Monday, April 28, 2008


This coming week marks the commemoration of Yom Hashoah-"Holocaust Day." Jews the world over set aside time, thought and feeling to remember the the atrocity of the scientific attempt to annihilate the Jewish people from the face of our planet.Using modern technology, contemporary advances in administration and management, and the trappings of a rational legal system and a new-found philosophical framework, Nazi Germany embarked on a global effort to rid humanity of the living presence of the Jewish people and of Judaism. Six million innocent men, women and children were exterminated. This carefully deliberate and thoroughly planned and executed program of mass murder and genocide was conducted painstakingly and persistently , every day of every week, for an endless period of almost five years. The world knew , but did little, if anything ,to halt the slaughter. Feigned ignorance, rationalization, indifference, politics as usual, perhaps disguised anti-semitism, were all mustered to mask the enormity of this crime and allow for a response of inaction and inattention.
As one who is committed to the spiritual practice of gratefulness, can I respond to the Holocaust from this perspective as well, or does any spiritual response that is life enhancing and positive vanish in the smoke of the crematoria?
Is the only response to the Holocaust grief, unmitigated misery and loss, nightmarish remembrances and the determination to never allow this to happen again? Without question , if we are to preserve our humanity, we dare not ignore our capacity to mourn and grieve; to remember and try to understand is another compelling moral obligation of our confronting this tragic human horror. It can not be emphasized enough that an unrelenting lesson of the Holocaust is -"Never Again"- We are duty bound to do everything humanly possible to prevent such a blight on human history from ever happening again. Furthermore, from the vantage point of Jewish survival, never will we allow ourselves to fall into the pit of powerlessness and vulnerability that will invite others to make us the victims of human cruelty and brutality.
Sixty years after this hellish happening, can we touch any aspect of gratefulness in its aftermath?
Perhaps the answer lies in how we answer the following hypothetical question. Would you prefer to be the descendent of the Nazi perpetrators or the progeny of the victims, the son, daughter , grandchild, nephew or niece of an officer of the S.S. or a Jewish family member of a rabbi, doctor, tailor, or school child, gassed at Auschwitz?
I am grateful that I am victim rather than perpetrator. Our prayers remind us-"Ashreynu ma tov helkaynu." How fortunate we are, how good is our portion, our lot in life! In spite of the unbearable losses, suffering and inhumanity inflicted upon us, we can be spiritually and morally grateful for bearing this tragedy with honor, with a determination to persist in our loyalty to our heritage and to our people and remain faithful descendants of our illustrious ancestors, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and the countless thousands of students, saints and scholars upon whose shoulders we stand with the pride of a faith and history that has brought such immeasurable blessing to this world.
I am grateful for the thousands of Holocaust survivors who have taught us the lesson of how to rebuild a meaningful and successful Jewish life from the ashes of destruction and death. I am grateful for the small yet so powerfully important and inspiring act of courage and human goodness of the "Hassidei umot ha'olam"-the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives and the lives of loved ones. to save a small remnant of Europe's Jews.
Finally, I am grateful that I belong to a people who despite being reviled and despised even today ,stubbornly refuses to surrender to the dark forces of evil, of violence, of hatred and bestiality, but who persist in learning and growing and helping and serving , defending and protecting the values of human decency and compassion wherever they may be. I am grateful that in the shadow of this most monstrous of the many calamities of the twentieth century, my people rose up to create a new civilization on a tiny, ancient, God-given strip of land known as Israel, where a vibrant democracy, not perfect but struggling , committed to improve and better the lives of so many, Jew and non-Jew alike.
"Ashreynu, ma tov helkaynu"-How grateful we should feel at this time of the year. Amidst tears of anguish and those that flow in festive celebration of Israel's sixtieth year of independence,
we can recite with hearts overflowing with gratitude-Blessed are You, the Source of the Good who has bestowed His goodness on us at this season of commemoration and celebration Amen.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


" Good morning," she said, a perfunctory smile complementing her formal greeting.
"Good morning,"I answered a little more enthusiastically , finding myself singing: "Good mornin' Good mornin' ..." a song from my favorite musical film, "Singing in the Rain."
I was in line at the register of my favorite food store, Whole Food, and the pretty young woman's face brightened a little.
I asked: " Have you ever seen "Singing in the Rain?"
Her forehead furrowed, a quizzical look on her face.
"No," she answered. "Is that one of those old , black and white movies ?"
I laughed ."No, it was in color. Believe it or not, it was made in the 50's."
"Wow,"she exclaimed."That's a long time ago."
I smiled again. "Not to me it isn't."
My curiosity got the better of me."Did you ever hear of Debbie Reynolds ?" Again, she looked completely befuddled. "Uh, Uh,"came the response. A moment later her face lit up as she announced: " I heard of Burt Reynolds!"
I roared. We exchanged goodbyes and I couldn't stop chuckling. I felt older but in a pleasant, warmly nostalgic way. I was grateful for a memory that was 50 years old, one I could enjoy not only by remembering but by reliving via my own television screen.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


