisions. A building is only as strong as the foundation upon which it rests, on the truths that form our belief system. What an act of loving kindness it is from God when he grants us a glimpse of our mission in life and responds to our commitment to fulfill it by opening the sea and helping us through. Crossing the sea and the seventh day of Pesach are therefore the essence of the “foundation of loving kindness” through which we build our dreams and our reality.

  5. Wendy

    Aryae Coopersmith


    (From an early draft of my book “Holy Beggars, A Journey from Haight Street to Jerusalem.” The date was April 12, 1968 and I was conducting my first Seder, with the group of holy beggars who used to go to Elya and Miriam’s for Shabbos in Forrest Knolls. Elya and Miriam had just left for the East Coast, where they were getting ready to go to Israel. I didn’t know anything about conducting a Seder, but I learned a few things from Reb Shlomo, and a few stories from my friends. I told the following story, which I had first heard from Natan Schafer. Two weeks later I opened the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco.)

    In former good days, it was said that if a person could refrain from thinking any bad thoughts about another human being for 40 days and 40 nights, he or she would merit to meet Elijah the Prophet. Yankele the woodcutter was a simple man, who dreamed that maybe he could do it. Then he would hear from the prophet’s own lips the good news of the redemption of the world. But Yankele was no fool. He knew that if he stayed in his house, in the company of his wife, his kids, his relatives and his neighbors, he wouldn’t last five minutes.

    So Yankele packed up some food and a change of clothes, walked up the side of the mountain near town, and set up camp there. Somehow, miraculously, he was able to last 39 days and nights by himself without thinking a single bad thought about anyone. As the day was drawing to a close and the sun was setting on the 40th day, Yankele was shaking with excitement. According to our tradition, if he could just hold out a few more hours, Elijah would meet him at midnight. What spot should he choose? A great idea came into his head. The synagogue — that would be most suitable for such a special occasion! And no one else would be there at midnight.

    As Yankele walked down the mountain, dark storm clouds gathered overhead. He reached the synagogue just as it started to pour. The storm was fierce, with lightning and thunder. Yankele lit some candles, made sure the room was clean and neat, and prepared to meet Elijah the Prophet.

    A few minutes before midnight there was a knock at the door. Yankele’s heart almost stopped beating. He jumped up to open the door. Oh no — it was Moishele the drunkard! Moishele pushed his way past Yankele. “I know the rabbi left wine in here somewhere, and I’m going to find it!” He stumbled around the synagogue, looking for the wine.

    Yankele was panicked. He had made it so far without thinking a bad thought about another person, and there were only a few minutes to go! This could ruin everything. “Moishele,” he said, “this is not a good time for you to be here. Please leave!”

    “Are you kidding?” Moishele said, still stumbling around. “There’s a storm out there! Besides, I know there’s wine in here somewhere!”

    Yankele knew he had to act fast. So he put his arm around Moishele and guided him to the door. “There’s no wine here,” he said. “Please go home now and go to sleep!” Moishele stumbled out into the storm and Yankele closed the door behind him. Then he sat down on a bench, composed his mind, and waited for Elijah the Prophet.

    Yankele waited a very long time, the story goes, but Elijah the Prophet didn’t come twice.

    I finished telling the story. Eighteen of us were in the street where we had gone to greet Elijah the Prophet, standing under the misty moonlight with our arms around each other, swaying back and forth. Someone began a melody, very softly at first, and we all sang. I thought about the House. Now it was empty, but soon it would be filled with people. It will be all about Shlomo’s dream — when you walk in someone loves you; when you walk out, someone misses you. Anyone who shows up could be Elijah the Prophet, so we can never turn anyone away.

  6. Wendy


    Chametz Story

    Burning the chametz is one of my favorite rituals of our holiday year. It seems that this is the closest we can get to the emotional release that the Israelites may have had during the meal offering in biblical times. The following
    is a story of a natural partnership between two species before the burning of the chametz one year.

    Aryae and I live within walking distance to the Pacific Ocean. A few years ago just before Pesach, we gathered up the last of our bread so that we could throw the crumbs to the seagulls.

    As we walked on the path down to the dock, I spotted a long gray seagull feather. It was quite beautiful. I picked it up and took it with us. At the dock, the seagulls flew over us in excitement as we threw the crumbs to them. They quickly gobbled them up.

    Later that evening as we searched for the remaining chametz, I used the seagull feather to sweep up the crumbs. It always thrills me when we can be in partnership with the other beings of the natural world to do mitzvot and to praise the Source together.

  7. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Why We Had To Leave Pharaoh

    Begin with the locusts,
    brought by an east wind
    carried away by a west wind.

    East wind — the silent heart of wisdom
    unreflective, the seamless embrace before language
    Aha * the heart’s deep wisdom.

    West wind self conscious, inquisitive, conceptual.
    East wind intuitive, lateral, mystical.
    West wind conscious, linear, rational.

    Both winds blow through our camp —
    Through western branches
    from eastern roots.

    Now the integrating dream, every blessing
    a prayer of cosmic union.
    Set against this is Par’oh.

    Par’oh — to rend to split
    the separator, dis-integrator.

    Every blessing a union, integration,
    we separate from the Other Side

    and that’s why we had to leave Pharaoh
    — to become one with ourselves.

    Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    The bread of poverty
    the bread of faith [Zohar]
    two concepts
    one honors memory
    the other commitment.

    The bread of faith —
    redemption through transformation.
    What is matzah but chometz
    in arrested development,
    bread without ego.

    What is chometz but the inner puffiness
    that separates us from God
    and all we love the most.

  8. Wendy

    From Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer
    Posted on the Aleph Email list


    Here is an excerpt from my Haggadah, “Mitoch Mitzrayim haRuhanit.” (Out of the Inner Egypt):

    Why are the four children listed in this particular order? Why is the “wise” child burdened by being placed right next to the “wicked”? Our master and teacher Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev says that the one who does not know how to ask is in fact at the highest level of the four children. Read not, he says, “the one who does not know how to ask” but rather “the one who knows how not to ask.” We may extrapolate from Rebbe Levi Yitzhak’s suggestion and learn that the four children are, in fact, in ascending order of spiritual attainment.
    First we have the “wise” child. Retranslating the first sentence of the “wise” child’s paragraph, “the wise one is what s/he says.” This one is at a high level; this one wants to know all the details of the Law, what one must do, what one must refrain from doing. And we provide this child with everything s/he asks, detailing all the minutiae of the Law. And this is the level of the World of Assiyah, the World of Action, the level of doing, the body level.
    The rasha, commonly called the “wicked” child, however, is at a higher level. The rasha is what s/he says, “What are all these observances to you?” The tradition understands this question as being directed to the community and hence understands this child as being self-excluded from the community. But we can as well hear the question as being directed not to the community but as a response to the “wise” child. “You are so concerned with the details of the Law, the dos and don’ts. But what is it to you? How does it permeate you? What does it really mean to you?” This child, called “wicked,” asks for the meaning of the Law, the meaning of the observances. And we can break down this child’s title “wicked” (רשׁע, rasha) into רשׁ plus ע. we may understand רשׁ as ראשׁ, rosh, meaning head, and the name of the letter ע, ayin, means eye. The rasha, then, is the one who insists on seeing (the eye) and knowing or understanding (the head). This is a higher level than the doing of the “wise” child; this is the World of Yetzirah, the World of Formation, the level of knowing, the mind level.
    The “simple” child is higher still, for the simple child is what s/he says. The word תּם, tam, means simple; its cognate in Arabic, tamam, means complete. This child cuts through the details of the doing, breezes past the understanding, the knowing. This child simply asks, “What is it?” This child poses a question again not to the community (as the tradition has understood it) but in response to the “wise” and to the “wicked” children, the ones who have just spoken. “Get past the doing,” this child says. “Certainly, it is important to do, but that is only the first step. Get past the knowing; that, too, is important, but it is only an intermediate step. Find the passion, the essence of what it is; go to the heart of the matter.” This is a still higher level, for this is the World of B’riyah, the World of Creation, the level of feeling, the heart level.
    Finally, rejoining Rebbe Levi Yitzhak, we rise to the one who does not know how to ask, or, as Rebbe Levi Yitzhak puts it, the one who knows how not to ask. This child just looks. S/he looks at the doing child and smiles. S/he looks at the knowing child and smiles. S/he looks at the feeling child and smiles. This child has gone beyond the doing, the knowing, even the feeling. This child just is. This child has no need to ask, for this child truly immerses in the actuality, the reality, of Pesah. This child becomes Pesah. And this is the World of Atzilut, the World of Emanation, the level of being, the soul level, the highest level of all.

    I have intentionally placed feeling above knowing. We have traditionally placed the head level above the heart level, but knowing is closer to doing than is feeling. In climbing the ladder, we first do (na’aseh v’nishmah), then seek to understand. Only after we have understood (on the head level) will we be able to rise to the level of feeling, to the passion of truly loving G*d, and only after we have truly become passionate can we rise to the highest level that we can reach on this plane of existence, the level of being.

  9. Wendy

    From Reb Shlomo

    Posted by Rabbi Ayala Grafstein on the
    Aleph email list


    Reb Zvi Elimelekh of Dinov (a grand nephew of Reb Elimelech

    of Liszensk)’s custom was to visit someone’s house on the first night of

    Passover in order to see how he was making the seder. So he stopped

    in front of one Yiddele’s house and Iistened to the Yiddele read from the

    Haggadah. He was chanting, “In regards to four sons the Torah speaks:

    One who is wise, one who is wicked,. .” and every time he would readthe word “one”

    he would shout out in a loud voice “O-N-E” (ECHAD) as if he were saying the Sherna.

    Afterward, Reb Zvi Elimelech recounted his experience, saying that

    this little Yiddele was making such a holy prayer from the “four sons” –

    by the way he was saying “O- N – E-׃ that Reb Zvi realized

    that even the wicked son knew the Oneness of haShem.

  10. Wendy

    From Michael Kagan

    This was posted on the Aleph email list by
    Michael Kagan about the Four Children from his Holistic Haggadah. I like this haggadah very much.

    The Haggadah is available from the New York Distributor. Details can be found on the publisher’s website

    The Wise one: What kind of a question is she asking? Is this really the question one would expect from a “wise” child? And what kind of an answer is being given? Why does it say “…haPesah Afikoman (The Pascal Lamb dessert)”? Surely it should say “ein matirin Afikoman ahar haPesah (no dessert follows after the eating of the Pesah sacrifice).” And what does “Afikoman” actually mean? One way of understanding this is as follows: The child is actually asking: what are we to do with all these Divine instructions concerning the particulars of the observance of the Pascal sacrifice if we no longer have a Temple or sacrifices? How are we supposed to remember now? The answer comes: In the past we used to finish the meal by eating a piece of the Pesah sacrifice after which no dessert was to be consumed. But now, having re-entered the darkness of exile and loss of freedom, everything has changed. Now the Pesah sacrifice is replaced by a piece of matzah that is called Afikoman, after which no dessert may be eaten. The child is concerned with the question of continuity. The parent answers “k’hilkhot” (i.e., approximating the practice of the Pesah); it is time for a paradigm shift,[1] the times have changed and so must our practice – this is the sign of true wisdom; from now on, instead of concluding with the sacrifice that was, we taste the Messiah that will be, for the Afikoman now becomes a symbolic reference to the coming of the Messiah![2]
    The Alienated One: she is not overly concerned with the future of the community, thereby becoming even more alienated from it. She is angry. She actually doesn’t even ask a question but rather makes a rhetorical statement (see the Biblical quote in the note[3] ). She demands to know what the point of all this Service is if God has allowed the destruction of the Temple to happen (again). With compassion and understanding must come the answer. Help her soften. Explain that a rejection of the Divine is a rejection of Self; that giving up leads to self-condemnation in the crucible of enslavement; that the Divine Love penetrates through the thickest darkness; that there are many questions but not necessarily corresponding answers. The entire evening, in fact, can be seen as being dedicated to this rejected and rejecting child.[4]

    The Four Children: the Wise one, the Alienated one, the Naive one, and the one who doesn’t know how to ask. Taken in the opposite order they aptly describe the natural development of the human individual:[5] the stage at which we are too young to even formulate the questions; the stage at which we can only ask the innocent questions; the rebellious stage, when it’s all “Your stuff, not mine!”; to the understanding stage of intellectual maturity. But that’s not the end of the journey. After the natural developmental program comes the spiritual developmental opportunities. The “stuck-in-the-head” self needs to go through a rebellion against rationalism as a total means of understanding, maybe even a suspension of dogmatic religious practice in order to discover what’s behind it. The innocent stage is when the true questions are rediscovered, simple questions that go straight to the heart of the matter. Finally, the point is reached when no more questions are necessary, when comfort and wisdom are found in silence, when the answer is simply, “Because.”
    The Four Parents:[6] The types of questions that our children ask are a direct reflection of the kind of relationships that we have built with them. A parent who relates to a child on a singularly intellectual level will spawn a child who can only relate to the world, to the emotional world, to the experiential world, through the mind. Some would call this “wise,” others might call it limited. Then there are parents who themselves feel alienated from the events of their ancestors and are not attempting to form a meaningful relationship with “The Present One, Blessed be She.” What do they expect when their child turns around with anger and disdain? And how many of us don’t take our children seriously? Not really listening to their questions, constantly dismissing them as silly? Maybe your child is not so much naïve as pure? Maybe you need to start listening more? Finally, there is the parent who is never around long enough for the child to even ask, the absentee parent. How about slowing down a bit and spending some time tending the garden? Or maybe the child is just being obedient – “little children should be seen but not heard!”[7]
    The Four Children, like the Four Cups, also follow the order of the Four Worlds[8]: the first child asks a question belonging to the World of Assiyah – Physicality (what to do?); the second child is relating from the World of Yetzirah – very emotionally; the third child is relating from the World of the Briyah – Intellect (the naïve one); and the fourth child is above all questions and is in the World of Atzilut – Spirit.
    By listening to your children, maybe you can learn something about yourself. By listening to your inner child, maybe you can learn to heal yourself. Open the child’s mouth; help her give expression to the suppressed voices.

    [1] See Paradigm Shift (Aronson, 1993), by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

    [2] According to Prof. David Daube z”l, the Biblical law scholar, it derives from the Greek word aphikomenos, “after he will come,” referring to the Messiah. This alternative reading suggests that it might be part of a Jewish-Christian polemic: “After the Messiah comes there will be no other coming.”

    [3] See Dr Russell Jay Hendel’s comments at

    [4] I once led a Seder at which a guest confided that her brother had joined a cult and had totally rejected his Jewish path. I responded in the way that this passage is traditionally translated: “Smash his teeth in – he’s so ungrateful that he doesn’t deserve to be liberated!” Afterwards, I deeply regretted this attitude as I came to realize that the rest of the entire evening is actually dedicated to this rejected and rejecting child.

    [5] The connection between developmental psychology and the four children was told to me by Prof. Julius Carlebach (cousin of Reb Shlomo) in 1975.

    [6] This indictment against the parent comes from Rabbi Danny Wise – a truly wise friend.

    [7] The Baal Shem Tov sent his disciple Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy to test the learning of Reb Yehiel, a prospective husband for his daughter Odel. Reb Yehiel came from a simple German Jewish family. When Rabbi Yaakov Yosef returned from his mission, he told the Baal Shem Tov, “To everything I asked him Reb Yehiel answered, ‘I don’t know.’ I wonder about him.” “Gevalt!” exclaimed the Baal Shem Tov. “I’d love to have him as a son-in-law.”

    [8] The same is true about the opening paragraph to the Four Children: Barukh HaMaqom is Assiyah (physicality – space); Barukh Hu is Yetzirah (emotional belief in God); Barukh … Torah is Briyah (intellectual knowledge of God through the learning of Torah); and finally Barukh Hu this time comes from Atzilut (from the Oneness).

  11. Wendy

    From Rabbi Arthur Waskow

    Posted on the Aleph Email list in reply:

    Connecting with Reb Feyer’s thoughts about the order of the Four Children: They are ordered according to their talkativeness: the chacham talks a lot, the rasha somewhat, the tam only two words, “Mah zot,” and the fourth — silence. I too think this is intended as a rising order. What’s more, if you understand “yodaya” not as “know” in an intellectual sense, but as “grok” in a full connective sense, then the fourth child is the one who groks not by asking but by opening, sitting (as in Zen sitting) in silence, and please notice that to him /her the response is to “open.”

    Rob Agus in Fabrangen taught 30 years ago to see the Four Children as parallel with the Four Questions: The chacham flat and tasteless though covering a lot of territory, like matzah; the rasha a bitter herb; the tam like the green so smooth it must be dipped twice for anything to stick; the fourth as the one who reclines.All are necessary, including the rasha, just as the bitter herb is necessary.

    As for “make his teeth stand on edge,” this means not “smash his teeth” but make sure he eats the bitter herb to understand that he too suffers from injustice in the world and must in order to save himself join the community for liberation.

  12. Wendy

    From Rabbi Dr Arthur Segal

    The final voice in the Aleph email list dialogue on the Four Children

    The Four Sons in the Hagaddah are said to be just one person. Today we would call it spiritual schizophrenia. The four actually represent different aspects of the same person who is not integrated.

    I invite you to take the Gemetria numerical equivalent of Echad (one) son, which is 13, and multiply it by four to arrive at 52. Fifty-two is the Gemetria numerical equivalent of Ben (son). Passover’s story of the four sons is a lesson in becoming integrated , liberated from our own Mitzraim of self, and living with joyousness and shlema and true shalom. (paraphrasing, with much liberty, R’ Berezovsky’s Zichron Kadosh).

  13. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    The Mystery of Charoset

    The Haggadah is about telling a story, and it’s about the order in which we tell the story. The story is about how things can transform, but it becomes a seder because the order in which we recall each set of symbols represents the transformation from slavery to freedom, or as the Talmud says, “from g’nut/degradation to shevach/praise”. The template for this order includes four stages in the process of liberation: slavery, leaving Egypt, entering the land, and anticipating Mashiach.

