Sunday night I was driving through downtown Boca and noticed how busy the restaurants were. Living in my rather cloistered world, I wondered if they were filled with non-Jews. My son, Noah, laughed and asked me if I was joking. He said, “You know Abba, most Jews may go to a Seder, but they don’t ‘keep’ the observances of the holiday to any great degree.” I realized he was probably correct.
But over the week, as I was celebrating the holiday and paying attention to its lessons, I felt so blessed to have this tradition and for the depths of its teachings and the constant reminders that come with its observance.
You are receiving my letter early this week because tomorrow is Yom Tov again and then, of course, the eighth day of Passover and Shabbat. Over the week, these days known as Chol HaMoed, our services have included an extra dose of joy and an emphasis on the holiday of Passover.
I was reflecting on the readings we do from the Torah this week, and the beauty in the intent of the rabbis who structured these readings. I’d like to share a little about that.
There are four days between the holy days at the beginning and the end. Each of the days has a different reading and the themes are quite informative. The first days we read about the story of the first Passover and the requirements to keep the holiday, remember the holiday, and to be a part of the community that keeps it alive. It speaks both to the religious notion of our experience of God’s presence in history, and also the dimension of being a Jew that is about belonging to a people and its aspirations for a nation and its devotion to freedom and justice.
On the second day of Chol Hamoed we learn about the calendar and how this festival fits in to the yearly celebrations. But more than that, we also learn how each of our festivals connects us to an obligation to take care of the poor, the hungry and the needy. It recalls the words from the Seder, ”Let all who are hungry come and eat.”
The third day contains a reading that speaks to a particular need in the relationship with the Divine. It is the need for forgiveness. We learn that even with our imperfections, we can live in this covenantal relationship. God accepts our offerings – be they those of long ago, or the offerings of our hearts.
And the final day of Chol Hamoed presents something extraordinary. The reading speaks about Pesach Sheni which literally means “the second Passover.” This was a date on the calendar, set a month after Passover, which allows one who was unable to celebrate this important festival to celebrate it on the fourteenth of the following month. It’s as if the Torah implies that it won’t work for everyone at all times, but that there are accommodations for participation, even a month later!
This holiday is about memory and meaning. But more than that, it is about finding acceptance, deeper meaning and hopefully inspiration. I’m convinced that although Passover tells us a story that we have kept alive for generations, it is meant to inspire us to action. Our story is meant to move us to act for the benefit of others in need of food, shelter, safety and freedom.
I end with a reminder. Please join our attempt to help alleviate the struggles of the children of Flint, Michigan. It’s a little project, but it will make a bit of a difference. Please see the attached (below) and join the list of names who have already given to this vitally important cause.
Chag Sameach, Shabbat Shalom, and I hope to see you in shul,
Rabbi David Steinhardt