Seder plate
Seder plateiStock

Dedicated in memory of Yaakov ben Avraham and Sarah Aharonov z"l

Beyond Memory:
The Living Legacy of the Pesach Seder

David Weinberg is a Shaliach in Montreal

“In each and every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt.” (Gemara Pesachim- Haggada)

Is this just a game or a play that we are about to act out for the 3315th time? How are we to really see ourselves as if it was us that went out of Egypt on that night?

It’s a little like that bad joke. The general caught wind that his troops were grumbling about the quality of the food so he decided to give them a tough lecture. He asked rhetorically, “Do you think Napoleon’s men at Waterloo complained that the bread was stale?!” A small voice interrupted, “No sir! It was fresh then!”

How do we relive and experience in all earnest an event that happened so long ago? Then it was fresh.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab brought the subject closer to home with the following analogy. It’s a known scientific phenomenon that every seven years or so every cell in the human body is cycled out and replaced that is except for the brain cells.

There are 50 trillion cells in the adult human. Every second 2-3 million blood cells die and are replaced. We continue to function as each delicate brick is systematically replaced. Wow!

Therefore every seven years we are almost entirely new people. Hey, maybe we can make that fact work to our advantage. Do you think that a court in the land would accept the following argument? 21 Years into a 30- year mortgage I decide to leave the agreement to pay the loan based on the premise, “It’s not me! I’ve changed three times since that paper was signed! It was somebody else who signed on the dotted line!” Absurd! Right? A husband turns to his wife of seven years and says, “You’re not the woman I married!” Can he just walk away? No! Why not?

When we look at the Jewish People over history it is similar to the way we might view ourselves over the course of our lives. There are my baby pictures. I was 3 kilo and 680 grams back then, ‘only’ two trillion cells. That’s me again at the Bar Mitzvah, at my wedding and again twenty years later in the future I will probably be a bit grayer and a few trillion cells paunchier, a little less vigorous but in some ways wiser and in other ways more foolish. It’s all me!

When we imagine the configuration of the nation, that was us, the Jewish Nation in our infancy. There we are again receiving the Torah. Now we are entering the Land of Israel. Here we are now thousands of uninterrupted years later with a different group of individual cells but the core is still the same. The brain cells have remained.

The experiences and the commitments of thousands of years are etched into our psyche today and are as relevant and binding as they were as the time that they originally happened. The Pesach Seder may not be an exercise in education or imagination as much as it is just jogging ancient memories.

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And for this past week's parsha:

The Walls are Talking

Eli Lipcshitz is Former Shaliach in Washington (2003-2005), Currently Israel MFA diplomat, spokesperson; Embassy of Israel in Canada

“When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place a lesion of tzara’ath upon a house in the land of your possession” (Vayikra, 14, 34)
On Shabbat Parshat ‘Metzora’ in the spring of 1940, Rabbi Klonimus Kalmish Shapiro, the Piasetzna Rebbe, gave a talk on the verse quoted above to his followers, or hasidim, in the Warsaw Ghetto.

It was the spring of 1940, almost six months after the Germans occupied Poland; many Jews from all over the country were being moved to Jewish Ghettos. The Piasetzna Rebbe, whose talks were later discovered under the ruins of the Ghetto and made into a book called ‘Aish Kodesh’ or the ‘Holy Fire’, led his followers through the hardest of times and through his talks always tried to give hope where there was very little.
In this specific talk the Rebbe asks a question on Rashi’s commentary of the above verse.

The verse, which is the opening to the paragraph discussing the ‘Tzaraat of ones house’, seems to be quite festive. It is as if Hashem is saying that when you enter the Land of Canaan, the land that I will give you… I will give you lesions on your home. Quite a welcoming! Rashi in his commentary immediately picks up on this and explains that it is in fact a wonderful welcome. Over the years the Canaanites, and others who lived in these houses before the People of Israel, hid money and treasures in the walls. Once the new owner of the house spots the lesions, he can take apart the wall and find the treasure.

Rashi’s commentary seems clear, aside from one small issue that bothers the Piasetzna Rebbe. In the coming verses, explaining how to go about getting rid of the lesions, the rules are that first the house is declared impure – everything must be removed and the owner must wait a week outside his house. After that he may need to wait another week (depending on the size and color of the mark) and only then does he remove the marked bricks and rebuild his house. The Rebbe asks: if the idea of the Tzaraat is so that Hashem can give us a reward, why do we need the whole process and the long wait? Why can’t we remove the bricks the minute we see the mark and find the treasure?

This seemingly unimportant question takes on a whole new meaning in the reality of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Rebbe explains that there are many hardships that people may have, and a man of faith believes that all the hardships are thrust upon him from above so that he can become a better person and possibly become closer to Hashem. In this way he can see the light at the end of the tunnel and understand that as hard as things may be for him, there is an ulterior purpose in Hashem’s plans.

At the beginning of what is now known as the Holocaust the Rebbe seems to be dealing with a different kind of hardship that was harder for him to explain. He mentions the hardships of being Jewish in the ghetto: no place to learn Torah, no school for children, no mikveh… These hardships don’t look like they can bring someone closer to Hashem, but rather push them away, as if Hashem has forgotten his nation and has no interest in them any more.

In this case, the Rebbe says, it may be too hard to see the good that can come out of it or the light at the end of the tunnel. That is why the Torah teaches us that there may be cases where the treasure is a long way down the road. The house is first impure, then secluded for a week and then taken apart. Only after that process can the treasure be found. The lesions of the house teach us patience and belief that everything Hashem does is for good.

Only after reading the ‘Aish Kodesh’ and seeing it in writing can I, growing up third generation after the Holocaust, dare to copy what was said then. It seems unfathomable that anyone in those conditions can speak of hope and good and lights at the end of the tunnel the way the Piasetzna Rebbe did.

Miraculously, only a few years later the State of Israel was declared in the land “that I will give you as a possession”. Thus, in a totally different reality than that of the Piasetzna Rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, in his book on the weekly Torah portions, writes on the topic of the very same Rashi.

Rabbi Riskin also asks about the festive ‘sounding’ verse and the ‘gift’ that Hashem will give the People of Israel when they enter the land. He asks, more specifically, what is the treasure that Rashi is referring to? To answer this Rabbi Riskin explains that the walls of the house may be symbolic to what the walls contain; the very fabric of the house that makes walls into a home. A Home consists of smells, tastes, relationships, families etc. The ‘gift’ that Hashem gives us are the lesions on the walls that can indicate if the home itself is in a good state or if we need to take time to purify it and maybe even rebuild it.
This is the treasure that Hashem wants to give us when we enter the land, the ability to pause and recalculate whether we are in the right direction and if our home is strong enough.

More than eighty years ago, in the darkest of times, the laws of ‘Tzaraat’ taught the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto a lesson in patience, belief and hope. One generation later, when Jews are free in their homeland and in their country, the laws of ‘Tzaraat’ call on us and ask us if we are in the right direction towards building a strong, stable home, or do we need some renovations in order to strengthen our spiritual foundations?

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