    Many important foods, symbols and verses appear in the Haggadah four times with different meanings, and there meanings are ordered in this way – hence the ritual is a seder, an “ordering”. (Listen to the Berkeley Beit Midrash session on this titled ‘Unlocking the Haggadah’.) For example, matsah is used to remember four different experiences (lechem oni, matsah zo al shum ma—leaving in haste, korekh—sacrificing in the Temple, and the afikoman, which points toward the future redemption), there are four children ordered from lowest to highest (that’s right – wicked above wise), and we explain the verse, “Because of this God acted for me by bringing me out of Egypt” four times (see if you can find all four – the transformation is stunning).

    The different meanings are always ordered from the least to the most liberated. The four cups of wine—the symbolic four that everyone knows—allude to this deep structure.

    However, there’s one important symbol that we don’t explain or mention even once: the charoset.

    The Talmud debates whether or not charoset is a mitzvah, but it recounts the story of the spice-sellers in Jerusalem yelling out from their shop windows, “Spices for the mitzvah!” The essence of charoset according to the Talmud is not that it should be sweet, but that it should be tart like apples, and thick like mud. Rashi (but not the Talmud) interprets these qualities in terms of the Pesach story: the tartness is a reminder of the tart apple trees in Egypt under which Israel made love and gave birth; the thickness is a reminder of the mud and straw the slaves used to make the bricks.

    But the Haggadah doesn’t put those meanings in order (e.g. from mixing straw to making love to giving birth) because, like the Talmud itself, it doesn’t explain any meaning for charoset at all. Why then is charoset not explained in the Haggadah? We can make a guess by studying the Talmud’s definition of charoset.

    The word for tartness in the Talmud comes from the same root (QHH) as the words said about the wicked child: “set his teeth on edge/heq’heh et shinav”. The midrash uses these same words to describe what happened when Adam and Chavah ate from the tree of knowledge: “their teeth were set on edge”.

    What happened when Adam and Chavah ate from that tree? One interpretation is that they could no longer experience good separate from evil. The effect of the fruit was that in all subsequent human experience, good and evil came mixed together.

    Charoset might be the stuff of what happens when we can’t separate out what is good, when our symbols get stuck to each other, when slavery and freedom are mishmashed together. That is the thickness the Talmud talks about, which turns our past experiences into walls that limit and define us. As in the wicked child’s picture of the world, charoset represents our experience when there’s no separation between worship or service and enslavement—both are called Avodah, after all. Like the tree of knowledge, literally the tree of knowing good and evil, that is, knowing good mixed together with evil, charoset represents our normal lived experience.

    We come to the seder in order to transform that confusing experience through ritual, so that we can move from slavery to freedom, rather than remaining stuck in between them. But even in that process, there are things we are not ready to transform, things we cannot yet transform. That’s the charoset – a symbol of whatever is too “thick” to be given a meaning or interpretation.

    When we leave Egypt, we bring our confusion along with us, along with the joy of freedom, along with the bitterness of slavery – that’s the Hillel sandwich, combining the sweet/tart/thick charoset with Matzah and maror. So one lesson of the Haggadah could be: don’t separate your normal muddled state from the holy and mystical and transformative. Even if you’re stuck in the mud, hold onto the sweet, and leave Egypt.

    This suggests a new interpretation of the verse in the Torah that describes b’ney Yisrael leaving Egypt misha’arotam tz’rurot b’simlotam ‘al shikhmam. This is the verse Sefardim say when we hold the afikoman over our shoulders at the beginning of the seder. Literally, it means that Israel left Egypt with “their remaining stuff tied up in their cloaks on their shoulders”—imagine a hobo with a makeshift cloth bag on a stick. But these words can also mean that when we leave slavery, we take some slavery along with us—we take our legacies of angst and pain and trouble (tsarot, i.e., Mitsrayim stuff), which are leftover (nish’arot), still waiting to be liberated and unpacked, hidden from view, dragging along behind us or weighing us down.

    The teaching of the charoset, then, is this: even with all your “stuff”, even with the unprocessed remnants of slavery, the unfulfilled hopes of freedom, and everything in between, EVEN STILL, LEAVE, GO OUT, OUT TO FREEDOM!

    May we have the strength of our ancestors to do this!

    a blessed Pesach to you, kasher u m’shachrer,

    Reb Duvid

    Wendy’s comment: We encourage you to check out other Pesach Torah on Reb Duvid’s website. There are further teachings, Omer counting, niggunim, and an Mp3 of Reb Duvid’s class on Unlocking the Haggadah.

  14. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler 2007

    A Pre-Passover Teaching from Gershon…

    Talmud Yerushalmi, Pesachim 1b); and according to the 16th-century Rabbi Moshe Isserles [the RAMA], our pockets as well (on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 433:11).

    Chametz. Usually it is translated as leavening, any bread crumbs, or remnants of other leavened foods. None of it is allowed in our bellies or our homes on Passover. Passover is a time of basics, absent fluff. So we feast on matzoh instead of bread. Matzoh is made of flour and water. Period. Very basic. Representative of freedom. The highest experience of liberation is simplicity.

    Matzoh is called lechem o’nee [bread of poverty] because freedom requires us to become as the poor, in the sense that they are not shackled in bondage to things, to stuff, to property, and are thus more free to re-situate themselves at will than those of us who are attached to much things and assets” (16th-century Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague [MAHARAL] in his commentary on Hagadah shel Pesach, on Ha Lach’ma An’ya).
    matzah – Creator blended earth [flour] and water — the sole composition of matzah, from which all else evolved. Chametz חמצ and Matzah מצה virtually share the same letters, only (1) the letters differ in their arrangement for each, and (2) the letter cheht ח in Chametz חמצ is slightly open at its upper left corner in the word Matzah מצה to form the letter hey ה at the end of Matzah. This is to teach us that the difference between attachment and freedom is a simple little mark, a dot, a point, as in the point of Genesis from which all came into being. Therefore, we eat matzah for seven days corresponding to the seven cycles of Creation, remembering during this period of Spring, of life emerging anew, that every now and then we need to release our attachments, transform the cheht ח into hey ה , to remember we came from nothing, we are emanating every moment from the invisible point of Genesis, into beingness. When we attempt to give form to the point of Genesis, we create a cheht ח , which means fence, and become slaves to our attachments (chametz) חמצ ; when we cease our attempts at defining the mystery that is God, we become free of our attachments and create a hey ה , which means window, implying possibility, visioning, freedom (matzah) מצה (Sh’lah, Mesechet Pesachim, D’rush Sh’leeshee, No. 12).

    Chametz reversed spells tza’mey’ach צמח, the Hebrew for Sprouting Being, or tzeh’mach, simply — growth. This implies that the opposite of chametz, of excess, fluff, is growth, freedom from the weightiness of too much stuff, which then allows us to evolve, to become more organic and grow, branch out, become free.

    chametz throughout our homes. On a deeper level, adds the 16th-century Kabbalist Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham, we are examining our home life to rid it of chametz, of what keeps us stuck, of what veils us from being more conscientious in our day-to-day relations with our loved ones. Why, then, the House of Torah Study and the synagogue? Because, he continues, even there we need to examine, to seek out the chametz that accumulates in our spiritual lives as well. How pure is our learning, our sacred studies, our prayers? With what have they possibly been tainted over time? Maybe we have used these venues to show off our “righteousness”, our piety, our religious-correctness. Maybe we have used them as escape routes to avoid facing important issues in our lives. And so on. And why, then, does Isserles add pockets? Because, writes Rabbi Yeshayahu, we need also to examine how we conduct ourselves around money. Have we dealt honestly in our business dealings? Have we been generous toward those in need? (Sefer HaSh’Lah HaKadosh, Mesechet Pesachim, Drush Sh’leeshee, No. 27).

    Talmud Bavli, Yoma 81b).

    Talmud Yerushalmi, Pesachim 1b): “And we do [these inspections] not by the light of the sun, nor by the light of the moon nor by the light of the stars — only by the light of a flame, for ‘the flame of God is the human soul, searching all of the inner chambers of the belly’” (Proverbs 20:27).

  15. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson


    Awakening from Above:
    The Month of Nissan and Passover
    Rav DovBer Pinson

    The Sefer Yetzirah, among other texts, reveals a constellation of unique energies, themes, and spiritual practices, for each month of the year. We will build on these teachings in order to discover some of the deeper meanings of the Month of Nisan, and its special days, in particular the holiday of Passover or Pesach. This will help us unleash the redemptive powers of these most auspicious times.

    Letter-Combination of the Month:
    There are four letters in the name of Hashem (Yud, Hei, Vav, and Hei). Each month of the year has an inner light that is refracted as a different sequence of these four letters. The Month of Nisan shines as the original sequence: Yud–Hei–Vav–Hei.

    The letters Yud and Vav are called mashpi’im, or ‘givers’, and the letter Hei is called a m’kabeil, or ‘receiver’. This month’s sequence thus represents the proper flow of energy: if it were written vertically, the Yud would be on top giving to the Hei below it, and the Vav would be giving to the Hei at the bottom.

    This sequence of letters is found in the beginnings of four words in Tehillim, 90:11 — Yismechu Hashamayim V’sageil Ha’aretz, “the Heavens will be happy and the earth will rejoice.” The nouns in this verse also allude to a flow from a giver above to a receiver below, shamayim (Heavens), giving to aretz (earth).

    The verbs in this verse also describe an energetic flow. First comes yismechu (from the word simcha, ‘happiness’ ) and then comes v’sageil (from the word gila, ‘rejoicing’). Simcha has the same letters as mach’shava, ‘thought’, suggesting that yismechu refers to an inner joy, hidden within the mind. Gila is related to the word gilu, ‘to reveal’, suggesting that v’sageil refers to a form of joy that is expressed outwardly, in the world.[1]

    Our letter-sequence therefore suggests a flow from giver to receiver, from above to below, from Heaven to earth, from inside to outside, and from hidden to revealed. In Nisan, we meditate on Hashem as the giver, and ourselves as the receivers.

    Nisan is called the Month of Miracles. On Pesach, Hashem displays transcendental miracles, and descends, so to speak, to take us out of our lowliness and slavery. This is called an ‘awakening from above’, for it is an unearned gift of kindness flowing down to us from Heaven. During the Seder, the joy of freedom that has been suppressed and hidden deep within us is released. As we sing Hallel, we reveal our joy and gratitude openly.

    Letter of the Month:
    The letter corresponding to Nisan is Hei. It is a ‘silent letter’, thus connected with the idea of ‘rest’. The lower Hei in Hashem’s name symbolizes the type of rest that manifests with each Shemita year. During a Shemita year, the earth is given rest from planting and sowing. The upper Hei symbolizes the type of rest that manifests in Yovel, the Jubilee year. This is a higher level of rest, in which slaves are set free.

    Hei is thus the ‘letter of freedom’, restful freedom from the slavery of egocentric consciousness. This freedom comes unearned and undeserved, like the miraculous gift of Spring following the long barren winter.

    Hei is also the letter from which Creation emerged, as the Talmud says, B’Hei nivrah olam hazeh—‘With the letter Hei this world was created.’[2] Hashem speaks the world into being: “Let there be light,” etc. Each of the letters of speech is an articulation of the simple outward flow of breath, which is the “hhh” sound of the letter Hei. Therefore, the letter Hei is at the root of Hashem’s ‘creative process’. The power of Hei also allows us human beings to create. For example, when Avraham and Sarah added the letter Hei to their names, AvraHam and SaraH, they miraculously gave birth to their children after long being barren.

    During the week of Pesach we ‘rest’ from eating chametz, leavened foods representing egocentrism. The word chametz and the word matzah each contain three letters. They share two of these letters (Mem and Tzadik). The differing letters are the Ches in chametz and the Hei in matzah. There’s only a tiny difference between a Hei and a Ches in their graphic design: the left leg of Hei is suspended in mid air, whereas the left leg of Ches rises up to the top> . The empty gap in Hei represents humility, and an openness to receive. The closed gap in Ches represents arrogance or ego. When we abstain from ego, like Abraham and Sarah we can open to receive the mystical Hei, the ‘letter of miracles’, into our ‘name’, into our identity.

    Name of the Month:
    Prior to the Babylonian exile, Nisan was called Chodesh haAviv, ‘the Month of Spring’. Aviv begins with the letters Aleph and Beis—the first and second letters of the alphabet—and then Yud, symbolizing Hashem. This spelling seems to say, ‘From above to below is the flow from Hashem.’

    Rabbeinu Bachya breaks the word Aviv down and interprets it to mean av, ‘the father of’, iv or Yud-Beis. Yud-Beis is the number 12, signifying the twelve months of the year. In other words, Nisan is the father, the source, of the twelve months of the year.[3]

    While Nisan is the beginning of ‘the year of months’, Tishrei is the beginning of ‘the year of days’. Tishrei is spelled Tav-Shin-Reish, which is the last three letters of the alphabet in reverse order, and then Yud, again symbolizing Hashem. This tells us that Tishrei is about a movement from below to above, the opposite of Nisan. Tishrei has the first day of what we normally consider the Jewish year: Rosh Hashana, the headquarters of shanah, linear ‘time’. Shanah is related to the word yashan, which means ‘old’, or routine. On the other hand, Nisan, the first chodesh or ‘month’, is the headquarters of chadash, ‘newness’. The moon is renewed every monthly cycle, breaking the monotony of linear time with a sense of the miraculous newness of life.

    Only after the Babylonian exile, has this month been called Nisan. There is an argument over the source of the current names of the months.[4] Are they originally from the Torah, are they Hebrew names that were lost over history and then rediscovered, or are they names that we borrowed from our hosts in Babylon? If the name Nisan has a Hebrew source, the source is the root word nes, meaning ‘miracle’. It is by definition the month of miracles. If, however, Nisan has a source in another cultures, then it comes from the Akkadian word nissanu, meaning ‘to move’ or ‘to start’. In Nisan, Hashem inspires us with miracles, and moves us to start anew.

    Sense of the Month:
    The ‘sense’ or faculty corresponding to Nisan is speech. Just as Hashem created the world with speech, so do we create our world, or at least our experience of the world, with speech. A slave is someone who has no voice, nor the power to create his or her reality. We can only experience freedom when we can refer to ourselves as free. The word Haggadah means ‘telling’. During the Seder we speak at length about our Redemption from collective and personal ‘slavery’. Thus, each year we receive the ability to proclaim our freedom on higher and higher levels.

    Astrological Sign of the Month:
    The sign of Nisan is Taleh, the ‘lamb’, or Aries. In Nisan, Hashem took us, like a flock of lambs, out of the nation of our oppressors. We were meek, not yet desiring our freedom. Hashem leapt over the whole issue of our egos, and offered us Redemption. We were commanded to commemorate this Redemption with the Pesach offering, which was a lamb. Even if we have been meek or ambivalent about our freedom, on Pesach we can offer ourselves up to the experience of Redemption.

    Tribe of the Month:
    Nisan is connected to the tribe of Yehudah. The meaning of the name Yehudah is ‘to give thanks’,[5] alluding to speech. The archetype of kingship, King David, is a descendant of Yehudah. Kingship also alludes to speech, for a king rules over his people through his words, which are received as commands: “…for the word of the king is his rule.”[6] The Talmud says that Nisan initiates the “New Year of Kings”.[7] It is thus a new beginning for the power of leadership, for speech, and also for expressing thanks. Because of the Redemption in this month, “…it is our duty to thank, laud praise, glorify, exalt, adore, bless, elevate, and honor the One who did all these miracles for our ancestors and for us.”[8]

    Body Part of the Month:
    The body part of Nisan is the right foot, representing chesed, ‘loving-kindness’. Pesach is connected with chesed. One meaning of the word Pesach is ‘loving’.[9]

    Another meaning of the word Pesach is ‘to skip’, since Hashem skipped over the homes of the Jews during the Plague of the First Born. A person skips by using one foot at a time. This alludes to the miraculous, since normal walking uses both feet.

    Time of the Year:
    Nisan is the first month of Spring. When it arrives, something about the increasing light, the warmer air, and the sprouting vegetation, may enhance our feeling that life is a gift and a blessing. Deeper within this instinctual feeling is the recognition that life is given to us whether we ‘deserve’ it or not. This is a deep level of humility, and it brings forth a tremendous sense of gratitude. During the eight days of Pesach, as we eat matzah, the bread of humility, we should strive to internalize this idea. Life is a miraculous gift descending from above. It cannot be earned, only humbly received. According to one opinion, Nisan is when human life was created.
    The Torah calls Pesach Shabbas, ‘Sabbath’.[10] The nature of the weekly Shabbas is that comes on it’s own, entirely without our involvement. The other holidays are created with some measure of human collaboration.[11] Pesach is a gift of awakening from above.

    This Pesach season, may we experience the newness and freshness of life. May this year be a year of creativity and generosity and new beginnings. May we become leaders, humble and kind leaders, who ‘skip over’ the apparent ego in others.
    May Hashem bless us to witness the beginning of the miracle of all miracles, the Redemption of all humanity from all levels of slavery.

    With blessing,

    Rav DovBer Pinson
    IYYUN Yeshivah


    [1] The Maggid of Mezritch, Imrei Tzadikim, p. 65
    [2] Tractate Menachos, 29b
    [3] Rabbeinu Bachya on Shemos, 13:4
    [4] “The names of the months came up from Babylon with us.” Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah, 1:2; See Ramban on Shemos, 12:2. Bnei Yissaschar. Chodesh Nissan. Maamor 1:6.
    [5] Bereishis, 29:35
    [6] Koheles, 8:4
    [7] Rosh HaShanah, 2a
    [8] The Haggadah of Pesach
    [9] Shemos, 12:23
    [10] Vayikra 23:15, “Count the Omer from the day after Shabbas.”
    [11] We are given the responsibility to establish when exactly the New Moon has occurred, and the New Moon determines when the Yom Tov of that month will occur.

  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi Miles Krassen Moshe Aharon
    2010 5770

    How to Get to Pesach

    The spiritual level of Pesach involves many things: leaping beyond our conventional view to reach the clarity of pure Hesed (understanding that everything that exists and happens is an expression Divine love and Grace), disclosing the hidden, secret Shabbat that is always present within the ever-changing flow of time, and empowering the Heart’s true desire to praise its Source. But how do we get ourselves into a condition in which such lofty goals may be attained– through the mitzvah of bediqat chametz (finding our “leavening agent.”)