We have come to the end of our Seder, the end of our journey.There is nothing left to do.
We have prayed, praised, sung and talked, eaten and drunk, laughed and cried, questioned and commented , connected with the past and the present-what remains?
Is it over? Does the journey ever in fact end? Is not every ending also a beginning?
What remains to be done? Do we start over? Yes, but first we fulfill the stage of Nirzah-acceptance. We have concluded the active part of the Seder.
One act remains. Now all we can do is "stand before God with our hands raised." All we can do is to be.We surrender, we let go, of effort, of strain, of activity, of planning and devising, of struggle, and simply experience the fullness of the All, grateful for the overflowing of God's gifts and blessings.
" We have long anticipated this night, we have extensively prepared for it. We have done our human best. Yehi razon: May You, God, accept the longing of our hearts."(Breslov Haggadah)
"Leshana habah beyerushalayim habenuya"-Next year in a Jerusalem that is joyous, that reflects the wisdom of the heart, Habenuya-built upon the "binah" of God's wisdom of the human soul. Amen V'Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


"Sometimes we feel overwhelmed. Where to turn? Where to begin? So much to do, so much to correct...Jealousy. Anger. Pride. How do we get rid of them? Gossip. Bickering. They embitter our lives . Unbridled physical desires, so compelling! How do we control them, redirect them, sublimate them to a higher level of experience?...Sometimes we simply want to become better people, better Jews. ..It's too much to deal with at one time.We must find one path, one attribute to give us the proper perspective, to show us the right way out of the maze of confusion and fear.
Hallel is this response, the golden way to awareness of the divine.To praise God is to overcome illusion and to touch Reality."( Breslov Haggadah)
The spiritual active climax of the journey toward Godliness is Hallel. After all is said and done, the acme of spiritual aspiration is Hallel. If all else fails, there is always the ability to praise, to acknowledge gratefully and thankfully the reality of the divine in our lives.
"The Creator moves the galaxies, the planets ,the stars.He sustains life on earth.He guides human history. He dries our tears and comforts us when we suffer. He is with us when we are born and when we die. And he fills the Meaning of life in between."(Breslov Haggadah)
Yet, to praise can be difficult. Our anger, our greed, our guilt get in the way. Moreover, who is audacious enough to think that we can adequately praise God? Is it not an act of "Hutzpah" to consider for a fleeting moment that we are deserving of this privilege? Even to praise is a gift, one for which we can only be grateful.
We recite the Hallel. Our effort to praise God.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


"This is the day the IRS has made, let us rejoice and be glad on it." As a paraphrase of a Psalm which urges rejoicing on everyday since time was created by God, I believe that April 15-the deadline on paying taxes-can likewise be seen as a time on which to be grateful.(I don't have in mind CPA's or the industry that profits from the taxation system.)
This sounds, at first glance, to be utterly ridiculous, if not insensitive and spiteful. After all, we work hard for our money-why give it away to the government, an impersonal and bloated bureaucracy? Furthermore, the inequities that abound in the system are so egregious that it only leads to outcries of protest and righteous indignation! When a billionaire like Warren Buffet announces that he pays less in taxes than his secretary, how can we not be outraged?
So,what audacity , insanity or insensitivity prompts this urging that we consider the handing over of taxes a source of gratitude, and not a grievance of dogged griping?
The NY times today gave one very cogent answer. With all the imperfections of our system, nonetheless, taxation today is "Not a throwback to the time when kings picked our pockets..."paying our dues" allows for schools and transit systems and 10,000 other services that exist only because we pay our is language by which we stand together as Americans."
Perhaps the most powerful reason for gratefulness today, Tax Day for Americans, has to do with our gratitude for having employment that requires a response of taxation. Without work, there are no taxes. Today especially, as our economy falters, growing numbers of Americans will be unable to pay taxes next year.Those who will, can consider today as a day on which to rejoice and be glad for the blessing of a job.


