Pesach Commentaries

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

56 thoughts on “Pesach Commentaries

  1. Wendy Berk

    From Herb Levy

    This year I’m burning my Khometz

    When I was young
    my mother cleaned the house of all khometz1
    and then, ceremoniously, left a few bread crumbs
    where I could find them
    and brush them onto a plate
    and burn them.
    Our house was clean, thoroughly clean.
    (I decided Pesakh2 proved that the Jews invented spring cleaning.)
    and brought out the second set of milkikh3 and fleshikh4 plates and silver.

    I stopped using four sets of dishes,
    in fact, stopped using two sets,
    and definitely stopped burning my khometz.

    Today I realized
    I have more than forty years of khometz
    stored, waiting to burn.

    This year, I’m burning my khometz.

    Not the bread crumbs, although I don’t eat bread during Pesakh,
    this year I’m burning my neshamah’s5 khometz
    all the stored bread
    that’s long turned to psychic mold
    the ergot that blots my spirit,
    the things I regret
    the things I beat myself up over,
    the thing I play over and over
    in conversations I have with me.

    This year, I’m burning my khometz,
    powering myself from this stored fuel
    empowering myself
    to forgive
    for all these imagined wrongs,
    “the only thing I did wrong
    was to stay in the wilderness too long.”

    This year, I’m burning my khometz.
    I forgive me.
    I accept me.

    This year, I’m burning my khometz.

    1 leavened bread
    2 Passover
    3 dairy
    4 meat
    5 souls’

  2. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Elijah (‘Od Yavo)
    Open the door onto
    He sits with
    Our beloveds all of them
    Missing at our
    He welcomes them
    Around our table
    A glimpse
    The door opens
    In quiet
    Through the
    We welcome them
    We remember them
    Missing here
    Welcomed there

  3. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Yael Levy

    A Way In Jewish Mindfulness: Four Questions as We Enter this New Season

    Dear Friends,

    As we begin the month of Nisan and lift our eyes toward Pesach let us contemplate these four questions with gentleness and care:

    1. How do we go out from the narrow perspectives and constricted thoughts that so deeply divide us?

    2. How do we soften our tender, vulnerable hearts in a world of such violence, pain and fear?

    3. How do we cross over into a new way of being in which all people, all life, earth herself, are treated with dignity and sacred care?

    4. What will guide us through this wilderness?

    As we know, there are no easy answers to these questions and even asking them can feel painful.

    The Pesach story tells us:

    We are taken out of mitzrayim, out of the narrow places, to be in sacred relationship with the Source of All, with the Infinite Divine Presence that is a force of liberation and transformation. (Exodus 6:7)

    We are taken out so we can be forces for liberation and transformation, we can be channels for healing and peace.

    And here a fifth question arises:

    What can I possibly do in response to the deep challenges of these times?

    The tradition responds: Tend the fires of devotion to align yourself for healing, love and liberation.

    Every time we approach each other and ourselves with curiosity and interest rather than with harsh judgment and dread we loosen the constriction that keeps us from each other.

    Every time we are able to act with compassion rather than anger and fear we stem the flow of aggression and pain.

    Each time we pause to appreciate beauty, to wonder at mystery, to give thanks, a new pathway opens.

    And each time we look up, ask for help and remember we are not alone strength and guidance finds us.

    The season is calling and our times are crying out.

    May we be lifted by the calls of Pesach and be guided into an expanse we have not yet seen.

    May we tend the fires of devotion and may these fires help transform and guide us, so together we emerge, forces for liberation and transformation,

    channels for healing and love.

    Hodesh Tov, Blessings to all,

    Rabbi Yael

  4. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Levin of Chabad of Palo Alto

    There is one Holiday on the Jewish calendar when we don’t say the blessing Shecheyanu when we light the holiday candles or say Kiddush. This is a blessing of thanks to Hashem that we say whenever we reach an annual event, thanking Hashem for giving us another year and bringing us to this moment. Examples of when we say Shehecheyanu are when we eat a new seasonal fruit for the first time each year and for all Holidays except one. That is the final days of Pesach.

    Why not? A basic explanation is that it is not a new event since it is a continuation of the Holiday that began six days ago. As opposed to Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot, which is actually a distinct Holiday from Sukkot…

    …As in all Torah matters, there is also a deeper explanation that Chassidus gives that illuminates and brings more light to the above question. The explanation is that while the first days of Pesach celebrate the past, the Exodus from Egypt, the last days celebrate the future redemption by Moshiach. We see this especially in the Haftorah (reading from the Prophets) that we read on the last day of Pesach, Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of
    Moshiach. The blessing of Shehecheyanu is recited when the cyclical event happens. Moshiach’s redemption hasn’t happened yet, so we don’t say the blessing.

    Nevertheless, the saintly Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, established a special feast in the afternoon of the last day of Pesach that he called “Moshiach’s feast.” Over the generations knowledge of this feast has spread, and many diverse communities observe it. We eat Matzah and whatever other delicacies we wish, and we drink four cups of wine.

    At the Seder we have four cups reminding us of the four terms of redemption that Hashem promised before the Jews left Egypt. At Moshiach’s Feast we drink four cups representing the “four cups of comfort” that Hashem will give our people when the bitter exile finally ends…

    … There is a destination that we are heading to. The Talmud predicted many things that would happen right before Moshiach comes. Those predictions sounded fantastical even a generation ago. They have all come true in stark reality. (See for example Talmud tractate Sotah 49b.). The prophet Malachi prophesied that before the redemption everything will be clarified, and the Rebbe said 50 years ago that we are approaching a time when everything will be revealed and there will be no secrets.

    I don’t know why Moshiach hasn’t come yet and neither does anyone else. But once a year we have a feast to celebrate him and the redemption. We can live in the pain of exile and feel depressed, or we can live with the recognition that despite all the negativity we know that we are moving forward. One reason this is so important is that we do matter and what we do makes a difference.

    Rambam says in his book of Mishneh Torah that every person should see the world as perfectly balanced and themselves as perfectly balanced between good and not good. A single act of goodness, a single Mitzvah no matter how big or small, will tip our scales and this tip the world’s scales, bringing the redemption.

    By celebrating the future redemption with a tangible meal and four cups of wine, we lift ourselves out of whatever we are stuck in and look ahead with optimism and hope. We focus on the fact that we are still here as a nation against all odds, and we rededicate ourselves to make a difference and do our part to bring a little more light. This sense of optimism, living with redemption as opposed to with an exile mentality, carried through to the entire year. It is possible to live in that Moshiach frame of mind, and that itself moved us to excitement and a positive attitude.

    Imagine: you do that one Mitzvah that tips the scales, and Moshiach comes and the world is transformed. How would that feel?

    Happy Pesach and happy “living with Moshiach.”

  5. Aryae Post author

    15 Nissan 5783 / April 6, 2023

    Waking up this morning after our Seder, it has really struck me how this is no time to rest and say, “Well, okay, I’ve fulfilled my spiritual obligation.” On the one hand, I want to rest. It was a lot of work getting ready for Pesach and for our Seder. On the other hand, I can feel it inside of me: this is just the beginning of a journey. So how am I going to use my travel time this year? Where am I going, and what will I do along the way?

    I honestly don’t know. But I can get started with a little more Torah learning, and more acts of kindness. The rest I can discover along the way.


  6. Wendy Berk

    From Hadar’s Pesach Reader

    The first mishnah in Pesahim tells us that, before Pesah begins, we must search for hameitz specifically “לאור הנר”—by the light of a small, handheld lamp or candle—as opposed to a much stronger light source, such as a torch.

    But why opt for weaker light? Why insist upon a candle’s single flame when there are stronger lights available? The Gemara (Pesahim 8a) records many possible reasons. Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak (ultimately codified by the Mishnah Berurah 433:1) states that a candle’s flame is superior in being small enough to enter tight spaces.

    A little, handheld flame forces us to come closer, to make
    a more thorough examination. It enables us to look more closely into all the minute holes in the landscape and to notice all the finer details. By doing so, we’ll do a better job looking around and finding what there is to discover. It might be counterintuitive, but we’ll actually see much better with a candle than with a torch.

  7. Aryae Post author

    Parting Waters from Ghiora Aharoni Studio on Vimeo.

    Dear Friends and Family—

    In this season, as we witness Ukraine steadfastly resisting the tyranny of the Russian invasion, the message of Passover – the energy of perseverance in the face of oppression—is more important than ever.

    In the Haggadah, the Passover story of the future Israelites fleeing enslavement in Egypt shifts between past and present tense. Reading the story every year is a reminder to each generation to see ourselves as if we are coming out of an “Egypt,” because the struggle to overcome obstacles, both individually and collectively, is an every-present aspect of humanity. Passover reminds us that the act of exodus, rather than a historical epic, is an on-going dynamic. It calls to mind Syrian and African refugees journeying through the Mediterranean as well as the current exodus of more than four million people from Ukraine fleeing the oppressive assault of the Russian Army. Closer to home, many of our fellow Americans have their own perilous journeys as they struggle to secure the full protection of our laws and their constitutional rights.