    So the question really is, “what is looking for chametz?” There is a great prayer from Reb Nosson of Breslov that can help us in this. As brilliant as Reb Nosson’s teachings are, for me, it is his prayers that are often most instructive. Rebbe Nachman gave him the practice of transforming all teachings into prayers in order to move the teaching from the mind that hears and records and classifies to the mind of the heart: to the intelligence of the heart that is in direct relationship with the Source. Reb Nosson’s prayers speak directly in the language of the heart that relates to Source as You, as something that is present, as Presence and Being. So he has a special prayer for the month of Nisan, for before Pesach. He says something like this: “please let me eat this matzah, let me taste and eat this matzah all the days of Pesach and let me not have even mashehu chametz …not even the least bit of chametz during the days of Pesach so that I’ll be able to eat chametz the rest of the year.” That’s his prayer and that’s his focus: the secret of really doing Pesach. “Let me eat matzah for eight days and not have the least bit of chametz so that the rest of the year at least I will be able to eat chametz.”

    So, you have to ask yourself, “what’s he talking about?” Everybody knows that before Pesach, Jews do an external cleaning. Some people go to all kinds of extremes to make sure that there’s not a crumb of chametz (anything with leavening) in their house. We have the spiritual instructions called “bediqat chametz,” you should look for chametz and you should burn the chametz if you find it; you have to find it and get rid of it.

    But the funny thing is that when you do the practice of looking for the chametz you say the blessing, al bi’or chametz (for burning chametz). Even though you didn’t actually burn it yet! So, why are you saying the blessing over burning the chametz when you’re just looking for the chametz? That’s the secret. Because when we’re looking, doing the “bediqat chametz, we are bringing our awareness to recognition of the leavening agent in our experience, “chametz.” Doing the mitzvah of bedikat chametz means that you are using awareness to find chametz in yourself. You can learn from the fact that the blessing that we say when we do this search is not, “al bediqat chametz,” but “al bi’or chametz,” that the looking itself is already part of burning the chametz. When you shine the light of awareness on the places in yourself where this chametz appears there’s already a process of eliminating it.

    The proof text is Proverbs 20:27, “ner Hashem nishmat adam:” the light, the candle of G-D is the human soul. The candle with which you look for the chametz is the awareness of the heart that you are shining on all the places in yourself, all parts of yourself. So the instructions (exoterically) say: you should do this process during “the light of the fourteenth of the month.” “Light” here means “sunset,” when the light is changing from one day to the next, meaning at dusk. But Reb Nosson points out, as did others, that all the exoteric instructions have deeper meanings. Why do the instructions precisely say, “light of the fourteenth (of the month of Nisan)?” Because you have to bring the light of awareness to the “four and ten”: four worlds and ten sefirot. You have to bring the light of awareness to the ten sefirot of all four worlds. It is this inner examination that can raise us to the level of Pesach so the mouth can speak from the heart and Pesach can reveal the hidden aspect of Shabbat, and we can leap beyond the rational mind and believing in all the ways we think things are working, to the place of recognition of Divine Providence, “something is happening but you don’t know what it is,” as Bob Dylan sings. Something IS happening but you don’t know, exactly, what it is and that’s as close as we come to knowing, according to Reb Nachman and Reb Nosson…

    In doing this, we begin to realize that we’re being pulled into Pesach. Hesed (the right hand of G-D) is pulling us into Pesach. There’s something guiding us and it’s that Da’at, that consciousness that opens us to Divine Guidance that is playing hide-and-go-seek with us most of the time. Each time we have a Shabbat or we have a Pesach we get an opportunity to look through that window into the way things really are just at that moment, it’s so precious, so priceless to have that opportunity. We should be able to look through the window that opens to where Heaven and Earth are rejoicing together and understand that everything that is happening is being guided by that vision which is always calling us, sometimes only in the gentlest way and sometimes in ways that aren’t so gentle but we don’t realize that those ways are also expressions of Divine Grace; expressions of the Love that is guiding the entire world.

    So, in following the instructions of “bedikat chametz,” we’re looking for chametz, we’re looking for all those places which block us in our minds from recognizing Divine Providence: seeing where we’re held down, where we really don’t quite believe it here. We have to go through each of the four worlds. We have to go through of our actions (World of Assiyah): how do we act? How’s our Malchut doing, our sense of what we think is powerful. Do you really think that a few people in some powerful institutions are really determining everything that is going on in this world? That’s chametz. The thing that’s blocking us from recognizing that Life doesn’t really work that way. There is something behind the scenes. There’s something beyond what we can see that is really guiding the whole show. You have to take an account of your soul, of your self. When I really take a look at myself I’m looking for chametz, my chametz. What are the places where I fall into the trap of falling asleep– so I think that this is happening like this and that’s happening like that and that’s why I get angry about this or get angry about that or whatever it is that is blocking us, that’s taking us away from Shabbat? That’s chametz.

    This is the world of action: how do I think it works? What do I really believe is going on here? And I have to check myself out: where am I blocked and where am I holding on to something that is constricting me, in this case, keeping me in Mitzrayim?

    Then you have to look at Yetzirah, the emotional level, how feelings are aroused and whether we’re expressing them with attachment or identifying with them? That is the realm of feeling.
    Then we have to go up into the level of Bri’ah. We have to look at our construction of the world, our ideas and concepts and beliefs, and see if we have any chametz up there. Are there concepts that we really think are true that bind us and limit us because of our attachment to them?

    And then we have to look for chametz in Atzilut. We have to go to our spiritual world, our spiritual life and see where we’re bound there. That’s sometimes a tough one because we have to see whether we’re holding on to beliefs and practices that we might think are very spiritual, but nevertheless might be blocking us from something deeper. It’s very easy to get attached in that level and that can lead to a lot of disappointment and frustration. If you have distortions in the spiritual world and the way things are, it can strengthen our sense of being separate. Our sense of knowing, which in a certain sense is something that grows, is something that we always have to be transcending. Rebbe Nachman famously said to his students that, “you think my knowing is something special, but my ‘not-knowing’ is way higher than my knowing.” You want to have a lot of “not-knowing” in your spiritual world, in Atzilut. If you have a lot of not-knowing, there’s a lot of room for more knowing and then you can feed the knowing to somebody else so you keep opening to not-knowing and that way, you can keep receiving. There really needs to be a lot of humility. As Moshe Rabbeinu is called “the Most Humble,” of all people. In the spiritual world, it’s always good to have the sense of not so much attainment, that you haven’t attained so much. A lot of the chassidim, Rebbe Nachman especially, always emphasized you should always see yourself as a beginner, like Suzuki roshi’s, “Beginner’s Mind.” Better to be able to begin anew and never think that you did anything yet and that’s a chassidic principle: that I didn’t even get started yet.

    So this is bedikat chametz. And this is the meaning of Reb Nosson’s prayer, “Please let me taste this matzah for eight days. There shouldn’t even be ANY chametz at all during Pesach. In general, a dish doesn’t have to be 100% in order to be kosher. Sixty parts kosher can cancel one part not kosher. But when it comes to Pesach, Reb Nosson wants no chametz at all. You can’t fix chametz by sixty times more matzah. So you want to have NO chametz, no chametz at all.

    So, you do the search, but how can you succeed in this? How would you even know that there isn’t still more chametz? Even so, what we have to do is LOOK for chametz, that’s the mitzvah, that I’m going to look, I’m going to take the time and reflect and see if I can find my chametz. But I don’t assume even then that I managed to find everything. So I burn the rest and do a ritual where I say, “if I missed something, it’s not mine. If I missed it, it’s not mine.” After the search, you have to make the radical move of dis-identifying with any chametz that you couldn’t find for the sake of Pesach. We’ve just disowned any chametz that you couldn’t find. Do your best and after you do it you just deny that any of the chametz (that might remain) is yours.

    So, matzah represents pure Da’at, pure consciousness. Ordinarily,”consciousness” doesn’t come without chametz. Chametz represents all of the extensions—all appearances within pure consciousness itself. All of the garments are our chametz, all the levels of concealment (of the underlying reality that can’t ever be seen) are chametz. On Purim we learn how the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) is dressed up in all the garments of the world and that’s basically the way the world is all the year– except for the week of Pesach. The week of Pesach we want to reach the level of the Shekhinah beli levushim (without garments). This is Da’at shlemah, the pure Da’at: the pure Da’at of no chametz. We want to be there!
    We want to be there for that week. We want to dedicate ourselves for a week and especially on the seder nights that not even the least bit of chametz should even be there, not even the least. Not even in the least veil should separate us from the level of hashgachah (recognizing Divine Providence). The whole week of Pesach we want to jump up beyond the level of the rest of the year. The rest of the year, to some extent, to live in the world you’re going to have chametz. We live in the world of chametz. What other world is there?

    But how are you going to live in the world of chametz without getting lost in it? Because of the miracle of Pesach you are able to realize that state of “not even the least chametz.” So we need to make that leap to the place where your heart can open up and speaking comes from the hidden place in the heart, that place of just pure, pure, pure, pure, pure Shabbos energy, the pure energy of “the world that is coming,” the place where everyone will know and see that All is One and One is All. Everything is interconnected and that Intelligence that unites everything, that creates everything, that transforms everything, that enlivens everything, that revives and refreshes, that is present should be revealed and known to all of us.

    I want to bless all of us with the energy of Reb Nosson that we should really, really, really feel how fortunate we are to be in the month of Nisan, the month of miracles, the month of EVERY miracle– the miracle that once was and the miracle that can be and that will be and the miracle of the first mitzvah and that we should run with a whole heart, full of love to do that which can connect us most deeply to the One that is concealed in our actions and that we should examine ourselves SO CAREFULLY on all levels and all worlds and we should be able to find our chametz and through the power of looking at it with a clear mind and with good will and good intention the removal of (seeing through) that chametz should already be effective and may we have the merit to be able to renounce all chametz, even the tiniest bit, for the period of Pesach.

    May we really taste the matzah of Divine Providence, the matzah that needs no embellishment or concealment. Taste it for what it is. May we get such a taste that the rest of the year we will be able to eat chametz because even when we’re eating chametz after Pesach we’ll still have that taste of matzah.


    Moshe Aharon
    Rain of Blessings

  17. Aryae Post author

    Reb Sholom Brodt
    Le’kovod Shabbos HaGadol 5770

    ארבע לשונות גאולה – THE first 4 STAGES OF REDEMPTION



    וְהוֹצֵאתִי וְהִצַּלְתִּי וְגָאַלְתִּי וְלָקַחְתִּי
    Exodus Chapter 6 שְׁמוֹת

    The Four Words [And Stages] Of Redemption:

    Hashem (literally ‘the Name’, which is the traditional way of referring to G-d), tells Moshe Rabbeinu to go to Mitzrayim to tell the children of Israel:

    “Therefore say to the children of Israel, I Am Hashem,
    “v’hotzayti” and I will take you out from the sufferings of Mitzrayim,
    “v’hitzalti” and I will save you from their work,
    “v’ga-alti” and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments,
    “v’’lokachti” and I will take you unto Me to [be my] nation, and I will be unto you G-d, and you will know that it is I Hashem your G-d who is taking you out from under the sufferings of Mitzrayim.
    “v’hayvayti” I will bring you to the land, concerning [which] I raised my hand, to give her to Avraham, to Yitzhak and to Yaakov, I will give her unto you as an inheritance, I Am Hashem (Sh’mot 6: 6-8).

    The four words; “v’hotzayti”, “v’hitzalti”, “v’ga-alti”, and “v’lokachti” are the famous ‘arba leshonot ge’ulah’… the four words/terms of redemption. Corresponding to these four words/stages of redemption we drink the four cups of wine at the Pessach ‘seder’ as we celebrate our redemption. We need to understand why Hashem told Moshe to speak to B’nai Yisrael about their redemption in this particular manner. Would it not have been enough to simply send a message of redemption from slavery?

    Every word of Torah is so precious; Hashem wants us to know every detail. By carefully studying and understanding these words, we will learn the processes of redemption, how we can be actively involved in our personal redemption and how we can help to redeemed others from their MiTZRa-yIM, from their “MeiTZaRIM” (narrows).

    Allow me to present a parable to accompany the interpretation of the text. A person comes to the doctor with a very infected and swollen thumb. He is in excruciating and unbearable pain, so much so that he cannot function.

    The first thing that the healer must do is to alleviate and eliminate the pain. Hence, “v’hotzayti” – I will take you out from the ‘sufferings’ of Mitzrayim. However this is just the beginning of the healing, for only the symptoms have been taken care of thus far.

    The second thing that the doctor must do is to determine the cause of the pain, and treat it appropriately. He must clean up and get rid of the infection. Hence, “v’hitzalti” – I will save you from their work and enslavement. Not only will you no longer suffer from unbearably hard labor, you will also be saved from having to do anymore work for the slave masters. The ones who caused your suffering will no longer be able to force work upon you.

    The third thing that the healer must do is to discover why the patient got ill in the first place, what made him susceptible, why was he not able to resist the illness? How must this person be strengthened? What decisions must be made, what are the changes that must be implemented so that there should not be a reoccurrence of the problem? Hence, “v’ga-alti” – I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. This stage requires a lot of strength! Making great life changes, getting out of old patterns requires a lot of strength!

    At this stage, we actually left MiTZRa-yIM / MeiTZaRIM (narrows). At this point the patient is no longer in the environment in which he became ill. However there is still the danger that the patient may return to his old ways. We can now say that this person is no longer sick, but we cannot yet say that he is healthy.

    Being healthy is more than just not being sick. Just like living in peace is more than just not being at war. And so, the fourth level “v’lokachti” – and I will take you unto Me to [be My] nation, and I will be unto you G-d, and you will know that it is I Hashem your G-d who is taking you out from under the sufferings of Mitzrayim.

    At this stage, we enter into a new and eternal relationship with Hashem Yisborach. Our old lifestyle, from which our enslavement came about, is replaced in a significant way. We are no longer the slaves of Pharaoh; we are now the free and willing servants of G-d. Hashem gives us His living Torah, and through our learning and practice of the mitzvot, life is meaningful and we can live it fully. We are no longer enslaved to our Pharaohs who attempt to kill us as we are being born, who block us in the narrows. We are free to live a healthy life, healthy in body and soul. Evil can be overcome. Evil, no longer has the power to hold us back from living life with Hashem, with each other, with ourselves, with love, with meaning and with joy. The narrows between mind and heart are open; mind and heart work together and we are fully present in all we do and believe.

    And You Will Know That It Is I Hashem Your G-D

    The Hebrew word, v’yedatem (you will know), has significant layers of meaning. To know means to be conscious, mindful and connected; to know means to be in union with, as in the verse, “and Adam knew Chava.” As we have learned in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, our exile in Egypt was primarily an exile of consciousness. We weren’t able to maintain ongoing, uninterrupted consciousness of Hashem; we weren’t able to maintain being in union with Hashem at all times.

    One aspect of enslavement derives from our having tasted forbidden pleasures. This often results in a kind of spiritual autism. By that I mean the loss of memory and consciousness which we experience from time to time. Thus, even if at a particular moment we feel strongly connected to G-d and we feel extremely appreciative of being close to Him, and we deeply regret anything that we have done that has caused us to be distant to Him, we really don’t have any guarantees that we will be the same the next day, or even an hour later. We easily fall out of consciousness and suffer what seem to be temporary losses of memory. A few weeks ago we learned a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov in which he said that we must pray to Hashem to give us strength to remain conscious of Him at all times, and to receive strength not to fall out of union with Him.

    Moshe Rabbeinu was the master of da’at – consciousness and connection, he was in union with Hashem at all times. The Talmud teaches, was that Moshe Rabbeinu’s soul spread forth into the consciousness of every Jew throughout all generations. Each one of us possesses an aspect of Moshe Rabbeinu’s soul. Therefore even though it is difficult because we are still somewhat ‘enslaved’ and we still have to ‘work’ towards our ultimate redemption, we do possess the ability to be conscious of Hashem and to be in constant union with Hashem. This is Moshe Rabbeinu’s heritage and his gift to B.nai Yisrael.

    In the holy Zohar [Parshas Va-eyra 25a] it says, “Pikkudah da, kadma-ah d-chol pikuddin; reishita kadma-ah d-chol pikkudin, leminda-ah leih l’Kudsha bree-ch Hu bicllalah…ubifrat” (This mitzvah is the primary one of all mitzvot, it is the very beginning of all mitzvot, to know the Holy One Baruch Hu both in general and in detail). To know Hashem ‘in general’ means to know that Hashem is the Supernal Ruler, Master of all worlds, Creator of all heavens and earth and their hosts. To know Hashem ‘in detail’ means to know that Hashem is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives and that we are to learn all that we possibly can about Hashem and to know Him intimately.

    The Degel Machaneh Efraim brings a teaching from his grandfather the holy Baal Shem Tov on the verse “Know the G-d of your father…” [Chronicles I 28]. He asks, how is possible to know Hashem? Is there anyone who can actually know Hashem (other than what Hashem has revealed to us)? “Even though I have once heard from my master [the Baal Shem Tov] very briefly that ‘to know’ means to be in union with, as in the verse ‘And Adam knew Chavah, and she conceived and she gave birth to Kayin…’ [Bereishis 4:1] – [he knew her intimately]. However I have now heard from him that the ultimate knowing is to know that everything that is transpiring in one’s life and in the world in general, is all coming from Him, blessed be His Name.” (See further Baal Shem Tov Al haTorah, Parshas Va’eyra.)

    From this we understand that there are a number of aspects to ‘knowing Hashem.’ There is the knowing of Hashem as the Supernal Ruler and Creator of all worlds and beings. There is the knowing of Hashem as ‘the source’ of all that you are and all that is transpiring in your life and in the worlds about you – though you play an important part in this. There is the knowing of intimacy – doing the mitzvot in intimate union with Hashem, such that each mitzvah you do causes Hashem to dwell with you in this world and bears holy fruit.

