Havurat Shabbat Shalom – 4/9/2015
Rabbi Englander's Blog

Havurat Shabbat Shalom – 4/9/2015

Chag Sameach and Erev Shabbat Shalom,

I don’t know if you are a Passover “fan” or not.  There are aspects of the holiday that create an atmosphere unlike any other.  We do not sit down to a scripted meal like theseder any other time of year, the themes of slavery, redemption, and freedom never go out of style to inspire discussion, and the change in diet – if we are careful to eat our fruits and vegetables, people – is an hour-to-hour reminder that this week “things are different”.  I have appreciated the inspiration that the Jonathan Sacks Haggada has brought as I looked at it every day of the holiday and the days leading up to it, and now I’m open to suggestions for next year’s haggada.  I heard that there is a Kook-Carlebach-Soloveitchik Haggada, but come on, that has to be just a rumor!

(Actually it is true: click here to see.).  That’s the Hogan-Nicklaus-Woods (in their prime) threesome of that great Augusta National in the sky…did I mention it is Masters Weekend?

Even so, as Passover ends our thoughts turn to Yom Hashoah.  You should be at, if you can (as I will be, despite the Masters broadcast!) the community interfaith March of Remembrance from Boca Raton Christian School to Temple Beth El on Sunday – if you receive this e-mail you should have received details of that as well.  It begins at 3 pm.   Also please attend our Yom HaShoah commemoration at B’nai Torah on Wednesday evening at 7 pm.

Services Friday for the seventh day of Passover, which will include excerpts from and an introduction to Shir HaShirim coordinated by our Women’s League, are combined in the Sanctuary and begin at 8:45 am.  On Saturday Havurat Shabbat will meet at 10 am and we thank our Torah readers in advance:  Simon, Scott, Alan, Linda, Ed, Judy and Simon for the Haftarah.  We will have a full traditional Yizkor as part of the service (as well as Hallel and two Torah scrolls).   Next week we will have a previously scheduled Learner’s Service, focused on the Torah service as we like to do once a year.  There is always new ‘stuff’ to be learned so you are more than welcome – it will be from 10 to 11 on Shabbat morning.

Though I know I am a little late in getting the readings out for the following Shabbat, if you know or can prepare a reading for April 25th please let me know as soon as possible (we are in Vayikra of course):

1              13:55-59
2              14:1-5
3              14: 6-9
4              14:9-12
5              14:13-16
6              14:17-20
7              14:21-23
M            14:21-23
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Englander

Below, my D’var Torah from Shabbat HaGadol.


Tzav 5775 – Shabbat HaGadol
Rabbi David Englander

I know that after the meal many seders move along quickly, but I would encourage you not to skip out on Bareich.  Not the most talked about step of the seder but an important one, and out of all the steps of the seder it is the one that can happen all year round after any meal. Something with which many of us are out of practice – but as Jews we bless not only before but also after a meal.

In addition to being a beautiful set of prayers of gratitude, including the Torah commandment that tells us that we have to bless after a meal in the first place, the paragraphs of birkat hamazon did not all come on the scene at once.  Different communities added the paragraphs as time went on, to include a number of different appropriate themes.  I don’t know if it was the last passage added but it was over time determined that the second to last phrase – the penultimate phrase – of the set of prayers would be a statement of such certitude that it has caused consternation for many readers. You may recall it:  na’ar hayiti gam zakanti v’lo ra’iti tzadik ne’ezav:  I have been old and I have been young yet I have never watched a righteous man forsaken or his children begging for bread.

On the surface it seems either naïve or, unintentionally, even cruel.  Maybe this guy lived a pretty sheltered life, or maybe he didn’t know – or had a very high standard for – a righteous person.  Or maybe it is a projection to a time in which people truly get their just desserts and the “tzadik v’ra lo” (bad things happen to good people) dynamic will shift, it will be changed to something more obviously just and fair.

But others look more deeply at this phrase and see something different and more accessible.  In my ‘study haggada’ of choice this year, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks includes a comment based on an explanation he heard from Rabbi Moses Feuerstein of Boston.  While “lo ra’iti” translated literally is “I have not seen” it does have another usage in the Bible, specifically in the Book of Esther.  She says, in a part of a verse sung to the elegiac tune of Lamentations, “eikhakha ukhal vera’iti” – how can I bear to watch the disaster that will befall my people?  It does not mean to “see”; instead it means “stand by and watch, be a passive witness, a disengaged spectator.”  As Lord Rabbi Sacks says, it means “seeing and doing nothing to help” which is not the Jewish way.

This translation and understanding changes the force of the phrase from the blessing after the meal, and it may hit home at the seder especially.  As Sacks puts it, “Yes, we have eaten and are satisfied.  But that has not made us indifferent to the needs of others.”

Do you remember the declaration with which the Seder starts, or close to the beginning anyway?  Kol dichfin yetei v’yaichol – all who are hungry, come and eat!  Most of us of course already have our Seder guest list pretty well set by that point, but there are anecdotes from communities throughout history that took this literally and invited the poor into their homes at that point for a meal.  Even if that is not a practical effort for this moment in the evening, it declares an important value.  The value is real and actionable if we are able to “roeh” – to see but not stand idly by, and the value is a false one if we declare it but don’t do something to live by it.  By book ending, the seder – not quite the very beginning and not quite the very end but a reinforcement of the same idea toward the beginning and the end – we are saying to ourselves, our children, our community, and God – I am comfortable and I’m grateful for that, but others are not so I have to have them in mind and I have to do something.

A suggestion:  at my seder we don’t give afikoman presents.  Maybe it is because I could never quite figure out how there could be one winner at a seder, or maybe I don’t like the whole ‘holding the seder hostage until I get something for the afikoman’.  So we hide a lot of afikomens and everyone finds one and it is all very nice, but no one gets a bribe.  Instead, most years we ask the crowd to designate a charity or cause to which a donation will be made, and we find that this is a better representation of the values and messages of the seder than what the hunt and bargaining for the afikoman has become. So even if you include that – consider adding this other tradition to it.

This past week I was at a Federation board meeting and learned about the national campaign to assist Jews in Ukraine.  There is a level of direness in areas of that country that we wouldn’t wish on anyone, and there are tens of thousands of Jews caught up in the internal and external struggles of this Former Soviet Union country.  Our community has ongoing projects there which help somewhat, but a national multi-million dollar relief effort has been undertaken and our community stepped up with its fair share of over $90,000.  Why?  Because that is what it means to not stand idly by.  It is not all that can be done, but it is a start.  Pesach represents the never ending journey from slavery to freedom.  There are areas of our lives where we don’t feel free – bindings that hold us back from being our better selves – and there are areas of our country and certainly in the broader world where forms of slavery abound.

The first thing is to see, to notice.  The next is to do.  The seder teaches this and we live our reply, by talking about it on these wonderful Passover seder opportunities and by bringing these acted-on values into our lives and the world, as individuals and as a community, the rest of the year.

We live in the freest society in the world…free..and blessedly, Jews just about everywhere can anticipate some help from somewhere.  We can’t fix it, but we can make some difference, and that starts by saying we see.