    At this confluence of Passover, Easter and Spring—all harbingers of new beginnings—Ukrainian refuges are moving into a new, unknown existence…and it’s a reminder that the human spirit possesses an indomitable energy, and the desire to be delivered from oppression—whether it’s slavery, persecution or war—exists outside the boundaries of time or geography, and within the collective strata of humankind.

    With all the energy of new beginnings, sending love and light—


  8. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

    Last week we discussed the theme of Lashon Hara/slander, gossip, and belittling others. Our upcoming holiday of Pesach contains a continuation of this powerful theme. We have to go back to our earliest roots and understand their influence, or else we remain enslaved to the insidious, disparaging energy of Lashon Hara. The repressed memories control us because we are not aware of them and they must be liberated. Only through awareness can we achieve wholeness. When we delve into the origins of our people’s descent into Mitzrayim/Egypt we will see it was caused by the contemptible effect of Lashon Hara. It was JOSEPH’S maligning of his brothers that led his brothers to sell him to Egyptians and the Jews then followed his family there and wound up enslaved to Pharaoh. It was an exile due to speech.

    So, it is the purification of SPEECH that is required of us on Pesach. In the unfolding of the Haggadah, the TELLING of one’s story leads to liberation. However, speech is a symptom of internal reality. So we must spend the whole night descending and reciting the story of our past, and as the Haggadah relates: “The more we retell it, the more we are praised.” Our Sages stayed up to the wee hours of the morning retelling the story and in the process purifying their speech. Thus this should not be a superficial ‘retelling’, it is a serious unpacking of our history that takes time and effort.

    Let us look deeply into the language, symbols and figures of our Pesach holiday to hear this salient message of the power of speech and how it impacts our lives. First, the Hebrew word PESACH itself contains some indication of our theme. PEH SACH is translated to mean ‘The Mouth speaks.’ The name PAROAH means PEH RAH, ‘The Evil Mouth.’ It is THE ARCHETYPE OF EVIL SPEECH that imprisons the Hebrew soul and the power of refined speech that creates our redemption. The intensity of the energy of evil speech, and the resistance to change and allow liberation to occur is very powerful. The harder Pharaoh is punished with severe plagues the more he resists. The word ‘KAVED’ (‘heavy’, ‘hardening of his heart’-’And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ occurring in Exodus ch.7, verses 3 &14, Ex.Ch.8: verses 11,15,& 28, Ex.9: verses 7,9 & 35 and Ex. 11, verse 10) is used over and over again to indicate the POWER of this ‘evil mouth.’ It is not easily overcome, it is deeply ingrained. Pharoah is given many chances to yield, to change, to ‘let my people go.’ He resists in his cruelty, even when his people suffer; until the very end when he finally agrees to let the Hebrews go when the plague of the ‘killing of the First Born,’ affects his very personhood and family. We see this deep stubbornness in the tyrants of our very own day. The Kabbalah teaches that the letters in the word ‘Kaved’ add up to 26, the same quotient in the name of G-d (YH’VH). It is through the suffering of the hardened heart, the journey through darkness, that transformation may take place and the discovery of G-d’s Immanence revealed.

    During the Seder we talk, we purify our speech, and become more ‘conscious’ through our expression and dialogue. All the children, and all the different archetypes (the Chacham-the wise one, the Rasha – the wicked one, the Tam- the simple one, and the Sheino Yodeiah Lishol the one who is not educated enough to know what to ask) get a chance to express their way of seeing things, and equally importantly they must listen to ‘other’ ways of seeing things and expand their consciousness. Freedom takes preparation, work, so we are praised for “Staying up the whole night” in this task. (A slave, by the way, has lost hope, the power of speech and expression, that which makes one most human).

    So, Pesach is how we become free again, purifying our vessel from ego in order to be able to speak again from soul, and wholeness. We must dig deep into our “Mitzrayim” (’our place of ‘tightness)’ to discover that which we are running away from and how we are ruled by our ego fears, jealousies, need for recognition, etc., how we have only been seeing our own innocence and the evil of others. We see how we have not taken responsibility due to our lack of awareness, fears and shame. This ‘TALKING OUT’ brings out the unconscious repressions that we hide from, that we fear. It is not easy to change, and become free. But it is the most liberating feeling, when we return to our true calling, connecting with our unique soul within.

    Furthermore, on Pesach we have rituals that help us to find this liberation; we EAT lots of food, purifying the mouth eating for a mitzvah; we make the matzoh into a mitzvah. We slay the ‘God’ of Egypt- the lamb; publicly showing that we are no longer afraid of the enemy. We take the Chametz out and choose matzah instead; Chametz is bread that RISES symbolizing arrogance, ego bloatedness; Matzah remains LOW, it symbolizes humility. So through speaking and relating we move from the realm of enslaved ego-boundedness to the realm of freedom resulting from humility. We move from a place of tightness (Mitzrayim) to a place of liberation, (to Israel, a place of alignment, ‘doing the right thing.’ singing out to G-d, wrestling and partnering with the Presence of our Creator). We discover Soul! And we remove our proclivity to speak Lashon Hara, as we move to a place of freedom. Only when we liberate our inner self, can we go out to attempt to elevate the world.

    Then, the process of this Exodus exposes us to new mandates from the soul, to create a better world; a world of freedom and responsibility. The giving of the Torah, the passion of the Exodus is our guide to redeem the world. It creates an ethic of love, justice, and responsibility.

    Of course, we backslide along the way; change is hard! The second Temple was destroyed because of evil speech, because of maligning others. This symptom of evil speech stemming from ego wounds, and inner discord creates egregious disharmony in our world contrary to the elevated potential and great capacity that we have to create the dream of the world of Exodus; the journey from our inner Egypt to that which we were created to be. Once we can reconnect to the inner Light within, we can remove our shadowy projections of hostility that get placed on others.

    This continuous journey from Mitzrayim to the Holy Land continues every day. However, the suffering that we endure (our Kaved) enables us to become deeper human beings, empathizing with others and learning to know ourselves better. We all have a little ‘Mitzrayim’ within, but our recognition of our dark places, can lead us not only to a place of non-judgment of ourselves, but to an acceptance of our ‘humanness,’ our capacities to to be humane, kind and generous even with our ‘shadowy’ woundedness. Each of us lives with these complex energies, and yet G-d promises us we are beloved with all our warts, and rewarded for our efforts to proceed with our powerful Light that can transcend our inner challenges. We can create the future redemptive world that our Haggadah proclaims when we do the work necessary to create a world of love and harmony, of justice and freedom for all people. We are not free till all of us are free!

    Our suffering in Egypt was a necessary preparation (a cleansing so to speak, a removal of chametz, becoming conscious) to become a spiritual people. The Exodus teaches us to this very day that slavery can and must be overcome. We can journey from this state of enslavement to a redeemed world. The unnatural state of exile and crisis must become an aberration, a temporary one that leads to the opportunity for growth through our efforts and G-d’s Grace.
    Pesach, according to our tradition, is the very time when the future redemption will occur. Let us work to make this so; joining together with all the power of love that Hashem has bestowed upon us and make the future redemption right now! Amen.

  9. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Shefa Gold

    Song of Songs

    “The whole Torah is Holy,” says Rabbi Akiva, “but The Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” When it came time to decide which of the ancient books would become part of the canon for Israel, there was a big argument about this beloved text, sometimes called “The Song of Solomon.” Nowhere in it does the name of God appear; its words were sung in every tavern; it glorifies the sexual love between a man and woman who were clearly not married; it celebrates Nature and the pleasures of the body. Yet, despite vociferous opposition, the opinion of Rabbi Akiva who was a great mystic and an important leader of his time (1st century Israel) held sway, and the Song of Songs was preserved as one of the Holy books of Torah.

    Judaism is a great storehouse of treasures. And it is a vital, dynamic, living conversation that spans the globe and the centuries. Every generation inherits the accumulation of text, music, commentary, law, custom, recipes, and secret wisdom. And it is the responsibility of each generation to fully receive, re-interpret, add to the treasure and pass it on in a form that is more relevant and more alive to our present-day challenges.

    The Torah commands that you must love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” You are commanded to “love the stranger” and “to love your neighbor as your self.” And you are asked to receive God’s love in the form of Torah, community, history and the wonders of Nature. These commandments about love are at the heart of Torah. They constitute at the same time, the most simple and the most complicated challenge of living a holy life.