    The Ohr Hachayim HaKadosh in his famous commentary on the Torah asks an interesting question. If Hashem promised not only to liberate us from the Egyptian bondage, but also to bring us to the Land of Israel, why was this not fulfilled? [The generation of Jews who left Egypt, particularly those who were twenty years old and over, did not make it into Israel.] And he answers that the phrase “v’yedatem” – “and you will know that it is I Hashem your G-d” is a pre-condition to “v’hayvayti” – “I will bring you to the land”. The ultimate redemption can be achieved only by truly knowing, truly being connected to Hashem.

    – towards THE 5th and ULTIMATE STAGE –

    The 5th and Ultimate Stage *

    Verse 8:”v’hayvayti” – I will bring you to the land regarding which I raised My hand [in oath] that I would give it to Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, and I will give it to you as an inheritance. I am Ad-noy.

    As everyone knows, we actually have five cups of wine on the Seder table, but thus far we only drink four of them. The fifth one is known as kos Eliyahu, the cup of Eliyahu, and will be drunk at the time of the ultimate redemption which we have not yet achieved. By placing the “fifth cup” – “the Cup of Eliyahu” on our Seder table we are reminded to maintain our consciousness and to continue striving to achieve the ‘ultimate redemption’ quickly in our days.

    In the context of personal liberation, the fifth stage represents complete redemption; arriving at the place where you realize that even the pain and the suffering you experienced were actually ‘good.’ Though it really is hard to achieve this level and we seldom do, we do have ‘small’ and ‘large’ life examples to help us conceive and understand it. When serious medical intervention is needed to save lives, even though the intervention itself can be very painful, it is nevertheless good because a life is being saved. Until the healing is completed, the pain is still quite dominant and it is difficult to appreciate the good, but once health is fully regained, the painful process can be appreciated as having been ‘good’.

    Another example: I have met some adults who have told me of their horrible experiences in school. Things were so bad there that they even avoid driving anywhere near the school grounds. Graduation day was liberation day. When they will finally come to discover and know the positive that was concealed in the negative, then they will have redeemed and transformed those awful experiences.

    Another example: Many a healer learned to be excellent healers only once they themselves had undergone severe illness. One healer told us that he is so very thankful to Hashem for the healing he was so desperately in need of; if this had not happened to him he would never have learned how to heal others. One dear friend told me after having an osteopathic treatment from him, “He’s a tzaddik!” – he heals like a tzaddik.

    But How? How can we get to the 5th stage?

    Let’s go back to the beginning- when and how does the first stage begin? What precedes it?

    Earlier in Parshas Shemot we read:
    2:23: A long time passed and the king of Egypt died. The B’nei Yisrael moaned because of their enslavement, and they cried. Their plea about their enslavement went up to G-d. 2:24: El-him heard their groaning and El-him remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchok and with Yaakov. 2:25: El-him saw the B’nei Yisrael, and El-him took knowledge of them.

    Immediately following we found Hashem revealing Himself to Moshe in the burning bush and assigning him with the mission to liberate the Children of Israel. In our parsha immediately before the revelation of the four stages of redemption we hear Hashem saying to Moshe:
    6:5: I have also heard the groaning of the B’nei Yisrael, whom the Egyptians enslave, and I have remembered My covenant. Apparently before Hashem responded the people needed to cry out in their distress: We see this in Psalm 107 as well: 107:6 They cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. 107:13 They cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. 107: 19 They cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses; 107:28 They cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses.

    In Rebbe Nachman’s famous teaching, “Ayeh?” [Where?] (Likkutei Moharan II, 12) we learn that to achieve healing and happiness we have to find hope even in the darkest and lowest of places. When a person suffers in great distress he must sincerely cry out like a child, “Hashem why are you doing this to me? Hashem please show me that You are present in my life and in my pain. Hashem! ‘Ayeh m’kom kvodo – Where is Your glory in what is happening here?”

    And the promised response to the sincere cry is “Kvodo malei olam – His glory fills all the worlds.” From the highest of worlds to the lowest of worlds, Hashem’s glory fills all worlds. When a person finds himself in desperate darkness, Hashem’s glory is there too. Crying out to Hashem sincerely brings about the revelation of His glory in which you will be uplifted because you will realize that in fact you are not alone as you had thought. Now you are ready for the healing to begin; you are ready to proceed along the four stages of redemption.

    As you come closer to the 5th stage, two very critical questions will likely arise. These questions are not simple and they must be answered honestly. It is worth it and necessary to spend many hours thinking about these questions:

    “Do I truly believe in Divine Providence? Do I fully believe that Hashem is present at all times and in everything that occurs- in everything that occurred in my life?” Hopefully you will be able to come to that place of deep faith in Hashem’s omnipresence. Then another question will begin to churn inside: “If so, that means that Hashem was present even while I was being afflicted! Why did He allow it to happen to me?” And this will lead to an even more difficult question: “Do I honestly believe that everything that Hashem does is [for the] good?” It is not easy to answer this in the affirmative and you may likely have to devote many days and weeks until you will be able to proclaim that at the very least you would like to believe it. To honestly say “I would like to believe that ‘all that Hashem does is for the good’ is a great step forward.

    Now you will be able to pray/ask another very important question: “Hashem, if everything You do is for the good, what were You trying to teach me? What am I supposed to learn from all that has happened in my life?” When you are sincerely ready and open to listening, Hashem will guide you to discover the deep lessons of your life experiences. Though you may never find out why you had to learn these lessons in the particular ways that Hashem delivered to you, these new insights are life transforming, not only for yourself. When you will share all that you were blessed to learn with others, and you will see that it is only now that you are able to help them in ways you could not before, then with warmth and love in your heart, you will dance and sing “Hodu l”Hashem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo!”- I honestly admit and give thanks to Hashem for He is good, His kindness is both hidden an eternal.”

    ©2010 Sukkat Shaleym Inc | 18 Hagilboa, Jerusalem 94314

  18. Wendy

    From Rabbi Diane Elliot

    28 March 2010 Nisan 5770

    As we prepare for the Pesach passage to freedom, we make ready to tell again the Jewish story of redemption, alongside the stories of our personal and contemporary journeys into freedom. We search our homes and hearts for chometz, eliminating the crumbs of puffed-up ego (leavening!) that obscure and distort our individual and collective stories. Instead of bread, crusty on the outside, soft and spongy within, we eat humble matzah, embodying our intent to purify our consciousness so that our mouths may speak the story simply and truly. We pray to become matzah-like, the same on the inside as on the outside, our inner and outer selves united in service of the Holy One.

    It’s an ancient custom to read or chant Shir Ha-Shirim, The Song of Songs, at the end of the seder on the first night of Pesach and, at least in Ashkenazi communities, right before the Torah reading on the Shabbat of Pesach. (Sephardic communities also chant the Shir every Friday afternoon, just before kabbalat Shabbat!) As reason for doing this, classical interpreters point to the mention of Pharaoh in the Song. They see its various depictions of two lovers’ separating, yearning, and reuniting as symbolic allusions to Israel’s four different exiles and redemptions.

    The Zohar states that Shir Ha-Shirim embodies the entire Torah, including the story of the Israel’s exile in Egypt and subsequent redemption from there, as well as the people’s redemption from other oppressors, so that by reading it we enhance the mitzvah of recounting the story of Exodus. Rabbi Yosei explains that the Shir was composed by Sh’lomo Ha-Melekh, King Solomon, at the time when he built the Beit Ha-Mikdash, the holy Jerusalem Temple. Tradition teaches that this was the most joyful time for the Holy One since Creation, for at the same time that the earthly Temple was constructed, a second Beit Ha-Mikdash was also built in the supernal world, the world of spirit—a Temple that exists in all worlds and illuminates them all.

    How are these two Temples, the earthly and the heavenly, to be built in our time, on our “watch?” How do we become “shomrim,” watchpersons, like the shomrim in Rabbi Shefa Gold’s reading of the Song—keepers of the light of consciousness, protecting and illuminating the “city” while others sleep and dream? This is the great blessing and the promise of Passover—that together, in the microcosmic communities in which we gather around our seder tables, we may envision and invite and embody—through singing, telling, praying, questioning, eating and drinking—the unification of the physical and spiritual worlds.

    In re-membering this interpenetration of the physical with the Great Light of Truth—an eternal condition of which we need to remind ourselves over and over—we unleash great joy within ourselves and throughout the cosmos. The more we get it, the more child-like we become, emerging like newborns from the salt sea of tears into an expansive, unbounded space—the freedom of midbar, of wilderness.

    We prepare carefully for the journey, so that our words and acts may elevate and connect us with each other and with the Invisible Mystery. On the seder night we kiss and are kissed, receiving physical and spiritual sustenance simultaneously as our mouths bless and eat and express connection through song and story, almost in the same breath. We become intoxicated, resting in the “Divine embrace,” moving from the joy of the moment into “timeless time and placeless Place” (Reb Shefa’s words). We see with the eyes of the Beloved; we taste the bounty of the Garden. What better moment in our ritual year to chant Shir Ha-Shirim, this song of awakening, of yearning, and of sensuous fulfillment?

    At your s’darim this year, at whatever tables you may find yourself, I invite you to bring through the Torah of Shir Ha-Shirim by opening to the beauty of all those seated with you; by deeply tasting and savoring the words that are shared, as much as the flavors of the special Pesach food; and by igniting—through words and songs and the enlivening presences of the prophets Elijah and Miryam—each person’s passion to serve the cause of freedom in her or his unique way, now and throughout the year.

    To complement the verses of Shir Ha-Shirim, I share this little song, written by my friend and mentor Rebecca Rice z”l, an inspiring African-American actress, playwright, and activist, who grew up in the infamous Cabrini Green housing projects on the South Side of Chicago to become a respected artist and a powerful voice for freedom in multiple communities:

    All babies are born

    Saying God’s name

    Over and over

    Singing God’s name.

    She gives them the stars to use as ladders

    To climb their dreams.

    There’s only love, there’s only love, there’s only love in this world.

  19. Wendy

    From Reb Sholom Brodt

    I hope that everyone is having a joyous and wonderful Pesach. Since this Shabbos is within the holiday of Pesach we will not read the regular Parshat Hashavuah; instead we will be reading a passage from sefer Shmot [32:12-23] that relates to Pesach. For ‘maftir’ we will read, in a 2nd sefer Torah, the portion in Bamidbar [28:19-25] about the special Pesach sacrifices.

    This Shabbos we read the beautiful prophecy given to Yechezkel [Ezekiel 37] about the revival of the dry bones.
    The hand of the LORD was upon me, and the LORD carried me out in a spirit, and set me down in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones …. they were very dry. And He said unto me: ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered: ‘O Lord GOD, Thou knowest.’ Then He said unto me: ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them: O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD: Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.’

    On Pesach we celebrate the gift of freedom and renewal of life. May we be blessed to be new every day.

    S’firat Ha’omer:
    In the Torah we learn the mitzvah of the Counting of the Omer in the following verses:

    And you shall count unto yourselves, from the morrow of the day of rest, from the day you brought the ‘omer’ [sheaf] of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete.
    Even unto the morrow after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days; and you shall present a new meal offering to Hashem. Vayikra 23: 15-16
    REB SHLOMO zt”l on the relationship between Pesach when we celebrate our FREEDOM and SFIRAT HA-OMER – the COUNTING OF THE OMER

    “You know my darling friends, freedom is a gift from heaven. If you would like to know who has the gift it’s very simple, it’s very simple. If someone says ‘I’m demanding freedom for myself’ this is not G-d’s freedom. But if someone walks the streets of the world, and he would like to see every human being free, this is G-d’s freedom. So on Pesach G-d gave us freedom, but not freedom to do what we want to do, not freedom to use dirty words, not freedom to push someone away. Free to walk to Mount Sinai, free to hear the word of G-d. Free to love the whole world, free to bring peace to the world.

    And you know my darling friends; it’s a holy law, holy tradition, holy custom, that from Pesach till Shavuot you count the days. Because a slave does not count his days, a free person learns to count. A holy person counts his days, his blessings to people.

    You know that some people say there is a world; [but] G-d never said love the world, G-d said love the person who is standing next to you. ‘Count’ the people; ‘count’ the people you see.”
    Reb Shlomo zt”l. Los Angeles/ 1972

    As is already familiar to us, Shavuot comes seven weeks after Pessach. More precisely starting on the second night of Pessach we count 49 days, and the fiftieth day is Shavuot; unlike the other holidays there is no stated calendar date for Shavuot in the Torah. In these verses we learn that it is a mitzvah to count each day and each week of the seven weeks of the Omer counting. The counting begins on the second day [night] of Pessach. On that day, in Temple times, we would bring an ‘omer’ measurement of the new barley crop, as a wave offering in the Beit Hamikdash. [A wave offering was offered as follows: the Kohen would stand in front of the Altar and lift/wave the ‘omer’ of barley in all six directions]. After we fully completed the counting of the seven weeks, we celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, [‘Shavuot’ means ‘weeks’] on the 50th day, with offering the “Mincha chadasha” the ‘new meal offering’ with two loaves of bread made of the new grain. We also brought the first fruits to the temple on this holiday. Shavuot is also the holiday of the “giving of the Torah”.

    All the commentators point to a number of peculiarities in this text:
    a] This mitzvah of ‘counting’ is quite unusual! What is it all about?
    b] The Torah connects the counting with the wave offering of the ‘omer’ of barley and with the ‘new meal offering’ in the form of two breads.
    c] The Torah does tell us the date for the beginning of the counting period… it simply tells to begin on the second day of Pessach, the day we offer the ‘omer of the uplifting’ of the barley.
    d] The Torah does not tell us the date for Shavuot; rather we are only told that it is on the 50th day.

    The Netivot Shalom brings a number of Chassidic teachings to explain some of the above. Briefly summarized, he explains that first we need to understand that this period of the counting of the Omer is given to us a time for spiritual self-purification. The seven weeks correspond to the seven ‘sfirot’, the seven emotional attributes. These are:

    Chesed – Lovingkindness;
    Gevurah – Justice and discipline;
    Tiferet – Harmony, compassion;
    Netzach – Endurance;
    Hod – Humility;
    Yesod – Bonding;
    Malchut – Sovereignty, leadership.
    In addition each day of each week corresponds to a particular ‘sfira’. The ‘sfirot’ represent our spiritual and psychological attributes. During this period of counting the Omer we work on refining these attributes on a personal level.

    Why do we do this particularly at this time of the year? We have learned that on the night of Pessach when we were redeemed from Mitzrayim, Hashem revealed to us a great Divine light and then He hid it again. This was a foretaste of the great Revelation that we were going to experience at Sinai when Hashem was going to give us the Torah.

    To receive this great light and to retain it in a permanent way we would have to prepare ourselves by refining our vessels. On the Night of Pessach it was given to us from above; it was a Divine free gift, given for just a short while, just long enough to inform us of our higher soul-selves, long enough to create a strong yearning to be forever close with Hashem, to forever live together with Hashem in our daily lives.

    -Pessach is compared to our getting engaged to Hashem.
    -The seven weeks of counting is our preparation period.
    -Shavuot is the marriage, the union of Hashem with the people of Israel.
    -The wave offering of the ‘omer of barley’ as well as the wave offering of the ‘new meal’ and the offering of first-fruits, demonstrated our belief and trust in Hashem, that all that we have comes from Hashem and only from Hashem, that it all belongs to Him alone. This represents the relinquishing of our attachments to material wealth, and nullifying our egotistical selves in readiness ‘to be in complete union’ with Hashem.
    -The ‘Mincha chadasha’ – the gift of newness – is our gift of newness to Hashem, our readiness to be, to live anew and fresh every day with vitality and vigor, to live better and higher each day.

  20. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Shir HaShirim: The Song of Songs

    What makes this poem the “Song of Songs”?

    There are many levels of song. Some sing the Song of the Soul. Within their own soul, they discover everything, their complete spiritual fulfillment.

    Others sing the Song of the Nation. They leave the restricted circle of the individual soul — it is not expansive enough, not idealistic enough. They aspire to greater heights. With sublime love, they cleave to Ecclesia Israel (“Knesset Yisrael”). They sing her songs, feel her pains, delight in her hopes, and contemplate her past and her future. With love and wisdom, they investigate the content of her inner spirit.

    Others allow their souls to expand beyond the people of Israel. They sing the Song of Humanity, reveling in the grandeur of the humankind, the illustriousness of his divine image. They aspire towards humanity’s ultimate goal, and yearn for its sublime fulfillment. From this source of life they draw inspiration for their universal thoughts and analyses, aspirations and visions.

    And some reach even higher in the expanse, until they unite with all of existence, with all creatures and all worlds. With all of them, they sing the Song of the Universe. Regarding this sublime song, the Sages pronounced, “One who delves in Perek Shira each day is promised a portion in the World to Come.”

    And some succeed in encompassing all of these songs together. All of the songs give their voice; together they harmonize their melodies, giving life and sustenance to each other. They combine at each hour and moment, ringing out with the sound of happiness and joy, the sound of laughter and gladness, the sound of exultation and holiness.

    Their culmination ascends to a song of holiness. This is the Song of God, the Song of Israel (the letters Yisrael form “Shir E-l”, “Song of God”), in the essence of its power and beauty, truth and greatness. The Song of Songs encompasses together all of these songs: the Song of the Soul, the Song of the Nation, the Song of Humanity, and the Song of the Universe.

    “‘The Song of Songs, that is Solomon’s (Shlomo)’. The song of the King, the Master of shalom (completeness).” (Rashi, quoting the Midrash on Shir Hashirim 1:1)

    (adapted from Orot HaKodesh vol. II, pp. 444-445)

    Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison

  21. Wendy

    From Rabbi Miriam Maron
    A Passover Teaching

    from Rabbi Miriam

    As Passover approaches, it is fitting for us to approach Passover as well. This means tuning our awareness into the mystique of this cuisine-oriented festival, where the focus seems to be Food: what otherwise kosher foods we can and cannot eat. Even the Torah herself portrays Passover as a festival where food appears to play the most vital role, even more so than leaving Egypt. Basically, we were told to eat matzoh, bitter herbs, and lamb specifically roasted in fire and not boiled in water. We were even instructed regarding how we were to partake of this strange pre-exodus dinner: with our sash wrapped around our waists, sandals on our feet, and staff in our hand”. And no leftovers were allowed of the lamb dish. Any of it left over had to be destroyed by fire in the morning (Exodus 12:8-12). No doggy bags. Sorry.