    The Path of Love, of rising to the challenge of learning to love and be loved, is the most rigorous spiritual path there is. Stepping onto the Path of Love, I am faced with every resistance, every illusion, every obstacle to self-realization. The Great Work is suddenly laid out before me in startling detail. In the words of the Song, “I was asleep but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking.”

    The Song sings to all whose hearts lie awake, waiting to be roused by God, our true love, who is knocking, who calls us to become ourselves and to be connected in sacred union with all of Creation, and with the Source of All. God is knocking with the reality of each moment. The truth of this moment is distorted when desire compels me to reach out for what’s next and thus miss what is right in front of me, or when I am so preoccupied with the past or my ideas about what should be, that I miss what is. My initiation onto this Path of Love requires that I wake up and stay present to the truth that is before me, to the miraculous garden of my ongoing re-birth. It requires that I open my heart to the “Other”. It demands that I acknowledge every obstacle to love’s fulfillment. Those obstacles are the defenses that the false self has built out of layers of fear and out of the illusion of separateness from God and Creation.

    One year I sat around a table at a Passover Seder with a group of women. It was during the war in Bosnia, and we all felt helpless, knowing that the tragedy of genocide was unfolding while the world stood by. As Jews, imprinted with the history of the Holocaust, we felt particularly despairing. As we re-counted the foundational story of our people, the Exodus from Egypt, we were sensitive to its violence, the fact of all those Egyptians suffering from the plagues and the tragedy of their final drowning in the sea. Someone asked, “Don’t we have any other story? Whenever we win, someone else loses. Do we have to win our freedom at the expense of another people?” We were all reminded of the same tragedy playing itself out in the Middle East where both Israelis and Palestinians claimed their autonomy at the expense of the other, where one people’s victory meant the others defeat. “Isn’t there any other way to Freedom?” we asked. “Don’t we have any other story?” As this question hung in the air between us, the silence felt like a great weight, and then the answer dawned.

    “We do have another story!” I shouted. I explained that the Tradition calls us to read and study and sing the Song of Songs during Passover. While the Book of Exodus tells the story of our outer journey from slavery to freedom, the Song of Songs tells the inner story. Rabbi Akiva hinted at this when he called the Song, the “Holy of Holies.” Just as the Holy of Holies occupied the very center of the Sanctuary, the Song of Songs stands at the center of the mystery of Freedom.

    Freedom in our tradition is not merely a “freedom from”… from oppression, suffering, or servitude; it is a “freedom to”… to be in direct relationship with God our liberator. God says, I brought you out of Egypt to be your God, to be in relationship with you. It is this relationship that makes us free. The moment we cut ourselves off from God, we are back in Egypt; we are back in slavery.

    The Song of Songs tells the story of relationship — its yearnings and heartbreaks as well as its triumphs and pleasures. It shouts the glories of love and whispers its secrets. I move easily from the relationship of a people with their God to the complex web of relationship in my life. The Song sends me on the spiritual path of relationship. In relationship all my ideals are tested and I am shown the places of my own fear, immaturity, impatience, pride and bitterness. Intimate relationship reveals to me where I still need work and healing. And it calls forth my greatest courage and love. My absolute best and worst character traits are made clearly visible in the practice of relationship, as well as a vision of what is possible if I were to open to the Great Love.

    As I enter into the Song of Songs I am tending the garden of two relationships at once – with my beloved partner in life, and with God. These two relationships depend on each other for their strength and stability. Shortly after my husband, Rachmiel, and I fell in love, he said to me, “I’m so glad that you love God more than you love me.” He could feel that my love for God was a deep pool, a resource from which all my love flowed. He also knew that having a relationship with God would mean that I wouldn’t expect from a human something that only the Divine could give me. And Rachmiel was right. My marriage to God is the foundation of my life. It keeps me connected, and waters the garden from which all my relationships grow.

    As my marriage to Rachmiel grows I am beginning to see how this human relationship refines my ability to give and receive, purifies my intentions, opens me to hard truths about myself. The fire of this relationship makes me more able to stand before God in humility and express my true passion.

    As I grow in these two relationships I sometimes get glimpses of the mystery of Love itself. Rachmiel and I disappear and there is only Love. God and I disappear and there is only Love. These glimpses appear when I have surrendered myself totally. The path that the Song of Songs shows me is the path of complete embodiment. Thinking about love will not reveal its mysteries; we must enter through the senses, get our feet dirty, express our passionate longings, and breathe in the fragrances that surround us.

    The Song of Songs urges us to go outside; search out the wildflowers, listen for the message of the dove and the nightingale, learn from the gazelle and the wild stag. My initiation onto the Path of Love moves me beyond mere comfort and convenience, and leads me to the wisdom and Grace that are in Nature. Only then can I discover that same wild grace in my own body. My initiation is an invitation to fully inhabit my body, explore its capacity for pleasure, and feel its attunement with the rhythms and cycles of Nature.

    The truth of my spiritual life is that I encounter God the most clearly in these three ways: through my body and its expanding senses, through Nature and its dramatic and miraculous beauty, and through intimacy with another. The Song of Songs provides me with a language to talk about these three ways of encounter. Its language connects me with my ancestors who opened the same doors, walked the same path and were initiated into the mysteries of Love. With them I can sing to God, “Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses! Your sweet loving is better than wine.”

    © Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.

  10. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Published in the Times of Israel

    Painting liberation: Hyssop and the path from Passover to Shmitah

    Origanum syriacum, one of the candidates for Biblical hyssop, Wikimedia commons
    In the Exodus story, the destroying angel passes over the houses of the Israelites — in Hebrew “pasach al hapetach” — sparing their firstborn, and giving Pesach, the Passover holiday, its name in Hebrew and English. But the angel only “knows” which house to skip because it sees the sheep’s blood smeared on the doorposts and lintels of the some of the entryways.

    In Exodus 12:22, Moses tells the Israelites that the way to apply that blood is by using an “agudat eizov” — a bunch of hyssop, which could be dipped into the blood of the korban Pesach like a paintbrush.

    Varieties of hyssop grow wild everywhere in the Middle East, which is why hyssop is described in 1 Kings 5:13 as being rooted “in the wall.” The Psalms also describe hyssop as something that purifies (Psalms 51:9), and hyssop was used for that purpose in three rituals: sprinkling blood on a person or house cured from “tsara’at” (leprosy, Leviticus 14:4-6, 14:49-51), preparing the ashes of the red heifer (Numbers 19:6) for removing the impurity of a dead body, and sprinkling those ashes mixed with “living water” on a person who had come in contact with a dead body (Numbers 19:18). All these rituals were used to help a person transition from a state of impurity into a state of purity.

    It’s no surprise that hyssop was associated with purification. Hyssop, also known as zaatar in Arabic, is in the mint family, which includes oregano and thyme, and it is used even now as a medicinal herb for digestive parasites. (Commercial zaatar is sometimes made from these other herbs.)

    As an herb used for purification, which was such a concern for ancient Israelite society, it needed to be available anywhere and anytime of any year. Hyssop would always be at hand — even in the Shmitah or Sabbatical year, when only species and crops that grow on their own without cultivation could be used. This also means it would have been easy that first Pesach to gather a bunch of wild hyssop for daubing one’s doorframes.

    Unlike the other rituals that use hyssop, each of which create a kind of ritual doorway that a person passes through in order to transition from one state to a more pure state, in Egypt the hyssop ritually closed shut a doorway, protecting the firstborn Hebrew slaves inside. The hyssop-blood ritual of Pesach wasn’t a way of changing one’s status, but was rather a sealing of one’s identity.

    Shutting oneself in because of a plague is something we all know a bit more about after the past year, and needing to find ways to transition from being in contact with death even more so. Maybe for these reasons, hyssop on the seder plate alongside or in the place of the z’ro’a or shankbone (and maybe even keeping some on your table for the whole Omer) would especially make sense this year.

    But the living qualities of hyssop as it grows make it a good symbol for Pesach in other important ways too. Being common and medicinal and growing wild, it can represent the pure and unmanipulated earth, springing to life everywhere. And it can represent the healing that comes from the earth — specifically in the Exodus story, healing that came from uncultivated land, from outside of the Egyptian society and agricultural system that corrupted itself by forcing the Israelites to labor as slaves.

    As such, hyssop, so common and so powerful, represents the ideal of what a free Israelite society, a society observing Shmitah, can become: a “kingdom of priests” where slavery and poverty are eliminated, and where every member plays an essential role in healing the world through holiness and justice.

    This coming year, our next Sabbatical year, we have good reason, thanks to vaccines, that we may we no longer be shut in by a plague. May we find the strength in liberation to create the society of holiness and justice that hyssop points to.

  11. Wendy

    From Ya’qub Ibn Yusuf

    The Passover Story of the Four Sons

    In the long rambling text of the Haggadah which we read every year at the Passover Seder, after the Four Questions that the youngest at the table ask, we have the story of four questions that were asked, and the answers that were given, to Four archetypal Sons or Children. The question I’m going to pose is, which of them is on the highest level? Is it necessarily the one who starts the tale, and is called the “Wise” son? What is the lesson?
    I am struck, first of all, by a hint that I hear in the narrative voice of the text. It says, “One Wise, one Wicked, one Simple, and one Who Doesn’t Know to Ask.” The hint I get here is…that there is only one! Maybe it’s the same who is one going through a learning process, from one year to the next.
    My radical suggestion is that the “Wise” one is actually the beginner. He’s just back from Hebrew School, or maybe from Yeshiva, where he’s learned all of these categories of Jewish law, and he proudly shows off his learning in the question that he asks! And what’s he told? He’s to be told about these rules, but then… he’s told that after the meal, don’t look for dessert. Matzah is the ‘afikoman’, there is no other “dessert” to follow the simple unleavened bread. In other words… stop looking for goodies, get out of your head and taste the matzah!
    The next year he asks, well, a better question. What is this ‘avodah’, this “service” or “worship” to you? The term for “worship” in Judaism is ‘ha’avodah shebalev’, “the service of the heart”. And if you look at the original Hebrew text (some books have changed this) while the Wise one speaks piously of “the Lord our God…” he also then says “commanded to you” which is what the Wicked one is punished for! The Wise one also takes himself out of the picture. But the so-called “Wicked” one gets punched in the mouth for this! Maybe he means by ‘avodah’, “Why are you making such an effort?” Or maybe he means, “What is this odd ceremony, this peculiar way of worshipping God all about? What does it mean to you?” Anyway, the answer is more provocative than the question. He’s told, in no uncertain terms, that you need to make this your own story, you need to find your own story in this collective story, or else you are “outside” and it won’t mean anything to you at all! It’s up to you!
    Clearly, this comes as a shock. He’s been labeled “Wicked”! So the next year he’s careful. Never mind cleverly qualifying what’s going on. Never mind talking about “me” or “you”. He’s totally Zen. The Simple one asks, “What’s this?” And with that state of open-mindedness, you can begin to use metaphorical language in response. “With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, God took us out of Egypt.” Can you imagine how the Wise one would have responded to this? He’d be liable to say, “But Maimonides says that God has no body, and no image of a body!” Having passed through a crisis the year before, he’s matured. He’s more simple, more open.
    But then the final redemption comes with the One who Doesn’t Know to Ask. It says, “You (feminine, presumably the mother not the father) open the way for him” and say, “This is what God did for me when I went out of Egypt.” That’s very same answer that the Wicked one got! Except that now the child is on another level. He’s not separate. We’ve gone from I-and-Thou to I-and-I, as the Rastafarians might say. When you speak your truth from a deep enough place, it immediately becomes mine as well. And when I speak mine, it becomes yours. This then is the final healing of the Wicked, or the so-called “Wicked” child, who needed to pass through these stages to get to this place.
    When I read this to my friend Effie, one year, he said that the last child is about humility. Knowing that you don’t know. I’d say this fits, particularly from a Sufi point of view. We might say he’s the ‘Melami’, the one who doesn’t claim anything for himself, the one who’s able to blame himself on the way of “Blame”… the one who is open. Actually, it was as the Wicked child that he accepted the blame. Then he became Simple, and now he’s free to be open.
    From a Kabbalistic point of view, when we have “four” it suggests the Four Worlds. Either we start from the most concrete level and move up higher and higher, or else we start from the highest and bring this down into the manifest world. We might have a similar question regarding the Four Cups of Wine that we drink at the Seder. Are we moving up into the Divine, or are we bringing the Divine down to earth? Here, what I’ve discovered, is exactly the opposite of what we might expect. We’re beginning at the lowest level of the so-called “Wise” and proceeding up the ladder to the highest of the worlds, Atzilut, where everything disappears into the Oneness of the Divine.
    I hope this gives you a new perspective on the Passover Seder, and the possibility of finding your own meaning there… and everywhere. May we merit to go forth, this Passover, from our personal Egypt, ‘Mitzrayim’, our “narrow places”. Especially this year, when each person individually is making a difficult passage… all of us together. And may we follow through from there, to open ourselves to receiving the ‘Torah’, the “Teaching”, the divine Word… and then make our way to the Promised Land.
    Happy Passover!

  12. Wendy

    From Rabbi Yoel Glick

    Preparing for Pesach

    The weeks before Pesach are a time of intense physical work, getting our homes ready for the holyday. We turn our house inside out and upside down to seek out and destroy any trace of chametz – leaven and leavened bread. This process is a reflection of an inner process of cleansing that also takes place during this period. Be it through our own conscious efforts, be it through the prodding of the hidden Divine hand, we search through all the corners of our inner self to find the spiritual chametz that is there.
    Chametz represents our ego, the puffed up part of ourselves that tends to think that we know everything and that is deaf to any criticism or advice. It is the selfish tendencies within us that care only about our own wellbeing – that turns away from the suffering of others. Chametz is the fears and doubts that we carry within us. It is our anger and pettiness; it is our jealousy and our greed.
    Chametz is the part of us that wants to remain just as we are; the part of us that is resistant to change and growth. Chametz is the part of us that is afraid to see our faults and failings, the part that claims that we need not make any real efforts toward perfection, because everyone is on the same level, because every path is just as valid as the next.
    Chametz is all the excuses that we make for not advancing further, for not confronting our long term problems because it is too difficult. Chametz is the power of the lower self to bind us to destructive patterns of thought and behavior. Chametz is the despair that leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless, without any belief in God or in ourselves.
    Chametz is our sentimental attachment to old ways and out of date traditions without any thought as to their relevance or truth. Chametz is our tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water, to reject the beauty and spiritual power in the tradition along with its problematic parts.
    In the weeks before Pesach, we seek out and confront the different levels of our chametz. In the weeks before Pesach, we gather up our courage and do our best to try and clear it all away.
    What is it that we find in our search? On one level, we discover that things aren’t as bad as we thought they were. Once we look in those dark neglected corners that we have been avoiding, we find that most of the time there is really nothing there at all. Much of what we worried about or feared was only an illusion, a shadow cast by an issue that has since disappeared from our lives.
    In other places we discover a few crumbs, left over from a meal or experience that we “ate” long ago. The real problem has been removed, but there are still traces of its experience affecting our hearts and minds, influencing the way in which we react to the world. Letting air and light into these dark corners of our mind reveals the existence of these hidden thoughts and feelings. This enables us to see these crumbs of “personality chametz” for what they are, gather them up and dispose of them once and for all.
    In some places we may discover larger pieces of chametz – a slice of bread, a piece of a biscuit, a cracker that has slipped behind a counter or shelf. These pieces require more thought and effort to get rid of them. We need to examine them carefully and understand from where they have come. Utilizing the fire of discrimination and the burning love for God in our hearts, we need to strive to eliminate these negative qualities from our character and set out to create a chametz-free direction for our lives. These pieces can be put aside and then placed on the fire on the morning of Erev Pesach (the eve of Passover), a burnt offering before God for the festival.
    This process of cleansing comes to its culmination on the night before Pesach when we search through the house by the light of a candle. Proverbs 20:27 states: “The soul of a human being is the candle of God.” On this night, we are illuminated by the light of the soul that shines into the hidden corners of our heart. With this soul light, we see ourselves with a new understanding and clarity. We see our lives in a more expansive way. This, Rebbe Natan of Nemirov explains, is the inner meaning of the Talmudic dictum that the search for chametz must take place Or l’arba asar – on the eve of the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nissan, or read more literally, by the light of the fourteenth. On that night, the great light of the holyday already begins to flood into our awareness. This Divine light opens new windows of opportunity that provide us with a fresh direction in removing the deeper levels of chametz from our lives. [1]
    Yet, there are some areas that we simply cannot change on our own; some qualities and personality patterns that are too deeply ingrained in us, too intimately intertwined with the way in which we perceive the world and ourselves. The only thing we can do in such cases is to hand them over to God. This is why the prayer that we say after we burn the chametz declares: “All chametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, should be annulled and considered ownerless, like the dust of the earth.” This is our way of saying to God: “I cannot do it all on my own; I do not know how to get rid of this chametz. Please, in your infinite compassion, remove this chametz from me; please take away these fears and worries, please eradicate these failings and imperfections from me.”
    On Erev Pseach, we recognize, confront and then burn up our chametz, so that we are ready to receive the gift of freedom at the Seder on Pesach night.
    My mind is in ecstasy, hearing, that the Lord is to come into my Home.
    O my mates, Sing now ye the Wedding Songs, for, my Home hath now become a Temple.
    Yea, Sing ever the Songs of Joy that ye are infected not by Woe or Sorrow…
    Ye hear the Unstruck Music [of the soul], and through the Lord’s Name, enjoy ye the Lord’s Essence.
    Sayeth Nanak: “This is how I met with my Lord who’s the Creator and the Cause.”
    Guru-Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scriptures, Ramkali M. 3:34 [2]
    Preparing ourselves and our homes for Pesach should be a joyous process. The Hasidic text, Or Haganuz, compares these preparations to the preparations that a loyal subject makes when he knows that the king is about to visit his house. Our mind and body is the house in which we live. During the weeks before Pesach we do the work of cleansing the negative aspects of this symbolic house so that we are ready when the King of Kings comes to visit on Seder night.
    Think of the joy that we feel when someone whom we love deeply is coming to visit. We should cleanse our homes and our hearts for Pesach with same feeling of joy and anticipation as we prepare to receive our beloved Lord.
    Think of the joy of knowing that we are clearing away the junk from our house. We are removing old ideas and misconceptions, discarding unhealthy desires, cravings and fears. We are eliminating long held prejudices and grievances that have been strangling our feelings and suffocating our growth. We are getting rid of a multitude of negative thoughtforms and emotions that have cluttered our hearts and our minds and given us little space in which to expand out and breathe.
    There is a great sense of freedom and joy in putting down all these old burdens. We can stand straighter and reach higher without all the excess baggage on our backs. We can break out of the confines of our personal Egypt, Mitzrayim or metzarim – the narrow places in our lives – and enter into the open desert, the place of wide expanses and infinite horizons, where we can journey to the Holy Mountain and meet our God.
    copyright © 2012, by Yoel Glick