    To this day, Passover — the ritual commemoration of our miraculous exodus from slavery to freedom — is celebrated not in synagogue services but around the dinner table at home. Even the Haggadah, the liturgical reader for the Seder, at times feels more like a menu than a book of narratives and prayers. First a little bit of salad, then some wine, some matzoh, then some horseradish sticks and a sweet dip concoction to dip your lettuce in, then an appetizer of hard-boiled eggs followed by a mouth-watering dinner. And all of it accompanied by animated and sometimes heated conversation!

    Here is something to chew on about the mystery behind all of this. The three main foods on the Passover menu — matzoh, greens, and lamb — correspond to the three beings with whom we share this planet: The do’mem, or Still Beings (such as rocks, earth), the tzo’mey’ach, or Sprouting Beings (such as plants and trees), and the chayy, or Living Beings (such as animals). Translated into the Seder foods, they are, respectively: matzoh, greens, and lamb. These three ritual foods also correspond to the four primal elements that make up our planet: ah’veer, or Air, ma’yeem, or Water, aish, or Fire, and a’far, or Earth. Translated into the Seder experience, they are: the lamb which had to be roasted in fire, the greens which require water, and matzoh, which is made solely of flour (earth) and water. As for the element of Air, all of the above requires air in order to exist altogether. We humans are made up of all the above, as is written: “And God said, ‘Let us make the human in our image” (Genesis 1:26), the “us” referring to all that God had created prior to the human, such as stones, planets, trees, and animals, as well as air, earth, fire, and water (Midrash HaNe’elam, Vol. 1, folio 16b).

    Liberation requires more than simply fleeing. It requires calling forth all of the beings and elements that live within us, and of which we are comprised. Else, we end up leaving behind a part of us or several parts of us, leaving only a fraction of who we are to actually be freed up, while dragging behind us the yet un-liberated aspects of our selves. And so we were told to hurry and up and prepare to leave, but first we were to ingest attributes representative of the three beings that comprise us, as well as the primal elements of which we are made. Anything left over, any residue of what we were committing to leave behind, had to be purged by fire, released completely. Far from being a sit-down feast, it was more a get-up-and-really-really-go feast, which is quite a challenging, if not daunting, process. After all, it wasn’t as if we were leaving Egypt for a more lush and bountiful destination. We were headed for the desert, a seemingly endless stretch of land void of any potential, let alone food and water.

    Therefore we were told to eat this ritual meal with our belts fastened, our walking staff in hand, and our sandals on our feet, all of which symbolized three important components needed to make the kind of commitment we were being asked to make. Those three important components are: (1) awareness of the fact that we are both, body and spirit, respectively, thus the belt or sash around our middle, to remind us to tend to the needs of both, not one to the neglect of the other; (2) remembering to always walk upon alien soil with our own unique identity still attached to our walk, thus the sandals upon our feet as we prepared to leave Egyptian soil. The Talmud in fact tells us that during those centuries of our sojourn in Egypt, our we clung tenaciously to our identity as Jews, retaining our native language and our Hebraic names (Midrash Tanchuma, Balak, Ch. 16). And most of us continued to do so ever since, regardless of where we were exiled. And, finally (3) awareness of the presence and guidance of God throughout our life walk, thus the staff in our hand, the bottom of which touched the earth and the top of which reached for the heavens as we trekked our way to freedom.

    This Passover, may we refresh these lessons for our journey toward Liberation, and may they help us to be free of the anxieties heralded by our times so that we might retain the sacred space in our lives for the flux of blessing and goodness that awaits us, each in our individual way and each in our individual time.

    Chag Sa’mey’ach! And Shabbat Shalom!

    Rabbi Miriam Ashee’nah Maron

  22. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gerson Winkler

    A Passover Teaching from Gershon…

    On Passover, we eat Matzoh. Wow. What a religion. And we read the

    Maxwell House Coffee Haggadah. And we drink four goblets of wine. And

    we eat some greens dipped in salt water, and some horseradish root. And

    chew on a shank bone of sorts, reminiscent of the roasted lamb feast we

    were instructed to celebrate before we left Egypt some 3,300 years ago.

    So, Matzah, Greens, Bone, Root, and Wine. And hard-boiled eggs. This is

    the entire Seder meal. All the other stuff, like tzimmes, matzoh-balls,

    chicken soup, brisket, etc. have nothing to do with the original Passover

    rites upon which the Seder is based other than making sure you don’t leave

    the table after choking on the horseradish root and seek conversion to an

    easier religion.

    But there is meaning to the madness, and it has more to do with what we are

    not supposed to eat during Passover than with what we are supposed to eat

    during Passover. Because what we are supposed to eat on Passover, is

    Matzoh. And it is only obligated the first night (Talmud Bav’li, Sukah 46a).

    The rest of Passover there is no rule that says you have to eat Matzoh.

    Only, you can’t eat bread, or other foods that have undergone the

    enrichment process of fermentation or leavening. We call these foods

    cha’metz. And while we are supposed to eat Matzoh at least once on

    Passover, we can’t eat cha’metz all of Passover (Exodus 12:15 and 19). So,

    obviously one of the key lessons of Passover is encoded more in cha’metz,

    which is forbidden all seven days of Passover, than in Matzoh, which is only required one day out of the seven days of Passover.

    What exactly is cha’metz about?

    It’s about forgetting. Bread makes you forget the wheat it once was, and the

    earth from which it emerged. Having undergone numerous phases of

    evolution from wheat to grain to dough to bread, the final product looks

    nothing like its root self, its original form and substance, and has morphed

    into a substance so far removed from its essence that its essence is all but

    forgotten. Likewise with many forms of leavened or fermented products.

    But we pick on bread and the like since it is considered – or once was

    considered – “the staff of life.” And Passover is about restoring awareness

    of our root self, our essential self, the realization of which finally moved

    our ancestors to cry out in pain over their enslavement after having been

    enslaved for 210 years! To quote Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof fame:

    “They are so happy, they don’t know how miserable they are.” Sometimes

    we are so thickly tangled in the outer trimmings of our lives, the relentless

    barrage of external stimuli, demands and challenges that we “forget” our

    essential selves, the root purpose or meaning of being alive. And so, along

    comes Passover to remind us seven days a year to make it a practice every

    day of the year of trimming away the excess fluff that numbs us or blinds us

    or distracts us from the essence of our lives. We eat bread minus the fluff,

    reducing it to its most base ingredients: flour and water. We eat the lamb

    down to the bone, down to the essence, leaving nothing left over (Exodus

    12:10), as symbolized by the shank bone on the Seder Plate. We eat the

    horseradish root to awaken within us our own root selves and the root

    selves of others, reminding ourselves of their essence, the core parts of

    them that we have forgotten over the course of the year, swept under the

    rugs of daily routine and humdrum and stress and struggle and judgment.

    And the egg, too, helps to bring us back a little to our mortal selves,

    evolved from the stubborn, albeit successful pursuit of a microscopic

    sperm after a reluctant egg. And the greens, to remind us how all the texture, color and fragrance of the earth’s vegetation are but the earth’s décor, her

    adornments, her external expression, not her essential self. Her essential

    self is best dramatized by the barren desert into which we journeyed

    following our first Passover Seder three millennia ago, having prepared

    ourselves with foods that are all about reminding us not to forget. Not to

    forget Essence.

    Worn down to our core by years of oppressive slavery, we finally

    encountered our self-truth, our “I Am”, our worthiness as humans and

    the stark contrast of our subjection to others. It was only then that we

    cried out, and only then that God – seeing that we were finally ready –

    set the stage for our liberation. No wonder, when Moses asked God,

    “What will I tell them if they ask me what your name is,” that God’s

    response was: “Tell them ‘I Am sent me'” (Exodus 3:14) – for that was

    the password, the name or attribute of the divine that the people would

    respond to in their new paradigm of Root Awareness.

    And, of course, wine. Four cups of it. Because wine gently brings you back

    to your core self, absent all of your hoity-toity external masks and

    inhibitions. As the ancient rabbis put it: “When wine goes in, secrets

    come out” (Talmud Bav’li, Eruvin 65a).

    Passover, then, is a holiday dedicated to not forgetting, to remembering

    who we are deep deep down at our core, and seeing one another in that way,

    not only looking at each other’s outer trimmings and appearances. We

    should have learned this already from the previous holiday of Purim, not to

    judge people or situations by outward their appearances, by what or how

    they seem.

    This is also why we Jews do not eat the sciatic nerve of even the most

    kosher of animals. Because our ancestor Jacob was afflicted on that very

    spot, his sciatica, by the angel with whom he wrestled the night before his

    encounter with his brother Esau (Genesis 32:26) whom he had fled in fear for

    his life for more than two decades. You see, the sciatica is called na’sheh

    in Hebrew. Na’sheh, the Zohar reminds us, is related to the name of the

    fifth underworld, Ne’shee’yah, whose attribute is about “forgetfulness

    (Hashmatot HaZohar, folio 253b). And that is exactly the term Joseph uses when he

    names his firstborn Menasheh, “For God has nee’sha’nee — caused me to

    forget – all of my strivings” (Genesis 41:51).

    When we walk, we walk by the support of the na’sheh, the sciatic nerve, the

    place of “forgetfulness”. Why is it the place of “forgetfulness”? Because,

    when we adopt a specific pattern in our life walk, we adopt a corresponding

    stride and walk in forgetfulness of what was. Jacob had developed a specific

    pattern in his life walk that was a stride based on denial of the unresolved

    conflict between himself and his brother. When the angel struck his sciatic

    nerve, his na’sheh, Jacob was in that moment struck in his forgetfulness

    place, thus thrown off his pattern, derailed from the stride of denial that

    had served his life walk until then, and made to remember his core self and

    his core connection with his twin. And as a result, his walk now became

    different than before, and he “limped” (Genesis 32:32), meaning he did not

    walk again as he had before, and was blessed with a new name that honored

    his newfound power and paradigm: Yisra’el – “For you grappled with both,

    God (through the angel) and men (your essential self and all the inner demons and

    shadows you concocted in your paranoia), and you succeeded” (Genesis 32:29).

    And so we do not eat the na’sheh nerve, because we do not wish to ingest

    that which causes us to forget what is core.

    Passover is about that. It is about removing the impeding factors that block

    us from remembering what is important, what is our priority, what is basic,

    and so we strip the layers of cha’metz, of the otherwise kosher but often

    excess fluff that separates us from what is core and basic and elemental,

    so that we might remember what we have forgotten about ourselves, about

    others, about life, and about our earth.

  23. Wendy

    From the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
    Reb Mimi Feigelson
    The Answer My Friend is… in Your Hands (and Heart)…

    Torah Reading: Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30
    Haftarah Reading: Malakhi 3:4-24
    Reb Elimelech of Lizensk (d.1787) would teach that the holiness of the week to come is contained in the Shabbat that precedes it. Often I think about this teaching in the manner that I was taught of Winnicott’s interpretation of parental containment. The parent contains the child in a way that then gives a child the freedom to seek and search, to be independent and free. In the same way, the Shabbat before a holiday ‘holds’ the holiday within it, it holds all the aspirations and intentions that one carries in regard to the upcoming holiday. It is as if all the ‘secrets’ of the day are hidden within that Shabbat. I always find that Pessach is a holiday that so much of it is defined by all the intentions, preparations, desires that we put upon it for weeks before it appears. It is for this reason that I’m sharing Pessach thoughts right now.
    In the past I have offered two of my standing traditions at the opening of the seder. The one is an adaptation of the tradition of the Tzanzer Rebbe (d. 1876) who would put all his gold and silver on his seder table, as a sign of freedom. In lieu of this tradition I ask all those at the table to share what ‘riches’ they bring to the table this year – they could be physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual in nature. Then I share a teaching of Reb Shlomo Carlebach (d.1995) in which he would say that it is forbidden to sit to the pessach seder without poor people at the table, “kol dich’fin… kol ditzrich…” – ‘all those in need come eat, participate in our Pessach offering…”. And since, truth be told, many of us don’t go out and invite in the homeless of our cities, I ask those at the table to share their poverty of the year. For a moment, each one of us takes the space of the poor, and again, poverty which is physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual in nature.
    But this year, inspired by teachings of the Piasetzna Rebbe (died on the 4th of Ram-Cheshvan, 1943) that I’ve been learning with my students over lunch on these past Mondays (, I would like to include a couple of new thoughts, and possibly, traditions.
    It is not new to look at the haggadah that we will read next Monday (everyone) and Tuesday night (those in the Diaspora) and claim that really what we are reading is not a narrative, but rather a documentation of questions and answers. The “Four Questions” for example. The way the “Four Children” are posed is by virtue of the questions that they ask, or the lack of ability to ask as represented by the fourth child. When ‘pessach’, ‘matza’ and ‘maror’ are presented, key elements to the ‘maggid’ section, they are presented in the form of questions, ‘al shoom mah?’ / ‘why, on behalf of what?’This has led me to think about the nature of questions and their relationship to this holiday. And what is our responsibility to the fourth of the four children that knows not how to ask.
    I would like to suggest that being able to ask questions is one sign of freedom and independence. Being able to ask questions manifests trust – in yourself as the one that is asking, and in the other that they will be able to help you find an answer. It is a sign of need and growth – an indication that what you have in front of you is not sufficient and you are able to articulate what it is that you are indeed in need of. A question can be a statement of faith – faith that you or your surroundings can be different than who you were until now. It can be an affirmation of not being alone, or a deep yearning to not be alone. At times it functions as a vehicle to express vulnerability and humility. It seems to me that all of these readings into the nature of the ability to question (and I’m sure that you could add to this list of possibilities as well) are products of courage, honesty, strength. These are elements that, in my eyes, are also manifestations of liberty and redemption. Elements of Freedom and true independence.
    It is for this reason that regarding the fourth child we are demanded to take action: “at p’tach lo” / ‘you must open for him’ – we must find a way to help this child find their way to ask!
    The Piasetzna Rebbe reads this word “lo” in two ways, based on the two ways it can be written (or read). When read as (with the letters lamed and alef) the it means “no” and when read as (with the letters lamed and vav) it means “to him.” There are a few verses in the scriptures that the word is written with the letter alef, writing “no”, but tradition teaches us to read it with the letter vav, reading “to him”. This is the form known as ‘Kri and K’tiv’ – distinguishing between the written and oral form of a word. The Piasetzna quotes T’hillim/Psalms 100: “He created us and lo anachnu” – He created us and we didn’t / He created us and we are His.” Almost complete opposites!
    For the Piasetzna Rebbe our responsibility is to open the possibility of questioning – whether questioning ourselves and /or God. To open this opportunity to those in our midst that think that our tradition is one of “no’s” and therefore, what is the point of even asking. For those that don’t know how to ask because they have been shut down one time too many we are asked to open a “for Him” relationship with God. Not a God that says “no”, but rather a God that seeks intimacy and relationship. Being in a personal and intimate relationship with God, believing that God seeks that kind of relationship with us, is for me, a form of freedom and liberation. It is a manifestation of exiting an emotional, spiritual and even intellectual “Mitzrayim”/Egypt.
    So this year, as the seder begins, I would like to add a new tradition. I would like to ask those gathered to share their questions that they have been afraid to ask, the questions that they thought were prohibited. I would like us to share the questions that have been holding us back in our lives – holding us back from an intimate and honest relationship with ourselves, with others, with our Creator.
    I pray that we all find ourselves sitting seder night, as God’s beloved children, at a table that we are free to ask our way to freedom and liberation.
    May this Shabbat hold us and grant us the courage to sit ourselves at that table.
    Shabbat shalom v’chag sameach.

  24. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Waking up the חמץ Chamets/Chometz!…
    During the rest of the year, any time that a non-kosher item gets into kosher food, if its volume is less than 1/60th of what it goes into, and it gets thoroughly mixed in, it is thought of as vanishing completely. The principle is called “batel bashishim” בטל בשישים (batel=nullifying, shishim=sixty). By the same token, if a piece of pork fell into a stew, if you fish it out the stew is still good to eat. In both cases the law only applies if what happened was a mistake (b’di’avad בדיעבד). You can’t accidentally on purpose drop a piece of pork in to add a little flavor.

    One manifestation of the fact that we’re stricter about chamets חמץ than about any other kosher law is that chamets is not “batel bashishim”. Chamets, unlike any other tref food (e.g, milk that gets mixed with meat or pork) ruins anything it falls into, no matter how small an amount falls in, no matter if it was a mistake or not. But that rule only applies during Passover.

    So what happens if chamets got into anything *before* Passover, and it “vanished” because it was less than 1/60th? When Passover comes around, can that food be eaten? The answer is debated—some say yes for chamets that was liquid and no for chamets that was solid. The idea that guides this practice is that any piece of chamets that is not dissolved “comes back and wakes up” in Hebrew, chozer v’ne’ur חוזר ונעור.

    Here’s a spiritual lesson one can glean from this: on Pesach we (hope to) reach a higher spiritual level, one which is more in touch with what is essential, more humble, like matsah. That’s another meaning of the word chozer חוזר, which is also used as a synonym for turning/t’shuvah/repentance תשובה. But sometimes when we reach a higher spiritual level, minor character flaws, things which wouldn’t be considered important in an average person’s life, can suddenly become great obstacles. For instance, white lies or the kind of slight exaggeration that might happen in business dealings may seem normal and even gracious, but when you are striving for a very high level of honesty, these things might bring you down. At that level, something that might look like an “honest mistake” can still harm, because it comes from a lack of awareness and intention. This is like the chamets: when we ascend, the shmutz we carry inside us and the habits and have learned to ignore can “come back and wake up”.

    How can a person fight that when it happens? Perhaps by becoming more *fluid* (i.e., liquid), less fixed on a particular idea of who you are, less focused on ego—in other words, by reaching again just a bit higher. And of course, it’s a never-ending cycle. As Rebbe Nachman (and many others) taught, there is no standing still on the spiritual plane. If you’re not growing then you’re regressing.

    The problem I know from experience. The solution (pun intended) can be a bit more elusive.

    In any case, I wish everyone a chance to get in touch with their inner chamets, and to transform it.

    A happy, kosher, and liberating Pesach!