    Natan of Nemirov, Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Rosh Chodesh, halacha # 3↵
    Guru-Granth Sahib, English translation by Dr. Gopal Singh↵

  13. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Pesach: the Inside Version
    Four More Questions
    Every Passover, the Haggadah says, I should feel as if I, personally, were being liberated from Egypt. That is always the point of the liberation saga: it is my story. I am getting free. I ask myself four questions.
    First question: Free from what?
    The Hebrew for “Egypt” is Mitzrayim, which is a pun. Turn the word and it becomes “Mei-tzarim” — from the “narrow place,” like Detroit.
    Each year at Passover time, I get a little more free, each year I leave that narrow place which is too small for me now. It is a different place each year, because I am in a different place each year. Mitzrayim, “the narrow place,” is also meant to conjure the birth narrows. Freedom is always a birth experience, a re-birth, renewal.
    Second question: When does my freedom begin?
    R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev asked this question: when does my freedom begin? I might think it begins with leaving Egypt. The koan of the question puts my memory to work on my own life, trying to discern the influences, who said what to me when that gave me strength, that planted a seed, that snuck the message by the guardians of my equanimity, the way the soul eludes the intellect and speaks directly to the heart. Who taught me to resist the easier, softer way of complacency, who taught me to dream, who taught me that I could transform, be transformed, that I could be free? Who was it? What teacher? What voice? Who is part of my freedom chain? Who made it possible for me to get free?
    Freedom is infinitely regressible.
    Third question: What is freedom?
    The third question is implied in the second. When we ask ourselves when does freedom begin? We are also asking, what is freedom, and when is it acquired.
    It is written that the Torah was given in the third month after leaving Egypt, the Midrash puns with the word “month” which in Hebrew is related to the word for “something new” (chodesh/chidush). That’s the form that my freedom takes every year, I move into something new, a place I haven’t been yet. How do I know I have achieved some measure of freedom? Not because I have crossed the state line and passed out of Egypt into the Wilderness, but because I have learned something — new.
    We are taught that the culmination of freedom does not come for us until we receive the Torah at Sinai. Our durable freedom requires that we free ourselves of the residue of the experience of slavery, clean ourselves out for the enduring freedom gift of Torah.
    Freedom from is a different concept from freedom for. Freedom from is defined in terms of what we have left. Freedom for is defined in terms only of what we have acquired.
    Because there are two aspects of our liberation from Egypt. The Rambam (Maimonides, 13th c.) writes that “on that night of the fifteenth of Nissan it is a positive commandment of the Torah to relate the miracles and wonders that transpired with our ancestors in Egypt, as it is written, ‘remember this day on which you went out of Egypt,’ [and the meaning of shamor remember here is] similar to that which is written ‘remember the Shabbes day.'”
    What is the relation between remembering the Exodus and remembering Shabbat?
    Both have a positive and a negative aspect. Shabbat has a positive sense of rest as well as a negative sense of the cessation of labor. So does our freedom story:
    We were released from Egypt,
    but we did not become free until we received the Torah on Sinai.
    So the whole story of freedom is not only about what we left behind, but what we have acquired. Wisdom, now that is a durable freedom.
    Asking the two questions, when does freedom begin, and how do I know I have acquired freedom re-fashions the liberation concept, re-formulating my notion of freedom from something that I have or don’t have, to the process, re-thinking freedom from a matter of arrival to the matter of the journey, re-envisioning the liberation saga from a matter of achievement to a matter of simply being on the road, and also from a matter of what I am no longer to what I am becoming.
    It’s not about arrivals, but about process,
    not about goal but about journey,
    not about there but all about here.
    Radically here,
    on my own freedom trail.
    A link in my own freedom chain.
    Fourth question: What interferes with the freedom journey?
    I put out the chometz, all the leavened food, from my life for this journey. What is this chometz that I remove from my life during Pesach? The chometz is anything inflatable, all the inflatable aspects of self that interferes with Godliness. The inflatable sense of self aggrandizement, the inflatable narcissism of self — this is chometz, and this is what I take out of my life during Passover. There is no room for God in a person too full of self. I get, in a word, humble.
    We call humility “bittul” which means suppression of self.
    Less self, more other, less self more Other–this is the way we get bittul.
    That’s the thing about matzah, chometz, one substance, matzah is just chometz in arrested development, that is our symbol of transformation, not one substance into another, but the continuum of being. Matzah is bittul bread. That’s what we celebrate on Passover, the continuum of being which is transformative by nature, in the way flower pushes through flower toward sun, in the way flour rises when mixed with water, these simple uni-form models of transformation that teach that the process is all, not arriving, but being. We are what we are becoming; we are becoming what we are.
    Fifth Question (there’s a fifth question):
    So, what is my response to the gift of freedom?
    Gratitude, because it was a gift. In each generation, a person should feel as if he or she personally were released from Egypt. (Pesachim 10:5)
    It’s a daily notion.
    The Alter Rebbe omitted the passage in the Haggadah beginning Chasal Siddur Pesach (“The Pesach Seder has been concluded”) from his Haggadah to make the point: I leave Mitzrayim everyday of my life, or I don’t.

    My response is also humility, because I didn’t make it happen. Freedom is a combination of gift and hard work. Remember, there are two aspects to our liberation. The first was the gift of being released from Mitzrayim, it’s not something we worked for, prepared for, then we had the Wilderness experience to look into our hearts and cleanse ourselves of what we brought out of Mitzrayim with us. That’s the hard part.
    I leave Mitzrayim every day of my life. Or I don’t.

  14. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    In every generation, each person should feel released, personally, from the Narrows.
    This is my story.
    The Pesach is my offering, said Blue. This year I am offering up my separation, my distance, my isolation from G*d-liness and all I love the most.
    Spend a moment identifying what you are offering up for your freedom this year. Mitzrayim – a dual form like the language of face, our narrow places, within and without – we are leaving our self imposed narrow places. Every year a different exodus.
    What are you leaving this year? What place too small to hold you now?
    Let us tell each other our freedom stories to fulfill the mitzvah of the seder this year, and then, let us spend the year becoming free.

    the Inner Pesach, from the Stavisker Dialogues
    Rabban Gamaliel used to say, whoever does not discuss these three things on Passover has not fulfilled the obligation, and these are: Pesach, Matzah, Maror (Haggadah).
    the Pesach
    The Pesach, the paschal lamb, which our ancestors ate in the time when the Temple stood, what does it mean?
    There’s something interesting hidden in the word, as in the Greek see Tragedy and goat dance as Aristotle left us a clue in the Poetics, here in the Hebrew see Pesach and a limping, wounded posture; if we are wounded, we push on carrying the lessons of our wounding in our lives. Some of us push harder, all push differently. The residue of wounding is a serious subject, some call it trauma.
    What about this version: Because the Holy One “passed over” (pasach) our ancestors’ houses in Egypt?
    This is what we tell our children.
    How about this version: Because God leaped or jumped (Rashi on Exodus 12:13, hip to the curiosity in the Hebrew) and so we should do all activities in a similar manner, leaping and jumping as God leaped and jumped over our houses.
    Yeah that’s good. Sometimes the spiritual response is a measured, learned response, and sometimes it’s a leap, a jump to a higher awareness; a breakthrough experience every now and again to remind us what we are all about.
    To remind us what we are all about. I love those words.
    Or this version: God “pasach” jumped in, jumped out of our story, this from Rebbe Nachman. In Mitzrayim/Egypt, we were feeling far away from Every-thing we loved the most, but Moses let us know we would soon be leaving. He whispered to us the secret of the Pesach and we came to understand that to God the near and the far are one and the same. It’s a matter of perspective or as some say, attitude.
    God whispered to us, that’s great, like the night before we left. It’s a message Moses gave over quietly to sustain us for the long road to freedom. Maybe it was encouragement; he didn’t really know, did he? Here is what I’m talking about:
    “It was at the end of four hundred and thirty years, and it was on that very day that all the legions of God left the land of Egypt. It is a night of conscious watching of God to take them out of the land of Egypt, this was the night for God; a conscious watching for all the children of Israel for their generations” (Exodus 12: 41 – 42). That phrase I translate as conscious watching? Only appears here.
    I don’t know what that means. God watching for us? We watching for God? I do know this: 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. We met there. That kind of meeting. Near and far, jumping in, jumping out, all the same that’s how we came to understand the secret of the Pesach lamb, and that helped us becoming free. Because freedom is now and it’s a wrestle. Constant.
    It’s one thing to talk freedom. Another thing to spend the year becoming free.

  15. Wendy

    From My Jewish Learning

    Remembering Our Oppression With Sweetness
    The charoset paste eaten at the Passover Seder recalls the mortar the Israelite slaves used to build in Egypt. So why is it so sweet?


    In the mysterious culinary language of Passover, each food on the Seder plate embodies a particular meaning.

    Traditionally, charoset symbolizes hard labor and oppression. The Talmud Pesachim 116a says the word itself is related to cheres, meaning “clay.” According to Maimonides, charoset symbolizes the mortar that the slaves used to make bricks. He also offers a recipe: “We take dates, dried figs, or raisins and the like, and crush them and add vinegar to them, and mix them with spices, as clay is mixed with straw.” (Hilchot Chameitz uMatzah 7:11).

    Yet the ritual meaning of charoset is ambiguous because it is never explained during the Seder. According to the Talmud, one must mention and explain certain foods at the Seder: the paschal offering (symbolized by a bone), the matzah (unleavened bread), and the maror (bitter herb). Charoset is not one of them.

    Whether or not the charoset is a Passover obligation – the Talmud records a disagreement on this question — it seems clear that discussing it is not a mandatory part of the ritual. That is, its meaning is not fixed by the Seder, but rather open to interpretation.

    This raises the question: Why create such a delicious food to embody such a harsh oppression?

    Two legends from the Midrash speak to the role of fruit in the Exodus story and seem to suggest that charoset is not only a symbol of sorrow, but of sweetness.

    In Exodus Rabbah 1:12, when the Egyptians seek to kill the male babies of the Hebrews, the Hebrew women save their infants by going out to give birth in the orchards under the apple trees. The babies were then left in the orchards to be cared for by angels. The Midrash says: “God sent an angel from above to cleanse and beautify them, like a midwife who makes the child look beautiful … God then provided for them two nipples, one of oil and one of honey.”

    God essentially creates a massive day care center in the orchards of Egypt, with angelic caretakers to watch over the infants. The earth itself becomes nipples to nourish the babies. When the Egyptians find out about this, they try to run plows over the orchards to kill the children, but the children are swallowed up by the earth and saved. Then they grow bigger and proceed in “herds” to their homes, as if they are spring lambs.

    The infants in this Midrash, threatened by the cruelty of human beings, find their sustenance directly from the divine. They grow in the orchards as if they are fruit on the Tree of Life. This beautiful Midrash could be connected to the sweet charoset. We eat charoset not only as a reminder of slavery, but as a reminder of redemption and the blossoming spring.

    There is yet another story that could connect charoset to redemption. In Exodus Rabbah 21:10, as the people are passing through the Sea of Reeds, the parents of young children have a problem: their children are hungry. It’s easy to imagine how, passing through a split sea at midnight, children would get upset and need a snack. The Midrash says: “The daughters of Israel passed through the sea holding their children with their hands, and when the children cried, they would stretch out their hands and pluck an apple or pomegranate from the sea.”

    In this legend, the Sea of Reeds becomes a kind of Eden, producing fruit for those who need it. Again, the miracle of redemption is associated with fruit trees.

    When trees blossom and fruit every year, they show us that new growth is possible. Passover offers us much the same message. What if we told the story of the fruit within the sea as part of our Passover Seder and asked one another how the sweetness of the charoset reminds us of the wondrous gifts of liberation and the blessings of springtime? What if the charoset could be not only a symbol of sorrow, but an embodiment of joy? That would seem to match more with joyful experience of eating sweet charoset.

    Hiding in the background of all this discussion of orchards is the kabbalistic meaning of orchard. One of the names for Shechinah — the Divine Presence, God’s numinous spirit and God’s bride — is the Holy Apple Orchard. When we eat charoset on Passover, whatever kind of fruit we put in it, perhaps we are making a direct connection with the divine as it dwells on earth. Indeed, in many other cultures, from Greece to Scandinavia to China, the fruit orchard is an otherworldly place, where humans can touch the immortal.

    We don’t need, of course, to discard the idea of charoset as mortar. Yet we can complexify and sweeten that meaning by telling some new old stories as part of our Passover story. And we can allow the taste of of the charoset to inspire us to increase the sweetness of liberation in our world.

  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi Yoel Glick

    In the Midst of the Sea

    Rabbi Yoel Glick

    “Speak to the Children of Israel that they go forward.” – Exodus 14:15
    “He who can forebear, lives. He who cannot, is lost.” – Sri Ramakrishna [1]
    There are times in life when we feel closed in on all sides, moments when the way back is cut off, and the path forward is blocked. At such times, all we can do is hold on to God and put one foot in front of the other. Under such circumstances, we need to move forward even when there appears to be nowhere to go.
    This, Rebbe Natan of Nemirov explains, was the situation of the Children of Israel at the shores of the Red Sea. Behind was the Egyptian army coming toward them in hot pursuit. In front of them lay the waves of the Red Sea standing as a wall of water blocking the path ahead. Trapped and cornered, they began to panic. Even Moses did not know what to do and cried out to God for help. But God did not perform a miracle or provide Moses with guidance; instead the Almighty turned to Moses and declared: “Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the Children of Israel that they go forward.”
    Moses raised his staff, expecting the Children of Israel to move ahead, but nothing happened. The people just stood there arguing about who should go first. Finally, the Midrash informs us, Nachshon ben Aminadav took his courage in his hands and jumped into the sea, the waves suddenly parted and the people strode forward “on dry land in the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 14:16)
    Nachshon ben Aminadav, Rebbe Natan tells us, is showing us how we need to respond to the moments of confusion and distress in our lives. We need to turn away from all of the doubts and fears that are assaulting us. We need to ignore the whirling thoughts and emotions which tell us to give up and change our course. We need to push everything aside, grab on to God and move forward with faith and determination.[2]
    Accomplishing such an act of faith is no simple matter. It requires enormous courage and strength. It means controlling the mind and stilling the emotions even as they thunder against us with all of their might.
    There are three principles that will help us succeed at this difficult task. The first principle, Rebbe Natan urges, is to keep up our spiritual practices no matter what happens. We cannot allow our anguish or misery to stop us from maintaining our inner devotions. We need to concentrate our mind on God through continual prayer, constant remembrance of the Presence, and spiritual reading or study. These are our tools in battling the inner demons that attack us.

    The second important principle in crossing the turbulent waters is to develop a certain measure of detachment. If we are to survive the storm raging around us, then we have to place some distance between ourselves and the situation. Detachment is essential if we are to act with clarity and strength. However, let no one be mistaken, the detachment that we are trying to achieve is not a heartless, emotionally-numb state. The following incident from the life of Swami Ashokananda of the Vedanta Society of San Francisco makes this point clear.
    After the sudden departure of one of his much-loved disciples, Swami Ashokananda remarked:
    “I sometimes think that when I die they will find my bones like those of Dhritarashtra [a central figure in the Indian epic the Mahabharata], all full of holes. At first they thought that it was because of the arrows that had been shot at him. But no, it was his grief for the loss of his hundred sons. My bones will be like that.”
    In response to his words, once of his disciples asked:
    “But Swami, I thought monks were supposed to be detached!”
    “That is detachment,” he replied, “when there is no self mixed up in it. Do you think detachment and hard-heartedness are the same thing?”[3]
    Of course we feel the pain and sorrow of a loss or betrayal, if we didn’t; then we wouldn’t be human. However, we do not allow anger, personal hurt, and ego to take over our hearts. We refuse to give in to the self-pity, pettiness and self-recriminations of the lower self. We do not permit sentiment, accepted conventions or our own trepidation to turn us from doing what we believe to be right and true. This is real spiritual detachment.