    Rabbi David Seidenberg

  25. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Yachats: Sharing the Broken Piece

    At Yachats we split the middle matsah, hold up the smaller piece, and recite הא לחמא עניא Ha Lachma Anya – “This is the bread of poverty – let any who are hungry come and eat, let any who need come and make Pesach.” First I’ll share a d’rash, and then I’ll describe the Syrian custom for acting out leaving Egypt using the Afikoman right after Yachats. You can download a handout with the words and choreography of the Syrian afikoman ritual for use at your seder which also includes the d’rash below.

    Holding up this very broken-looking piece and reciting the words, “Let everyone who is hungry come and eat” is quite a stark image. According to our words, we aren’t inviting all those hungry people to share in the feast that will follow, or even to share the Afikoman that makes up the bigger half. The invitation is very literally to eat a fragment of a broken matsah that wouldn’t even be enough for one person.

    What does it really mean to hold up this small piece of matsah and invite anyone who is hungry to come share it? That is the question I held with me all night through the first seder a few years ago. Here are two answers that came to me:

    1) Some people are most generous when they feel they have more than enough for themselves. Maybe I’ve set aside ten quarters to give out as I stroll down Broadway in the Upper West Side, knowing that I have ten dollars in my pocket for my own needs. Maybe I gave $200 to a charity knowing that a lot of that would go to taxes if I didn’t disburse it myself. This act of giving, good as it may be, creates a hierarchy, where one person is a benefactor and a recipient. But even the poorest person is mandated in Jewish law to give tsedakah. Economically, sharing the lechem oni, poor bread, means that we invite other hungry and needy people to truly join us, as equals, in our poverty. On a spiritual level, we invite others in despite our broken, limited perspective, without pretending to be able to see or understand the whole picture–which is represented by the afikoman.

    2) We live in a society in which everyone wants a “whole share” – enough stuff to feel equal to everyone else, with a little more to spare. If this is what it means to have “enough”, then all the world can’t provide enough cars and TV’s and 3 bedroom homes on 1/4 acre to take care of 6 billion people’s needs. If we only give when we feel like we have enough, that is what we model. If we give even when we have less than enough, all of it comes back to us in an abundance of what surrounds us, not of what we own, but what we fit into, a greater whole that is richer than any material riches. That is the afikoman, the bread of redemption.

    Syrian Yachats
    In my family, we follow the Syrian custom, taking a whole, round hand-made matsah and breaking it very carefully into one big piece like the letter dalet ד (imagine an open-mouthed Pacman) and a small piece (like the letter yod י) that is maybe 1/4 or at most 1/3 of a circle. (This can be hard to do with machine-made matzah because of the linear perforations.) The two pieces spell out the word yad יד “hand” – a symbol of the “yad chazakah”, the strong hand that liberated us form Egypt.
    The big piece is then wrapped in a cloth or afikoman cover and we act out a piece of leaving Egypt, in this way: Every person takes the afikoman in their right hand and holds it over their left shoulder, and recites these words from the Exodus story:

    “Misha’aortam ts’rurot b’simlotan al shechmam uv’nei Yisrael asu kid’var Moshe”
    משארתם צרורות בשמלותם על שכמם ובני ישראל עשו עדבר משה
    “What they had left was tied up in their clothing on their shoulders, and the children of Israel did what Moses had told them.” (Exodus 12:34-35)

    Each person says it according to whatever language they feel comfortable with. (There’s a teaching about this verse here on neohasid.) Then everyone (or the leader) asks them three questions and they answer, like this:

    Q: “Where are you coming from?” (in Arabic:) “Minwen jaiyeh?”
    A: “From Egypt!” “Mimitsrayim!”

    Q: “Where are you going?” “Lawen Raiyech?”
    A: “To Jerusalem!” “Liy’rushalayim!”

    Q: “What are you bringing?” “Ishu zawatak?”
    A: “Matsah and maror!” “Matzsah umaror!”

    The person holding the afikoman waves the bag over their head three times in a circle and then passes it to the next person. I always take the time for every person to do this ritual–it’s great fun and can be very dramatic. If you like you can just do the questions without the verse. In our family it would always be passed from the oldest down to the youngest, but now I usually just send it in a circle around the table. The afikoman is returned to the seder leader, who puts it down or hides it (the afikoman symbolizes redemption, which is hidden from us). Then the leader takes the small piece of matsah in hand and begins Magid.

    Reb Duvid Mevorach Seidenberg

  26. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler

    The Kabbalah of
    Chametz and

    A Passover Teaching from Gershon…

    מַצָה Matzoh is symbolic of simplicity and how that is a prerequisite to true liberation. Matzoh is absent of fluff, of additives, of חָמֵץ Cha’metz. It is simply a blend of Earth [flour] and Water baked in Fire just long enough to coalesce, not a moment more, and then quickly removed from Fire out into Air. It’s about basics, Earth, Fire and Water, unified by Air. The Hebrew word for “Air”, אַוִיר ah’veer, also implies emptiness, as in the blank, primordial space of Genesis, of Creation renewing. Any delay in this process invites enrichment, fermentation, elemental simplicity morphing into sophisticated complexity, and becomes then Cha’metz. “Matzoh is called לֶחֶם עוֹנִיlechem o’nee [bread of poverty]” wrote the 16th-century Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague, “because liberation requires us to become as the poor, in the sense of not being shackled in bondage to things, to stuff, to property, and thus more free to re-situate at will and begin anew than if there was attachment to much things and assets” ([MAHARAL] in his commentary on Hagadah shel Pesach, on Ha Lach’ma An’ya).

    Ironically, in the Torah’s account of the Jewish people’s liberation from bondage in Egypt, they are instructed to eat only Matzoh, to adopt a consciousness of “less,” of simplicity and elementals — yet, at the same time, they are also immersed in enrichment. They are given tons of gold, silver, copper, in jewelry, implements and utensils, in addition to flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and anything else they needed for their journey home (Exodus 12:35-38). So what’s with this Matzoh business, when the exodus was certainly not a time of simplicity consciousness? And what is meant by the reason for Matzoh being that they didn’t have time to allow the dough to rise because they were being hurried out of the land (Exodus 12:39)? The fact is that they had plenty of time to bake normal enriched loaves of bread before they left. They were readied for the exodus days before and then instructed to have a ritual sit-down feast the night before they were to actually leave (Exodus 12:11), and didn’t actually leave until the following morning (Exodus 12:23)!

    Then – listen to this – then, when forty-nine days later they arrive at Mount Sinai for the Great Revelation, they are told to commemorate this most special, most holy, most momentous event of the entire exodus with an offering that had to include not Matzoh but Cha’metz (Leviticus 23:17)! Cha’metz was the requirement for the ritual celebration of Shavu’ot, of the Revelatory experience at Sinai. One would suppose that the offerings for this lofty event ought to be Matzoh, the spiritual Bread of Simplicity, absent all the superfluity and enrichment of Cha’metz! Yet, it’s the other way around – Bread of Abstinence for the occasion of enrichment, and Bread of Enrichment for the occasion of abstinence. Bread of Scarcity for the time our ancestors were weighed down with gold and silver in their exodus from Egypt, and Bread of Plenty for the time our ancestors were instructed to become abstinent in preparation for receiving the Revelation at Sinai (Exodus 19:10-14). Matzoh for when we gorged ourselves on the flesh of lamb, and Cha’metz for when Moses fasted forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28).

    This is not a question. This is the very lesson inherent in the ritual of Cha’metz and Matzoh. It is about a life lived in balance betwixt both. This is Judaism 101, a way of living that is neither about simplicity nor superfluity, but both; that is neither about spirituality nor physicality, but both; that is neither about abstinence or indulgence, but both. And that any attempt to live one way to the dismissal of the other is doomed to failure, subject to distortion, and bound to go the way of most relics and end up in the museum.

    The lesson of the rituals of Cha’metz and Matzoh, and each their respective place in our lives is played-out daily in front of our eyes in the drama of fundamentalism across the religious denominational board. Religious extremism emerges out of an obsession with Matzoh consciousness to the dismissal of Cha’metz consciousness no less than hedonistic extremism emerges out of an obsession with Cha’metz consciousness to the dismissal of Matzoh consciousness. Our ancestors were being taught that during those times when we are being enriched we need to remember where the gift of that enrichment is coming from, lest we declare: “My own power and the might of my own hand has made possible all of this accomplishment” (Deuteronomy 8:17), and so they were told to eat the Bread of Simplicity not because they didn’t have time to bake normal bread but because they “could not delay” as in they were instructed not to focus too long on the physical form of their enrichment to the point of losing awareness its spiritual origin. And by the same token, they were instructed during the time of the Great Divine Revelation at Sinai to not lose themselves in the ecstasy of Spirit to the neglect of the gift of Embodiment by celebrating ritually with Cha’metz.

    So on Passover, the Israelites were told to “not delay,” to not allow the dough to rise any longer than, say, 15-18 minutes, which explains what happened during the incident of the Golden Calf when those of the fundamental extreme sort were still stuck on Matzoh consciousness when the time now called for Cha’metz consciousness, and being stuck on Matzoh consciousness, they reacted with extremism when Moses “delayed” in returning when he was supposed to! He did not come down from the mountain within those proverbial 15-18 minutes, which, to the fundamental extremists still stuck in Matzoh consciousness, made Moses Cha’metz! And so they willingly yanked off their forms of enrichment, their Cha’metz, ear-rings, nose rings and the such, and cast them into the Fire, into the Matzoh oven, and it turned into exactly what it was that they were worshiping by being stuck in one way of seeing things: an idol, a Golden Calf, an edifice of gold, of Cha’metz, which Moses then melts down for them to drink (Exodus 32:20) in order to imbue them with their own Cha’metz, their own inner demons that had compelled them to react as they did to Moses’ delay, to Moses returning from the Realm of Spirit with two stone tablets comprised of both Matzoh and Cha’metz , of spirit and the embodiment of spirit.

    The lesson of Cha’metz and Matzoh is an important one, to do our best to walk neither to the extreme left nor the extreme right but to bide our time somewhere in between, knowing when to tune into our Matzoh consciousness, in times when we are blessed with the enrichment of physical indulgence, and when to tune into our Cha’metz consciousness, such as in times when we are blessed with the inspiration of spiritual elation. Like the second-century Rabbi El’azar ben Azariah taught: “If there is no flour, there is no Torah; and if there is no Torah, there is no flour” (Mishnah, Avot 3:17).

    Wishing you all an amazingly liberating Passover!

  27. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    The root of the telling
    To be across from
    As if in the telling —
    The correspondence between
    Language and the thing itself;

    It’s the story Haggadah
    The telling
    Not the thing itself;

    So the root n-g-d is the telling
    Making the correspondence
    Between what you say
    And what is;

    Teach it, said Onlelos
    To tell your story
    Is to teach it.

  28. Wendy

    From Kol Aleph

    Pesach Prayer: Miriam’s Cup, by Rabbi Sue Mauer Morningstar

    We raise this cup to celebrate the legacy of Miriam:
    holy prophet, compassionate protector,
    graceful healer and midwife, giver of life and water,
    whose miraculous well followed the Children of Israel
    throughout our wanderings in the desert.

    We celebrate the freedom of women
    in this particular place
    at this particular time,
    to sing out to God in joy,
    with full, strong voices
    with timbrels and dance
    and without fear.

    In the merit of our singing foremothers
    Miriam, Channah, Devorah, Serach bat Asher, the Shulamite
    and the women who came out to greet King David…

    In the memory of our bubbies,
    many of whom did not enjoy and could not even imagine
    the freedoms we take for granted today…

    And in humble recognition of our sisters
    in repressive religious regimes around the world today
    who are not free to sing out and to worship God in joy, we say:

    The time for silencing women is over!
    Sing out to God a new song!
    שׁירוּ לה’ שׁיר חדשׁ!

    בְּרוּכָה יָה שְׁכִינָה אֵם כּל חַי שֶׁהַכּל נִהְיֶה בִּדְבָרָה
    Brucha Yah Schechinah eym kol chai shehakol nihyeh bidvarah.
    Blessed are you Holy One, mother of all life: everything exists by your words.

  29. Wendy

    From Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies

    Reb Mimi Feigelson

    What Do You Need to Believe In Order To Leave Egypt?

    Torah Reading: Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30
    Haftarah Reading: Malachi 3:4-24

    Walking into the breakfast-room of a vegan health retreat a decade ago I was greeted by a morning challenge – “Yah, you can ask Mimi, she believes!!!” My cover was about to be blown. When asked to my profession in such places I would never say “Rabbi” or articulate the words “Mysticism” or “Kabbalah,” for such words would kill my private time while flying or being on retreat. I would always say: “I’m a philosophy professor” and if pushed for details I would respond: “I teach late medieval / early modern Eastern European philosophy.” This usually brought this line of interrogation to a halt long enough for me to pose a counter question and the conversation would move on from there. Only once in the last fifteen years did someone get close to interpreting this as “Chassidic thought”. Close, but thank God, not close enough to reveal my secret.

    So here I am, a Wednesday morning in the heat of Floridian summer morning when I’m greeted with, Stan calling out to Doris: “Yah, you can ask Mimi, she believes!!!” Doris and I had taken a liking to each other since the beginning of the week – she was an African-American woman in her forties, and I could hear by her language and way of conducting herself that she was a woman of faith. A faith that held God close to one’s heart and soul. A faith that I respected, as it offered a quality of intimacy with the Divine. Smiling, she turns to me and says: “You believe in the Bible?” “I do,” I responded quietly. “You believe in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?” “I do,” responding slowly. Then came: “And the splitting of the Red Sea???” It was at this point that I couldn’t hold back and loudly blurted out in a southern-Baptist accent: “Sistah, I believe! I believe that God created heaven and earth! I believe that He planted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden! And the Lord then split the Red Sea and we walked through it! Sistah, I believe, I believe, Glory Halleluiah, I believe, I believe, I believe!!!” shaking my hands towards the heavens. Stan turns white as a sheet, thinking that I have insulted Doris and all that is holy in her eyes. But I knew that we were women of faith having an “inside conversation” while in public. Her eyes lit up and she retorted: “Sistah, not only do you believe, you have a sense of humor!” and the two of us, holding each other, burst into a loud laugh.

    I was reminded of this moment when rereading the last few verses of our haftorah for Shabbat Hagadol – a special reading for the shabbat before Pessach – singling out Mal’achi 3, 23-24: “Behold I will send you Eliyah the prophet, before the coming of the great (HaGadol) and dreadful / awe-filled (HaNorah) day of God; And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…”

    I find myself tearing as reading and now writing these words. I ask myself if I believe this is possible. Is it possible to turn life around? Is it possible to rectify pains of the past in a way that will enable me to move forward?

    Seder night, there will be a moment that all those sitting at the table with me will be given a candle and together we will go outside to look for Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet. We will leave the security of the table and honor that last part of us that has been hiding all night – listening to all we were saying, and perhaps more than anything wanting to believe, but none-the-less, not believing. Not believing that the reason that we start the seder with Kaddesh (holy) is because we are all HOLY. Indeed that is the secret of Matzah – eighteen minutes from the moment water touches the flour and it is continuously kneaded is matzah, but eighteen minutes and one second already constitutes chametz – the leavening has begun! Matzah is the Master of the One Second! It is all it takes to transform one’s life – one second.

    I always remind myself that on Yom Kippur (this shabbat’s Torah reading is the reading of Yom Kippur as well) it is only the High-Priest that goes into the Holy of Holies to face the One-and-only. But seder night we are all Holy, we are all on the level of “Kaddesh” from the first moment we approach the table. We are all deserving to sit at God’s table.

    And so, a moment before Hallel and Nirtzah, a moment before concluding the seder with praise of God and trusting that all that we have done throughout the night has been accepted in God’s arms and heart, we will go out to look for Eliyahu HaNavi. I do trust that along with him we will also find Miriam HaNevi’ah, Miriam the Prophetess, for she is the Master of waiting. She is the one who waits to see what will be of Moshe: “And his sister stood afar (me’rachock – a word used time and again in our scripture to describe the place from where God reveals Gods-self to us) to know what will become of him” (Shmot/Exodus 2,4).

    It is Eliyahu HaNavi, the Master of Transformation in One Second, that brings us to the seder table. Eliyahu HaNavi partners with Miriam HaNeviah. She is the Master of waiting. She waits to make sure that we are alright, that someone has found us, and our refuge is present; that we made it through the night and have found all that we need to be able to sing words of praise to God. To trust that our actions were desirable in the eyes and heart of our Creator, and the seder is complete. We have made it through the night, we have made it out of Egypt!

    This shabbat evokes our Eliyahu HaNavi consciousness, asking of us to believe in the possibility of transformation; to trust in the opportunity of liberation from all that enslaves us.

    For myself, I will add a shabbat candle this week honoring and evoking the presence of Eliyahu and Miriam, as my preparation for exiting Mitzrayim / Egypt. This is what I need to believe in to make my way out and begin my journey to freedom.

    What is it that you need to believe in to make your way out of Mitzrayim / Egypt?

    As one who has been gifted with the name Miriam, I will be waiting for you, on the other side of Yam Soof, the Reed Sea, to dance together into the next chapters of our lives!

    Shabbat shalom and chag sameach!

  30. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

    LEAVE 2014

    As though it were easy.
    Just sling my jacket
    over my shoulder
    and head out the door.

    As though it didn’t mean
    walking away
    from every awful certainty
    I’ve ever known.

    I didn’t want to belong
    to power, instrument
    of an unknown agenda.
    Forgot how to be anything else.

    And what if
    my fears are right, if
    there are no benevolent arms
    to greet me on the other side?

    The time to strike
    is when the opportunity presents.
    Full moon to light the way.
    Ahead, unknown terrain.

    You want me to trust
    I can be more than this.
    Strong enough
    to choose to believe.

  31. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler

    Purim: An Important Teaching About Passover
    From Rabbi Gershon….

    It behooves you to know this, that the Hebrew word we translate as “pass over” — פֶּסַח (pe’sach)– is spelled exactly the same as the Hebrew word for “lame” — פִּסֵחַ(pee’say’ach) — as in not being able to walk evenly, or with ease.

    The meaning behind this highly-regarded annual celebration is thus encrypted within a word that at the same time and in the same breath implies both the act of skipping and of limping, both acts of un-evenness, of jaggedness, of irregularity, even abnormality. It is no more or less even and indiscriminate and smooth and orderly and harmonious to pass over one place as opposed to another than it is to walk in a jolting, lopsided cadence. In both instances, we skip spaces otherwise graced by our presence had the situation been one of regularity and evenness. In both instances, we defy predictability with disorderly gestures of chance, every moment an act of casting lots…you know, as in Purim, the earlier holiday we celebrated a full moon ago. Because, you see, Purim – which literally translates as “lotteries” — is very much a clue to the mystique of Passover, a mystique all but lost on us when the rites of Passover came to an abrupt and tragic halt with the Babylonian invasion and ensuing exile of our people 2,500 years ago. For well over 800 years, we had been doing Passover uninterruptedly. And now, all of a sudden, we found ourselves severed not only from our ancestral homeland but also from the very rituals that had nurtured us as a nation for centuries, rituals that were based on and dated to the initial rites of Passover in the days when we first left Egypt.

    And so months passed, even years. And we lost touch with Passover. It would never be the same. We were now living in lands which considered our ways alien, subject to cultures ridden with xenophobia – or, said differently: Judeophobia. No more altar, no more Passover sacrifice, no more connection to that which the Passover story itself – the Exodus – was all about: liberation from the dictates of others, restoration of our unique sense of selfhood and independence, and return to our native habitat. All of this was gone. Along with Passover, the very time-marker and determinant of the cycle of all the other sacred festivals, everything else about our identity slowly began to crumble, and the eternal flame of Israel flickered in the unforgiving winds of change and chance. And the series of unfortunate events continued unabated, heading downhill with a velocity that only intensified with the passing of every moon. And then the decree went out all across the mighty Persian Empire, which had swallowed whole the mighty Babylonian Empire before it, that the entire Jewish population was to be exterminated. The struggling flame of a dying people was to simply be extinguished on a day chosen by chance, determined by the casting of lots, by the whim of chaos.

    And then, as unexpectedly as was any change in the evenness of one event following another, of one era of misfortune streaming at the tail of another, it got all turned around. The current was suddenly thrown in reverse, the force of chance turned against itself and recast the lots, the Purim, and the prey overcame the predator, the downtrodden overwhelmed the oppressor, and the flickering flame of a nation almost lost fanned into a flame to be reckoned with. And we were restored. And we went home. And we reconstructed what had fallen, and we restored Passover – and ipso facto all the other festivals.

    And we learned the deeper meaning of Passover. That it is within the very unpredictable and chance nature of chaos that the highest gifts emerge, that the true meaning of liberation shines forth, and that Creation’s unfolding is enabled (Genesis 1:2). It is in the absence where one discovers the presence, in the passing over more so than in the stopping to say hello. In the doubt, in the uncertainty, in the unknown, in the unpredictable, in the unexpected, in the unevenness of our life journey. It is precisely there, in those dark places, those empty passed-over gaps, skipped-over jagged spaces yet untouched by our limping walk – precisely in those chasms of nothingness, of void, where renewal is seeded, where possibility is impregnated, and where God waits to be discovered.

    The Purim teaching of Passover is this: The links in the chain of those events in our lives that seem to forever keep us restrained in captivity to unrelenting patterns and to our “lot” in life are exactly that – links. In themselves they are powerless, held together by means of the empty spaces within their circumference without which they cannot connect, they cannot continue. Our challenge is to redirect our focus on the links to focusing on the emptiness within them. For there is far more space outside and within the links that stream the chain of events in our lives than the finite nature of the links themselves. To liberate ourselves from the clutches of predictability and from the influential forces of statistical assumptions we need to celebrate Passover as it was meant to be celebrated, with Purim, with the casting of lots, with the in-your-face chutzpah of singing the song of chaos and chance so that chaos and chance does not overwhelm us but rather transform us and renew us. And we originally did so by dabbing the blood of life and death all across the passageways of our abodes, because the chaotic chance dance of life and death is so totally unpredictable, so uneven, so thoroughly unfair and irregular that we often go haywire trying to control it with diet, with exercise, with research and theories and axioms and statistics and….

    Let it go. Passover is here. And we have a deeper understanding of it because of Purim. That all we have is matzoh, which is nothing more or less than earth (flour), fire (oven), and water, baked in the cauldron of chance, forged in the crackling flames of irregularity, and coalesced by the chaos of wind.

    But always punched through and through with teeny-tiny holes of emptiness to prevent the resurgence of normalcy and regularity.

    Life, after all, is a personal, interpersonal and transpersonal encounter (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) with the God of chance and chaos, the God who reveals itself in the moment, challenging us with invitations into the unknown and the uncertain and who is at the same time the very same God who is always reaching deep into the fathomless corners of Genesis to thread the continuity of living and becoming. This is the God of Israel, who, unlike other gods, is unknowable, unpredictable, far from any assumptions, absent any definition, the God of the blood of life and of the blood of death, the God who in the same breath tells Abraham to sacrifice his son and to not. This is the God of Passover, re-introduced to us through the mystical story of Purim as told in the ancient Scroll of Esther, the only sacred scripture of the Hebrew nation that makes absolutely no mention of God while recounting one of the greatest miracles in Jewish history. As if to say: “God is in the Absence,” in the “passing over.” Not face to face as is described in the story of Moses our Teacher. That didn’t do it for him, and now we know why. It was only in the “passing by,” in the “passing over,” that Moses is actually able to catch so much as a genuine glimpse of God.

    Passover is an opportunity, then, to take a few days off and join our mortal minds with the God Mind, to embrace the creative force of paradox and contradiction, to celebrate the divine mystery of chaos and order, and to meander joyfully in the chasm of mystery that spans between them – in the emptiness of the desert that spanned between Egypt and Canaan.

    חג כשר ושמח

  32. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


    If I had any pull with God, everything you need
    would appear right now in front of you.

    A door would open and inside it
    a rose-strewn path, the yearned-for embrace.

    I’d take the broken pieces of the afikomen
    and restore them as if by magic.

    But that isn’t how it works. God isn’t
    a diner waitress saying what can I get you, hon?

    That’s why our sages taught: a clay vessel
    is purified when it breaks and is glued.

    A human heart, charged with a lifetime’s losses
    becomes real when lovingly mended.

    All I can do: ask God to cradle your heart
    in Her own hands and make you whole.

  33. Aryae Post author

    Highlights from a two-hour teaching by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi given 4/5/1981 at the B’nai Or Religious Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. Great nuggets for preparing for the Pesach seder.

    Listen here!

  34. Wendy

    From Rabbi Arthur Waskow

    [Early in the Seder, perhaps after the Four Questions, we lift the Seder plate and people around the table read these lines — each person, one line or paragraph:]

    “Why is there charoset on the Seder plate? That’s the most secret Question at the Seder – nobody even asks it. And it’s got the most secret answer: none.

    “You’ve probably heard somebody claim that charoset is the mortar the ancient Israelite slaves had to paste between the bricks and stones of those giant warehouses they we re building for Pharaoh.

    “But that’s a cover story. You think that mortar was so sweet, so spicy, so delicious that every ancient Israelite just had to slaver some mortar on his tongue?

    “OK, maybe it’s a midrash? Warning that slavery may come to taste sweet, and this is itself a deeper kind of slavery?

    “No. The oral tradition transmitted by charoset is not by word of mouth but taste of mouth. A kiss of mouth. A full-bodied “kisses sweeter than wine” taste of mouth

    “Charoset is an embodiment of by far the earthiest, kissyest, bodyest book of the Hebrew Bible —— the Song of Songs. Charoset is literally a full-bodied taste of the Song. The Song is the recipe for charoset.

    “The ‘recipe’ appears in verses from the Song:

    “Feed me with apples and with raisin-cakes;

    “Your kisses are sweeter than wine;

    “The scent of your breath is like apricots;

    “Your cheeks are a bed of spices;

    “The fig tree has ripened;

    “Then I went down to the walnut grove.

    “Mix these and you will taste love among human beings and love between the Earth and human Earthlings. For the Song is the Garden of Eden for a grown-up human race, and charoset is the foretaste of Delight.”

  35. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler

    The Three Dimensions of Matzoh
    A Passover Teaching from Gershon…

    “Passover teaches us about the Creation of the Universe,” wrote the16th-century Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham (Sefer Ha’Sh’LaH, Mesechet Pesachim, Perek Torah Ohr, No. 11). In our Creation story, the drama of Genesis begins with the Spirit Breath of Elo’heem wavering over the stillness of Emptiness which then awakens to the moisture of the God Breath to become Presence in the form of what we call Water [“And the Breath of Elo’heem, She hovered over the waters”], which in turn awakens to the heat of the God Breath to become what we call Fire and Light, [“And God said, ‘Let the Fiery Light become,’ and the Fiery Light became”], the combination of which then coalesced into primordial matter, or what we call Earth, out of which That-Which-Never-Was evolved toward becoming That-Which-is-Yet-to-Be.
    The primary composites of Genesis — Breath, Fire, Earth and Water – happen to be the sole ingredients of what constitutes matzoh, the mainstay of the Passover Ritual, which is comprised only of flour (earth) and water baked in the fire — an alchemical event rendered possible by the Breath of Elo’heem, or what we call “air.”
    In fact, the ancient sages would place ten pieces of leavened foods or crumbs in ten different corners of their homes during the day before Passover – symbolic of the Ten Utterances by which Creation unfolded (Mishnah, Avot 5:1), as in the ten times Creator called various aspects of existence into…um…existence. They would then search by candlelight for these crumbs after nightfall, gather them up, and save them until morning when they would burn them with the intent of eradicating the negative energies from the planet, and creating thereby space for a new Genesis, as in Creation renewed. All of this is interconnected with the theme of Passover since Passover occurs on and celebrates the renewal of our Earth at the onset of the Season of Renewal: Spring. It’s also about our people’s emergence from out of the constriction of slavery in Egypt, which coincided with the season when the fruits of Earth emerge from out of the constriction of Winter.
    And who were the leaders who guided us out of Egypt? Who were the tillers and harvesters who dug us out of our Winter? Air, Fire and Water, known in the Kabbalah as the Three Mothers of Creation who birthed and sustained Earth (Sefer Yetzirah 3:1)
    . In the Passover-Exodus story, the Three Mothers were embodied by the three personas who led us out of Egypt and guided us through the wilderness: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Micah 6:4). In the merit of Moses, the ancients tell us, the people were nurtured by the miraculous manna; in the merit of Miriam, they had water (the famous Well of Miriam); and in the merit of Aaron, they were protected by the hovering Cloud of Glory (Talmud Bav’li, Ta’anit 9b).
    This illustrious trio represented the ever-renewing energies of Genesis, of Air, Fire, and Water by which Creation, i.e., the people, were sustained during their forty-year journey through the desert, across the Abyss of Emptiness and of the Chaos that churned within and around them. Moses was Air, the life-breath and spirit that – like the heavenly manna which manifested in the earthly realm — nourished us spiritually and physically; Miriam was Water, the force that conjured and opened up the potentials seeded within us; and Aaron was Fire, the alchemical force that kindled our individual and communal transformation by way of the “Pillar of Cloud,” which linked the realm of the corporeal to that of Spirit.
    The three siblings who led us out of Egypt were also the Keepers of the Three Initiations (Mishnah, Avot 4:13): Initiation of Torah (Guidance), Initiation of Kehunah (Ritual), and Initiation of Mal’chut (Sovereignty), or: Translator, Facilitator, and Arbitrator. Moses became Keeper of Torah, as he translated to us the Divine Guidance; Aaron became Keeper of Kehunah, as he facilitated the ritual unification of Spirit and Embodiment; and Miriam became Keeper of Mal’chut, as she arbitrated the survival and perpetuity of Moses in her negotiations with the daughter of the Pharaoh (Exodus 2:4), and in her conjuring of water for the people and their flocks throughout the 40-year trek across the desert. In fact, the initiation of the rulers of ancient Israel was traditionally performed at the site of a wellspring (Talmud Bav’li, Keritut 5b), thus a further connection between Water (Miriam) and Mal’chut (Sovereignty).
    As descendants of Abraham, the ancients further taught us, the merits and initiations accorded Moses, Aaron and Miriam were in turn gifted to them in the merit of Abraham’s conduct around hospitality toward strangers (Talmud Bav’li, Baba Mezia 86b), particularly as depicted in his encounter with the three wayfarers who actually turn out to be angels (Genesis 18:2-8). And it goes like this:
    Abraham said to them: “Please take some water.” In the merit of this, the people had water through Miriam, Keeper of Sovereignty, of the force of amalgamation – Mal’chut. Water, after all, is a globally shared commodity unifying all of Creation, thus merging all diversity. As guardian of Water, Miriam watched over her infant brother Moses as he floated down the mighty Nile (Exodus 2:4)
    , the brother who would one day become infused with that quality of sovereignty needed to unify the diverse elements that comprised the Twelve Tribes and the mixed multitudes of other peoples that left Egypt (Exodus 12:38). But no sooner than did Miriam pass on to the next world when the water vanished (Numbers 20:1-2).
    Abraham said: “Let me get for you some pieces of bread so that you might restore yourselves,” and then had butter, milk and meat prepared for them as well. In the merit of this, the people were fed manna in the wilderness through Moses, Keeper of that which restores body and soul – Torah (Psalms 19:8).
    Abraham then hovered over his guests while they ate and drank beneath the shade of a tree. In the merit of this, the people were sheltered by the hovering Cloud of Glory through Aaron, Keeper of that which awakens awareness of Divine Presence — Kehunah.
    This is all well and good. But there is one piece to this series of associations that is missing. You see, a fourth event in Abraham’s encounter with the three wayfarers was his request to Sarah that she bake some pastries, a request that is left unanswered. The Torah narrative leaves us guessing: Did she, or did she not bake those cinnamon rolls? Not a clue. We are left hanging. The milk is served, the meat is brought, the butter, the bread…but Sarah’s famous pastries? Not a sign or word. Instead, the Torah quietly backs off and redirects us to some unrelated talk about pregnancy.
    Like a good Jewish husband, Abraham makes no stink about it and lets it go. The angels, however, are curious; as if they’d heard rumors across all Seven Heavens about Sarah’s pastries and were looking forward to tasting some. Maybe they’d even volunteered for the mission because of it. They ask: “Where is Sarah, your wife?” Not just “Where is Sarah?” but for gossake, Abe, she’s your wife! and she’s not responding to your order of hamantashen! And from what we read in The Idiot’s Guide to Humans in regard to the roles of husbands and wives in virtually every culture, something is way off here!
    And Abraham replies simply: “Sarah is in her tent” (Genesis 18:9). She is in her space. Our way is different. She is not beholden to me or to my whims. She is not obliged to walk her life pace in cadence with mine. She is her own person. Just because I invited you guys doesn’t mean she too must stop what she’s doing and rise to my occasion.
    Indeed. For the wording in the text is clear: Sarah is not in atent, or in thetent. She is in hertent.
    While Abraham is busy tending to Other, in other words, Sarah is busy tending to Self. Abraham’s focus is from inward outward; he sits at the doorway of the tent (Genesis 18:1). Sarah’s focus is from outward inward; she sits within the tent, albeit very aware of what is happening outside as well (Genesis 18:9-10). Both qualities are important. Both are sacred. Later, one of their descendants would put it together in these famous words: “You shall love your neighbor (other) as your self.” It is the balance of both, the combined sanctity of both – not one to the neglect of the other – that constitutes Holiness. The next few words that follow that very same dictum are: “I am YHWH” – I am the ineffable, the unfathomable, the transcendent, the Holy (Leviticus 19:18). Thus we have the formula of Self+Other=Holy.

    A vital requirement of human life is transitive concern, a regard for others, in addition to a reflexive concern, an intense regard for itself….If life is holy, as we believe it is, then self-regard is that which maintains the holy. Regard for the self becomes only a vice by association: when associated with complete or partial disregard for other selves. Thus the moral task is not how to disregard one’s own self but how to discover and be attentive to another self (Abraham Joshua Heschel in Man is not Alone, pp. 138 and 141).

    Water of Above/Water of Below/Mal’chut=Other
    Fire/Cloud of Glory/Kehunah=Holy

    The Messianic hope of the Seder ritual is that the Three Mothers of Creation, the earth, fire and water elements symbolized by matzoh, will bring us all closer to a quality of consciousness of Self and Other that will be sufficiently clear of leavening and additives, of religious agendas and cultural delusions and political insanities so that we might truly embody the Holy.

    This longing is starkly dramatized in the sense of incompleteness in the Seder ritual of the three matzo’t. The three matzo’t – of Self, Other, and Holy — are highlighted throughout most of the Seder ritual, in the course of which the middle matzoh is broken into two pieces, one kept with the two whole matzo’t, the other hidden away for the purpose, the hope of being discovered and retrieved at the end of the process. Which of the three is to become the incomplete one longing for restoration? The Holy. For the hope is yet that the Kehunah — the Holy — will be restored, absent all of the leavening and enrichment of religion and politics that blur the liberating simplicity that is Holiness, as symbolized in the Matzoh.

    That is why we conclude the Seder with singing about our faith that “Next Year in Jerusalem!” Because we are still not there. We still cannot pray on the Temple Mount. We still struggle with connecting with the ineffable, with the One Who still seeks us, with the One by whom we still feel abandoned. The chasm between the mystery of Self and the mystery of Other –whether between Creation and Creator, or between parents and children or friends and lovers, wives and husbands — still waits for restoration, for the return of the missing piece to the Holy, to that ever-elusive glue that will some day bind as one what has been separated too far apart and for too long, through Aaron the Peacemaker (Mishnah, Avot, 1:12).

    The Cup of Elijah. Let it overflow this time. For he is bound to be far more thirsty than ever. And as for those of you who also include the Cup of Miriam, please leave the wine out and fill it with water. Give her the honors she is due, respect her for what she gifted our ancestors, so that we too might drink from the qualities of which she will always remain Keeper.

    An amazing Passover to all.