    The final principle that is crucial if we are to reach the dry land in the midst of the sea is to learn to just let go. Turning to heaven, we offer up our troubles, worries and struggles at the feet of the Lord. Is not the Source of all Life in control of everything that happens to us? Does not the Divine Architect have a plan for each of our lives? Is there anything that the Omnipotent and Omniscient cannot do? Do we really have faith or is our faith merely a lot of empty words?
    We do not have to find all of the answers. We do not have to solve all of our problems on our own. If we can surrender our burdens and rest in God, then God will step in and lead the way.
    “A handmaid saw at the Red Sea what [the prophet] Ezekiel, son of Buzi, did not see.” – Mechilta Beshlach, Ch. 3
    All of these crises are not only times of immense difficulty; they are also moments of spiritual opportunity. It is in when we are faced with the most painful circumstances, when we confront seemingly impossible dilemmas that the most profound revelations can occur. These situations force us to reach beyond ourselves to discover new strengths, qualities and understanding that we did not know that we possessed. Through the tension of these struggles we are lifted into a higher realm where God is very close, where the power of our true Self floods into us, where the wisdom that we need to move forward is revealed.
    The Torah states, “And the waters parted. And the Children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground.” (Exodus 14:21-22) Rebbe Natan teaches that the mystical interpretation of this verse is that the sea of supernal wisdom was revealed to the Children of Israel. Through their suffering the Children of Israel opened the door to the Divine source from which all knowledge comes, the ocean of pure consciousness which is the Mind of God.[4]
    This, the Zohar teaches, is the hidden meaning of the verse in Genesis (1:3), “and the Spirit [ruach] of the Lord moved upon the surface of the waters.” It was the spirit of God moving on the waters of the Red Sea that caused it to split, as it is written, “With the blast [ruach] of Your nostrils the waters were piled up.” (Exodus 15:8) And it was the spirit of God moving on the waters that split the sea of supernal wisdom and caused the wellsprings of revelation to flow forth, as it is written, “A handmaid saw at the Red Sea what Ezekiel, son of Buzi, did not see.”
    Both the physical as well the spiritual salvation occurred through the intervention of the spirit of God. It is to spirit that we turn when we are faced with the stormy waters of life in this world. It is to spirit that we look for guidance and inspiration as we strive to move forward in our lives. [5]
    According to the tradition, the crossing of the Red Sea took place on the night of the seventh day of Pesach. May we all experience a great revelation on this night of ruach kodesh (holy spirit). May we find the courage, detachment, and the strength of spirit that we need to tread on the high ground of spiritual consciousness even as we walk in the midst of this worldly sea.
    copyright © 2010, by Yoel Glick

  17. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Shabbat Parashat Pesach VIII/ Shabbat Hol

    By: Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger

    Change Comes in Haste

    Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 14:22 – 16:17
    Maftir Reading: Numbers 28:19-25
    Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 10:32 -12:6

    There’s an old saying about public speaking: tell them what you’re gonna tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Recapitulating the most important message you want to communicate is not a mystical principle and does readily explain the Torah reading at the end of the three agricultural festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. This Torah reading includes Deuteronomy 16, a chapter which distills each holiday to its essence of observance and meaning.

    Regarding Pesach, the Deuteronomy text reminds us why we eat matzah, the “bread of affliction:”

    You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of distress-for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly-so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live. (Deuteronomy 16:3)

    So far, so good: in this verse, matzah is the symbol of leaving Egypt in a hurry. Yet this raises a question: if matzah is the symbol of leaving Egypt in a hurry, why is it called lechem oni, the bread of distress? Isn’t leaving slavery in a hurry a wonder and miracle? Our friend Rashi, the great medieval sage, suggests that the “hurry” in the above verse doesn’t describe the Israelites, but the Egyptians. In this reading, the Exodus was a great blessing, but the reason Israel made haste was the Egyptian army fast pursuing them. Thus matzah symbolizes the leaving of Egypt (good), but the speed of leaving is a reminder of the forces of oppression, hence matzah as “bread of distress.”

    An earlier description of matzah, from the book of Exodus, raises a related question:
    And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. (Exodus 12:39)

    The imagery of these verses is very familiar from our telling of the story on the first night of Pesach: the Jewish people had to leave Egypt so quickly that they had no time to prepare, so they grabbed their kneading bowls and headed for freedom as fast as they could. That’s a compelling scene in the dramatic unfolding of the Exodus, but turning back to the beginning of Exodus 12, we find Moshe telling the people two weeks earlier that the final plague is coming and they must prepare for the miracle to come.

    So if the people had been told to prepare weeks in advance, why didn’t they make some bread or other provisions? Rashi again provides a helpful explanation: the verse tells us they didn’t prepare in order to praise the people, who didn’t object that they weren’t ready, but”believed in God and went forward. ” Note well that Rashi’s two comments on these verses can be read together: the Israelites did know the Exodus was coming, trusting in the Divine Promise of freedom, but they left in a hurry when the Egyptian army was in hot pursuit.

    Rashi’s commentary on the meaning of matzah hints at a truth about human beings: change is often forced upon us by circumstance, even when we know it’s coming. This is true in every realm of human life, including religion, economics, environment, politics, and health (personal and organizational): we know, intellectually, that things can’t go on the way they always have but we often don’t change our habits until we have no choice. That lack of choice often comes faster than we can ever imagine, sometimes in an instant. In a hospital, we often see patients confronting spiritual, relationship or moral distress only after a medical crisis and it’s easy to wonder: didn’t they know this was coming? One could judge another unfavorably for putting off these reckonings, but as a chaplain, I’ve come to see that it’s simply human nature not to cross the Sea, as it were, until Pharaoh’s army pushes you to the shore.

    We make haste when we have to because as humans, it’s often too hard, if not impossible, to prepare for what we can hardly imagine, but then matzah comes along one week a year to remind us that we have what we need for the journey. Sometimes, as Rashi reminds us, all we can do is trust in God and go forward together, forgiving ourselves and each other our frailties and imperfections. Thus matzah is not only lechem oni, the bread of distress, but also symbol of our precious humanity, imperfect but more than sufficient, and in this we can rejoice.

  18. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Kasher

    THE SILENT CHILD – Passover Haggadah
    This post originally appears at

    Any fan of midrash has got to love ‘The Four Children.’

    This well-known section of the Passover Haggadah considers four types of children who might be sitting there at the Passover Seder: the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one who does not know how to ask. Each one forms a distinct personality archetype, and as we begin to tell the Passover story, we imagine each one asking a different kind of question, and each receiving his own unique answer. It is often celebrated as a record of the pedagogic wisdom of the rabbis, an early articulation of the principle of Personalized Learning.

    It is also a masterpiece of midrashic technique, a careful collection of verse fragments from across the Torah, reordered and strung together to form a new narrative. The midrash brilliantly picks up on the fact that there are four separate instances in the Torah which make mention of the obligation to tell the Passover story – each one phrased slightly differently, which the rabbis take to mean that they indicate four different kinds of telling.

    The Haggadah spells out exactly how all this is done, so we might as well just read the section through. The version we have is actually a synthesis of two appearances of this midrash, one found in the Mekhilta, and one in the Jerusalem Talmud. But let’s take the classic Haggadah text as our starting point, and we’ll interrupt along the way to explain things:

    The Torah speaks referring to four children: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask.

    כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה: אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל.

    The wise one, what does he say? “What are the testimonies, the rules and the laws which the Lord, our God, has commanded you?” (Deuteronomy 6:20)…

    חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ אֶתְכֶם.

    What a question! Look at how wordy and knowledgeable this kid is! So this is clearly the smart child. And what do we do? The midrash continues…

    So you shall instruct him in the laws of Passover, up to ‘one is not to eat anything after the Passover-lamb.’

    וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמוֹר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן:

    Okay, instruct him in the laws. Moving on…

    The wicked one, what does he say? “What is this service to you?” (Exodus 12:26)

    רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה הַזּאֹת לָכֶם.

    Uh-oh. The rabbis are not going like the tone of that question. Especially that last part: What’s it ‘to you’?

    He says ‘to you,’ but not to him! By excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: “It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I left Egypt” (Exodus 13:8) ; ‘for me’ – but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!

    לָכֶם – וְלֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִׁנָּיו וֶאֱמוֹר לוֹ: “בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה’ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם”. לִי וְלֹא־לוֹ. אִלּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל:

    Yikes. He wouldn’t even have made it out. That’s a strong statement. Then comes the simple child.