  36. Wendy


    NiSh’ma: Dayenu

    By Rabbi Hannah Dresner:

    Midrash Rabba (Kohelet 3:15) helps us to understand the merit of pausing after each of the episodes chronicled in the “Dayenu,” recalling that the Israelites were traumatized and in need of respite. They needed to eat rejuvenating manna and drink from healing wells before standing at Mount Sinai. Each event was “enough” in its moment; each required integration. But the implication is that redemption, alone, was not enough, and all else would follow in due course. Through this lens, redemption from Egypt already contains within it the eventuality of revelation at Sinai, conflating into that initiating episode a series of historical events that unfolded through the period of the Great Temple.
    The Sfat Emet (Reb Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger), teaches that in seeing ourselves as having participated in the Exodus, we must imagine emancipation from our own narrow straits, in an ever-occurring deliverance. Just as the Torah received at Sinai was an extension of the biblical redemption, so, too, “the redemptions of the future will be followed by quests into unknown territory, as we search for the new paths that will be created.” (Sfat Emet 3:86)
    In other words, we must do everything in our power to work toward liberation from the bondage of our time, and we must understand that this work will lead to a new, as yet unknown, torah that supports liberation from contemporary categories of evil. Emancipation in our moment is “enough” when it moves beyond tokenism, when it leads us to commandments that dissolve the enslaving constructs that pervade our society, and when it brings us to personal and collective sacrifice in the great temple devoted to human dignity.

  37. Wendy

    From The American Jewish World Service

    Ten Lessons from the Haggadah for Jewish Activists

    By Joseph Gindi and Leah Kaplan Robins
    Fuel up to fight for freedom. The Passover Seder is modeled after a Greek symposium, a long discussion centered around a meal. The Greeks and the Rabbis knew that you can’t be present when your stomach is growling, so, they included appetizers (karpas, marror and matzah) to kick off this epic feast. Next time you organize, rally or protest for change, follow their example and make sure you have the fuel to focus on freedom.

    Generosity leads to justice. We begin telling the Passover story by pointing to the matzah and saying, “This is the bread of affliction … All who are hungry come and eat.” Although all we have is the meager matzah, which represents the deprivation faced by our ancestors, the first thing that we do is share it with others. Be generous with your time, resources and hope. This will bring freedom closer for all.

    Remember, we’re part of something bigger. In the Torah, Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt; but in the traditional Haggadah, Moses isn’t even mentioned once. Instead, it stresses that God brought out the Israelites “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” The Haggadah teaches us that the fight for freedom is bigger than any one leader. When the struggle is hard, when we feel discouraged, we can gain strength by remembering that we are not alone. Look to a higher power or to fellow activists for inspiration to carry on.

    Meet people where they are. The Seder introduces us to four children, each of whom has a different relationship to the Exodus story. Just as the Haggadah addresses each child with an answer they can relate to, when you organize for social change, find out what motivates people and tailor your approach accordingly.

    Know who came before you. The Haggadah begins the Exodus story long before Moses said “Let my people go.” It begins many generations back, when Abraham went down to Egypt and came back out. Perhaps the Haggadah is telling us that Moses gained strength in his mission from knowing that Abraham succeeded before him. Follow suit by getting inspired by those who have fought these same fights before you.

    There’s power in numbers. According to the Haggadah, the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites because they feared the small tribe would band with others and become powerful. “Come,” Pharaoh said, “let us act cunningly with [the Israelite people] lest they multiply and … join our enemies against us.” The solidarity the Egyptians’ feared is one of our greatest assets: Join forces with others to amplify your power to bend the arc of history toward justice.

    Balance righteous anger with peaceful tactics. There’s a debate within every Seder about the use of force. The Haggadah revels in the power of the plagues to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. And yet, when we recount these violent acts, we pour out some of our wine in remembrance of the suffering they caused the Egyptians. The lesson? Harness your indignation to influence others, but be careful not to do harm.

    Get moving. The Israelites didn’t have time to finish baking their bread, but the Exodus had begun! They threw the raw dough on their backs and began their journey. If they had waited for the bread to rise, they would have missed their chance to move from slavery to freedom. Taking a cue from the matzah-bakers, plan your campaigns carefully, but recognize when it’s time to stop planning and start taking action.

    Celebrate small victories—Dayenu! This famous song proclaims that we would have been satisfied even if God hadn’t taken our people all the way to freedom. Had God punished the Egyptians but not taken the Israelites out of Egypt—it would have been enough. Had God taken them out of Egypt but not brought them out of the wilderness, it would have been enough. But, of course, this isn’t so. What good is it to punish evildoers, without actually rescuing the vulnerable? What good is it to escape bondage only to wander without a home? In the spirit of Dayenu, embrace each small victory with gratitude, even as you continue working for the freedom of all.

    Believe that change is possible. The Seder celebrates transformation: the bitter marror is sweetened by the sweet charoset. The matzah, which begins as the bread of affliction, becomes the afikoman, the bread of freedom. As activists, the payoff in our work is the knowledge that we can transform the world. Just as we end the Seder with the taste of the afikoman on our lips, we must savor the feeling that we are making a difference.

  38. Wendy

    From Eve Ilsen

    This business of searching out once a year what has been hiding in the corners is both bracing and embarrassing. I always look forward to it and dread it in equal measure.
    I return to the imaginal exercise of my teacher, z’l, Mme. Colette, of cleaning out my own heart—
    (טהר לבינו לעבדך באמת…Purify our hearts to serve You truly.) Always such a job; in the cracks and corners, like the crud in the seams of drawers, hide the things I’d rather not even see myself, let alone allow to be seen, even by G-d.
    Yes, this is also the content we deal with in the Fall during the High Holy Days; but it is different now. First of all, it is Spring; and secondly, the practices, both concrete and symbolic, have a whole other flavor. We are not about to turn inward and germinate during the winter; rather, we are coming out of incubation, with our leaves and buds.
    May it be a true and fruitful season for us all.

  39. Wendy

    From HA’OROT – The lights of Rav Kook

    Posted on his website by Rabbi Itzchak Mamorstein

    “The core of freedom is to be…loyal to our inner essence; to the ‘Tzelem Elokeem-Divine Image’ that is within us”.

    In Erev Pesach 5694/April 30, 1934 Rav Kook TZ’L wrote an impassioned call to freedom as his Pesach message to the children of Israel. He was weakened from the disease that felled him two weeks before his 70th birthday a year and half after this was written. It was published in HaYesod, a newspaper of the time and has the special significance of being one of the last public statements we have from him.

    When the Rav Kook Haggadah was collected, this piece introduced the seder. As my Korban Pesach/Offering, please allow me to share selections of it on the eve of the Pesach we are approaching. The Hebrew is included.

    It is entitled- Cherutenu-Our Freedom and the Burning of Chametz:

    .אלה השנים המסמנים לנו את חג הגאולה”

    ? ולדורות מה אנחנו למדים מאלה שני הנושאים הללו התלויים זה בזה

    Freedom and the burning of chametz symbolize for us the Chag HaGeula-Festival of Liberation. What are we to learn for all generations from these two interdependent realms?

    תשובה הנצחית היא, שתנאי הגאולה שנים המה:

    החירות העצמית, חירות הגוף מכל שיעבוד זר, מכל שיעבוד הכופה את צלם אלקים אשר באדם להיות משועבד לכל כח אשר הוא מוריד את ערכו, את תפארת גדולתו והדרת קדשו, והחירות הזאת אינה נקנית כי אם על ידי חירותה .של הנשמה

    חירות הרוח מכל מה שהוא מטה אותו ממסילתה הישרה והאיתנה היצוקה במהותו העצמית.

    אבל אלה שני סוגי החירות אינם באים, ואין האדם בתור אישיות פרטית ולא העם בתור קיבוץ שלם בעל רוח מיוחד זוכה להם, כי אם על ידי הביעור מכל גבולו את כל דבר המעכב את חירותו, שזה חמצו השאור שבעיסה שהיזקו מצוי ביותר בעת אשר אור של גאולה מתנוצץ עליו

    The eternal answer is that there are two conditions necessary for liberation to occur. The first is cherut haguf/ freedom of the body [our physical experience] from any external enslavement, from any enslavement that subdues our Tzelem Elokim/Divine Image. Freedom from anything that reduces our sense of value, our splendrous greatness and glorious holiness.

    This Cherut/Freedom can not be reached except through freedom of soul. This is the freedom of the spirit from anything that diverts it away from its direct powerful path- cast of its inner essence.

    These two types of freedoms do not come, to individuals or nations, except by the act of biur-excision of anything and everything that delays liberation from our midst. This is the ‘leaven in the dough’ whose damage is particularly felt at the time when the light of geula/liberation is shining upon us.

    להתלמד אנו צריכים איך לסגל לנו את אותו הרוח הגדול של החירות…

    We need to learn how to experience this great spirit of liberation

    ההבדל שבין העבד ובן החורין, איננו רק הבדל מעמדי, מה שבמקרה זה הוא

    משועבד לאחר, וזה הוא בלתי משועבד. אנו יכולים למצא עבד משכיל שרוחו הוא מלא חירות, ולהיפוך, בן חורין שרוחו הוא רוח של עבד.

    The difference between a slave and a free person is not just a difference of status. This one is enslaved to another and this one is independent. We can find an enlightened slave whose is spirit is filled with freedom and a free person whose spirit is that of a slave.

    החירות הצביונית היא אותה הרוח הנשאה, שהאדם וכן העם בכללו מתרומם על ידה, להיות נאמן להעצמיות הפנימית שלו, להתכונה הנפשית של צלם אלקים אשר בקרבו, ובתכונה כזאת אפשר לו להרגיש את חייו בתור חיים מגמתיים שהם שוים את ערכם

    The foundational essence of freedom is that elevated spirit by which a human being and a nation rises to be loyal to their inner being-to the Tzelem Elokim-The Divine Image within. In this way we can experience our lives as purposeful, worthy of their value.

    מה שאין כן בבעל הרוח של העבדות, שלעולם אין תוכן חייו והרגשתו מעורים בתכונתו הנפשית העצמית כי אם במה שהוא יפה וטוב אצל האחר השולט עליו איזה שליטה שהיא

    This is not so with the one whose spirit is enslaved.

    They do not experience their lives illuminated by their inner essence. They are controlled by that which others define as tov-good and yafeh-beautiful…

    נסע ונלך להבליט יותר ויותר את עצמאותנו הרעננה הפנימית, אותה שקנינו על ידי גילוי שכינה, אותה החירות שקנינו על ידי הפלא הגדול היחיד בעולם, שנעשה עמנו בעת אשר גאלנו השם יתברך, וגאל את אבותינו ממצרים לחירות עולם.

    Let us go forth and express more and more our inner vibrant independence. We acquired our freedom at the singular wondrous event of Pesach: Gilui HaShechina- The Revelation of the Divine Presence.

    We experienced this at the time that the Holy One liberated our ancestors from Egypt to eternal freedom…

    שמרו את החירות ואת ביעור החמץ, והגאלו מהרה גאולה שלמה.

    Let us protect this freedom, let us fully excise our chometz. We will be quickly and completely liberated.”

  40. Wendy

    From Rabbi Arthur Waskow

    Bringing Elijah truly into the Pesach Seder
    Dear chevra,

    This Shabbat, as always on the Shabbat just before Pesach, traditionally we read a passage that (according to tradition) was written 2500 years ago by the last of the classical Hebrew Prophets –– Malachi.

    The hero of that passage is the mysterious eternally-alive Prophet Elijah, and in that passage Elijah saves us from a nightmare we ourselves are living through, in our own generation — the nightmare that the Earth might heat up like a furnace and we would all be devastated.

    I think we should draw on this pre-Pesach reading to transform the role Elijah has in our Sedarim.

    Malachi cries out:

    & nbsp; “Here! The day is coming that will flame like a furnace, says the Infinite YHWH / Breath of Life, when all the arrogant and all evil-doers, root and branch, will like straw be burnt to ashes. Yet for those of you who revere My Name, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath that breathes all life, a sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings.

    “Here! Before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH/ the Breath of Life, I will send you the Prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, lest I come a nd smite the earth with utter destruction.” (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)

    This teaching can make a powerful difference in our Passover Seder, where there is a tradition to open the door to welcome the Prophet Elijah. Out of Jewish suffering in the Middle Ages came the outcry at that moment of opening the door: “Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not respond to Your Unity, Your love.”

    But far better in our generation would be to open the door for Elijah and say:

    “Ho ly One, We open this door to open ourselves to all of Earth and all of Humanity. We take upon ourselves the mission of Elijah. We will act now before the Breath of Life becomes a searing hurricane. We will turn our own hearts to the lives of our children and the children of our children; we will invite their hearts to learning from the deepest teachings of the Wisdom we inherited — that together we can yet avert the utter devastation of Your Earth.”

    Let us search more deeply into Malachi’s Prophetic outcry: Why this danger and this chance for healing?

    “You are defrauding Me!” says God. “You fail to share My abundance with the poor and landless, you will not bring the common wealth into the common stor ehouse. Only if you turn back to My teaching will the locusts vanish from your fields. Only then, if you will share My rain of blessings on your harvests, will I pour those blessings down from Heaven.” (Malachi 3: 8-11)

    Let us open our ears and hearts to Malachi speaking to our own generation:

    “Here! If you oppress the poor, impoverish workers, and wring super-profits from the earth to plump the rich and powerful, the Earth itself will suffer a planetary scorching. These are not separate issues; the truth is intersectional!

    “If you insist on burning what heats My Breath, My Air, into a furnace, not only the arrogant pharaohs of your day will suffer, but also all life and humankind, as all Egypt suffered from the arrogance of Pharaoh long ago.

    “Already droughts scorch your continents, already your waters boil into typhoons and hurricanes, already the ice melts and your sea-coasts flood, already your birds and insects and diseases migrate where there is no place to weave them into the healing web of life.

    “Yet even now you can turn away from arrogance and greed, from the fires of coal and oil and unnatural gas; even now you can turn to sharing the abunda nce that still flowers from the Earth, even now you can turn to the solar energy and the winged wind that rise from a sun of justice and tranquility to heal your planet.

    “Most urgent: BE Elijah, turning the hearts of the generations to each other, to save the Earth from devastation!”

  41. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Those Three Things

    Rabban Gamaliel used to say, whoever does not discuss these three things on Passover has not fulfilled the obligation, and these are: Pesach, Matza, Maror.
    (Someone point to the shankbone, or the beet)
    The Pesach, the paschal lamb, which our ancestors ate in the time when the Temple stood, what does it mean? Because the Holy One “passed over” (pasach) our ancestors’ houses in Egypt? Or, as Rebbe Nachman reads it, God pasach jumped in, jumped out of our story. In Egypt, we were feeling far away from God, but Moses let us know we would soon be leaving, he whispered to us the secret of the Pesach lamb and we came to really understand it. We understood that to God, the near and the far are one and the same, so we sacrificed our lowliness, we offered up our distance with the Pesach lamb, the fragrance rose up high and God, as it were, descended into the pit of Mitzrayim (Egypt). Near and far, jumping in, jumping out, all the same, is how we came to understand, (really understand) the secret of the Pesach lamb, and that’s when we were becoming free.
    (Someone hold up a piece of matza)
    The Matza, why do we eat it? There are two aspects to the matza, one is the bread of poverty, it is the substance we ate as slaves in Egypt. So when we eat matza we remember what it was like to be enslaved. There is a second aspect to the matza, what the Zohar calls the bread of faith and it has to do with redemption and transformation.
    Matza is a symbol of transformation, but not in an alchemical sense, matza is chametz but in arrested development. There is a continuum of substance from matza to chametz, matza will become chametz if given the time. Also, they are practically anagrams for one another, matza and chametz. We also read chametz as all the inflatable aspects of self that get in the way, so to speak, of Godliness (there is no room for God in a person too full of self). The matza represents humility, the leanness of spirit, the emptying out of obstacles to Godliness. Now how do we understand this symbol of matza? How does it apply?
    (Someone hold up the bitter herb)
    Maror, why do we eat it? Because our lives were embittered in the land of Egypt, the narrow place, too narrow to hold us. This introduces the most important line of the Haggada: in every generation, each person should feel as if I/me/this is me personally coming out of Egypt. Rebbe Nachman reads this principle as in every generation, the Holy One repairs some of the intended flaws that were a part of Creation, so in every generation the world is spiritually enriched in some new way. Discuss this concept of Egypt, discuss this way of envisioning freedom, this notion of each generation being spiritually enriched, feel your own freedom as you are leaving the narrows of 2017 the narrows of 5777. There’s what to leave this year.
    Remember that the narrows is also a birth canal, all freedom implies a rebirth.
    Now talky-talk your freedom story to fulfill the mitzva of the seder. Tell a long story that people may or may not recognize as you sit around the table.
    Make big talk. Then take the year becoming free.
    Sweet and kosher, make it happy. Be grateful and don’t lose your edge. It’s that edgi-ness that’s saved us.

  42. Wendy

    From Rabbi Menachem Creditor

    Upon the Shabbat of Passover
    © Rabbi Menachem Creditor

    How powerful the comparison between Shabbat and Pesach.

    Regarding Shabbat, the culmination of Creation: Darkness and chaos ruled, sparking within God the desire for Light, a primal marker for hope and renewal, for the ability to distinguish between one moment and the next, one person and another. Perhaps we might even say that in the beginning there was Darkness, thank God.

    But when it comes to the liberation story of Passover, the place of Darkness is different. The increasing Darkness over Egypt through the Exodus narrative, including but not limited to the locusts so manifold that the very rays of the sun are blocked, culminates in the penultimate plague, a form of Darkness that locked one immobilized in the confines of selfhood, unable to even see another person. In the end, there was only Darkness.

    And so we find ourselves on the Shabbat of Pesach ritually immersed in between the Darkness that prompts Creation and the Darkness that threatens to isolate once again. Perhaps that is why we recite the Song of Songs on this day of sacred synergy, evoking an image of beloved partners catching glimpses of each other through light-filled latticework and darkness-infested alleyways.

    Perhaps we remind ourselves in this way that the path forward demands that we, each and all, create bridges of light, hand in hand, to banish Darkness once and for all to the ash heaps of history.

    Friends, we’ve had enough Darkness for many lifetimes. Let’s do something sacred about that. Let’s amplify the light within each other and build a world worthy of God’s intentions.


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