    The simple child, what does he say? “What is this?” (Exodus 13:14)

    תָּם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה זּאֹת?

    That’s it. That’s all he says. Just “what is this?” This child is confused by the whole ceremony. He really has no idea what’s going on. So the rabbis recommend starting from the beginning:

    Thus you shall say to him: “With a strong hand the Lord took us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves.”(Exodus 13:14)

    וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו “בְּחוֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה’ מִמִּצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים”.

    Okay – wise, wicked and simple. Three question, three answers. But then there’s one more child. A child without a question:

    As for the one who does not know how to ask, you must open the topic for him, as it is said: “You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I left Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)

    וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל – אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה’ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם.

    Now that last one is a little surprising. If the working assumption of the midrash is that each Passover question recorded in the Torah refers to a different child, and we find three different questions, why not just leave it at three children? Why read in a fourth, silent child?

    Now, you might say, well, since there’s another verse that speaks of telling the Passover story to children, that telling also has to be accounted for, and since there’s no prompting question there, that child must not have asked one. So that child must not have known how to ask.

    ּBut there are several problems with that logic. First of all, we don’t need to create a silent child for the “You shall tell your child on that day” verse, because that particular verse has another function. It is from this very line that the rabbis derive the actual commandment to tell the story of Passover to our children. So this is the primary verse, from which we learn that we tell the story altogether. It’s the other storytelling verses that are extra – and so they can be used to describe how we tell the story.

    But more perplexing still is the nature of this child. “The one who does not know how to ask”? That doesn’t seem like a classic personality archetype. A smart kid, sure, we know that type. A naughty kid – not unusual. And yes, some children are a little slow. But what does it mean that this child doesn’t know how to ask? If it were just a question of intelligence, we’d have already covered that with the simple child. No, there’s some other disconnect happening for this child.

    As is so often the case, Rashi’s commentary on this verse hints obliquely at a deeper level of psychological insight into what might be going on. He says:

    Here, “You shall tell your child,” speaks about the child who does not know how to ask. And the verse is teaching you that you should open for him with words of Aggadah, that draw forth the heart. (appears in Rashi’s comments on v. 5)

    וכאן והגדת לבנך, בבן שאינו יודע לשאול, והכתוב מלמדך שתפתח לו אתה בדברי אגדה המושכין את הלב

    Open with “words of Aggadah.” The word Aggadah itself is significant here. For one thing, it is it the Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew, Haggadah, both of which mean telling – or, in this case, story-telling.

    But more than that, Aggadah always stands, in rabbinic literature, opposite Halakhah – or, Law – as the other major area of traditional study. These are the two basic categories of rabbinic writing: Halakhah and Aggadah, Law and Narrative.

    And yet (though it is never officially stated) it always seems that of the two, it is Law which takes the place of primacy. Law has historically been the major focus of Jewish study. The Talmud, the most famous rabbinic work, is primarily thought of as a legal text, though it contains plenty of narrative as well. Indeed, in many yeshivas, standard practice is to spend weeks carefully analyzing every line of halakhic discussion in the Talmud… and then to quickly gloss through the aggadic sections. In the land of traditional Jewish learning, Law reigns supreme.

    For an affirmation of this truth, we need look no further than our midrash here in the Haggadah. Who is the “wise child,” after all? It is the one who asks, “what are the testimonies, rules, and laws, which the Lord your God has commanded you”? This child is not just knowledgeable. The things she knows about are the laws. And so we answer her with a catalog of laws, detailing the Passover rituals, from beginning to end. The standard-bearer of Wisdom is Law.

    And yet, something is wrong with this equation. For on Passover, of all times, the reason we are gathered together, is to tell a story. The very name of the book we read from is the Haggadah – literally, ‘The Storytelling.’ Rattling off a list of rules and regulations will not do. We are here to tell the story of the Exodus.

    The Book of Exodus, after all, is itself an epic narrative. Yes, there are many laws in it; but those laws are embedded in a larger story, and they only find their meaning and their authority through their placement in that story. Who would follow the commandments of the Torah if they were presented abruptly, with no context? Who would be there to stand at Sinai if the Israelites had not been freed from Egypt? That is the whole point of the Book of Exodus: Revelation depends on Redemption. Law depends on Narrative.

    The great twentieth-century legal philosopher, Robert Cover, in his essay Nomos and Narrative, puts it this way:

    No set of legal institutions or prescriptions exists apart from the narratives that locate it and give it meaning. For every constitution there is an epic, for each decalogue a scripture. Once understood in the context of the narratives that give it meaning, law becomes not merely a system of rules to be observed, but a world in which we live.

    And the great twentieth-century Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, expresses a similar sentiment, in the language of rabbinic discourse:

    Halakhah deals with the law; Aggadah with the meaning of the law. Halakhah deals with subjects that can be expressed literally; Aggadah introduces us to a realm that lies beyond the range of expression. Halakhah teaches us how to perform common acts; Aggadah tells us how to participate in the eternal drama. Halakhah gives us knowledge; Aggadah gives us aspiration.

    The wise child is asking for knowledge – for Halakhah. But there is another type of child who is seeking meaning. He does not know how to ask, because questions are the language of analysis and investigation. Instead he is listening. Listening for something that lies beyond the range of expression.

    How will we know what to say to this silent child? Rashi tells us. We will open with Aggadah, with story, because, Rashi says, words of Aggadah draw forth the heart. This is not the simple child. This child holds a complexity, there behind his silence. But he processes the world not with his mind, but with his heart. So we must learn to speak to the heart, to the emotions, to the intuitions.

    We must learn to tell the story of the Exodus. This is the child who will teach us how.

  19. Wendy

    From AJR/CA

    “Matzah – A Bread with Many Meanings”
    By Rabbi Avraham Greenstein

    At the outset of the seder, we declare the matzah to be לַחְמָא עַנְיָא, i.e. “the bread of affliction” or “the bread of poverty”. This term is an aramaization of the term the Torah uses in Deuteronomy 16:3, לֶחֶם עֹנִי. The identification of the matzah as a bread of deprivation and discomfort presents a potential paradox, as it seems we celebrate our freedom with its opposite, with a bread characterized by, and the product of, constraint. After all, the matzah is a simple bread that does not have the benefit of added ingredients or the time to rise. The fact is, however, that this is not a contradiction. The past Egyptian penury represented by the matzah is itself a reminder of our present freedom from Egypt. Likewise, the rush that precluded the rising of the matzah was itself the rush that facilitated our sudden and long-awaited escape from Egypt. This simple bread itself is an expression the opportunity for the nation of Israel to be free. With that in mind, here are a few alternative translations for לֶחֶם עֹנִי:

    The Bread of Simplification – The Maharal explains that the bare-bones matzah represents the gift of simplicity. We are truly free when we are able to simplify our lives, to strip away what is extraneous. When we are unencumbered by concerns and priorities foreign to us, we can determine our own future. By being relieved of our dependence on material trappings and stripped of our preconceived notions about our selves, we become free to dedicate ourselves to divine service and to the needs of our souls.

    The Bread of Cooperation – The Talmud in Pesahim 115a describes matzah as the kind of bread that can only be baked through cooperation. Since the matzah must be baked quickly, one person must keep the oven hot while the other prepares the matzah itself. Whereas normally it would be the constraints of poverty that would necessitate such cooperation to make an efficient use of cooking fuel, we find on Passover that cooperation is a goal in itself. The goals of the seder are met as a group. We achieve freedom from our own limitations with the help of our fellows.

    The Bread of Conversation – Shmuel in Pesahim 36a and 115a interprets לֶחֶם עֹנִי as the bread that occasions answers. He bases this interpretation on the fact that the Hebrew root √עני can also mean to answer or respond. The bulk of the seder functions as a set of questions and responses meant to stimulate conversation about the exodus from Egypt and about our own personal potential for inner freedom. The central mitzvah of the seder, to tell the story of the exodus to our children and to the child inside of us, is only accomplished through conversation and meaningful personal engagement.

    The Bread of Song – Besides having its own set of meanings, the Hebrew root √עני can also represent the Semitic root √gh-n-y, meaning “to sing”. This is why the expression וַתַּעַן לָהֶם מִרְיָם (Ex. 15:21) is often translated as “and Miriam sang to them”. During the seder, we sing G-d’s praise over the matzah, and we sing out together of the hope and joy of togetherness and freedom.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.”

  25. 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!

  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 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

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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

  34. Wendy

    From Rabbi Miles Krassen
    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

  35. 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.

  36. 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).

  37. 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.

  38. 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).

  39. 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.

  40. 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).

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. Aryae Post author

    From Reb Zalman

    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.

  46. Aryae Post author

    From Reb Zalman

    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.”

  47. Aryae Post author

    From Reb Zalman

    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.


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