Most religious traditions require a blessing before we eat; Judaism adds the obligation of blessing after we eat. This prescription is based on a Biblical passage from the book of Deuteronomy:"When you have eaten your fill , give thanks to the Lord your God." More literally the phrase is translated as :"You shall eat, be satisfied and bless your God."
It is a commonplace that once we have eaten and feel satiated, the desire to think of the source of our satisfaction becomes somewhat distant. We are not inclined to think of spiritual nourishment at that time. When the belly is full, our souls seem to slumber.For this reason, our tradition enjoins us to awaken our souls "to give them an opportunity to express their yearnings, their cravings for God."( Breslov Haggadah)
On the other hand, perhaps the Biblical reference to "You shall be satisfied" points to the feeling of gratefulness as a prologue to blessing. When we feel grateful ie. satiated, fulfilled, we are then spiritually inclined to acknowledge the ultimate source of this feeling of well-being, and to bless God.
At this point in the Seder, we have engaged in many steps on our journey toward spiritual freedom. We have recited the story, completed the rituals, eaten to satiety a festive repast. All that is left to do is to respond to God out of a deep feeling of gratitude. Thus we bless; beyond blessing is Hallel-pure, and unvarnished praise , the next step in our journey.

Monday, April 14, 2008


So much of our lives is hidden. We conceal things from others, even from ourselves often because of shame. We feel that a good part of who we are is unworthy of disclosure, preferring to let that part remain buried deep within us, secretly submerged in the innermost recesses of our selves.
So preoccupied are we in hiding from view who we are , we fail to feel free. Our spiritual and psychological energy is invested in hiding, in concealing ourselves from others, in making sure that nothing of our true identities that we consider socially unacceptable slips out of our private and insular grasp.
Zafun ,the hidden Matzah, is now searched for and brought out in full view of the participants and shared by all. It is customary to have children either hide or search for the Afikomen, the hidden piece of Matzah.
What is the meaning of the word "Afikoman?" The normative understanding is related to the concept of eating a dessert or refreshments following the meal.(It is a Greek word meaning aftermeal entertainment or refreshment) Jewish law instructs us not to eat any dessert following the consumption of the Paschal lamb , or in our day ,the final piece of Matzah-the Afikoman.
A more homiletic interpretation touches upon the idea of revealing the hidden in our souls. The word can be divided into two parts-"Afiko"and "Man." The first word is translated as 'bring out or bring forth' and the second word suggests a word found in the Torah uttered in bewilderment by the Israelites when they witnessed the "Manna" fall from heaven and exclaimed-"Man huh?"-what is it? That is, the word "Man" denotes the unknown, the unexplainable, perhaps the mysterious.
Thus returning to our current attempt to understand the term -"Afiko-man, " does it not suggest that at this point in the Seder we are called upon to reveal the hidden, the unknown, the mysterious in our lives? Are we not bidden to bring out and bring forth our authentic selves, without the trappings of super sophistication and the layers of grown up convention superimposed upon our fragile and tender souls?
How do we accomplish this personal revelation? As children figure so prominently in the act of discovering the hidden matzah, does this not intimate an insistence that we return to the child within us, to that dimension of dormant innocence and pure trust, awaiting an awakening in the midst of the caution and censurship so characteristic of adult, cerebral life? Is this not the perfect moment during which to throw bias, discrimination, analysis, intellectualization to the winds and instead bask in the carefree warmth of the Seder's safety and security? After all, we are surrounded by loved ones, we feel God's protecting care hover above us. It is "leil Shimurim"-the night of being protected, watched over, cared for? No harm can befall us; we need not raise up false defenses against imaginary fears? We are free to be who we are, and this freedom gives us the inner strength to be ourselves-"for You are our refuge and our fortress!"

Amidst the feeling of freedom, we are now ready to bless-we arrive at "Barech."

Thursday, April 10, 2008


What is so special about this step? After all, until now we have encountered a variety of foods , from greens to bitter herbs and matzah- the notion or expectation of food is no longer absent. Yet, the ready availability of food has not been arrived at until this moment-"Shulchan Orech"-a prepared table, a table laden with food awaiting our consumption. Food takes on an urgency, an immediacy, and we are called upon to heighten our grateful awareness for this repast.
Only a few short moments ago, I received a phone call- it was a plea for food -not for Passover but for today-"Hayom"-today I hear the summons to which I must respond in sharing what we have with others who experience the burden of not having because of ill health that ravenously consumes one's resources or the dwindling of savings due to a shrinking economy. The caller cannot wait until Passover, when we invite the hungry to our table- Passover is now, and the cry for help can't wait. Thus we collect "Maot Hittim"-money for wheat, not only for purposes of baking Matzah but more immediately for the baking of bread, to be eaten right now, "Hayom", today.
We have been patient. We can afford to wait, if there is certainty that the table will be set with provisions needed for our basic survival. For ourselves, we trust in God, we open our hearts to that which is beyond time. For others, however, we are enjoined to open our hearts with kindness and compassion, to share a full table with one whose table is bare.Gratefulness is complete when it unfolds into acts of compassion.
Now our God has set a table-laden with blessings-in sight of our "enemies"-the fears of the future. The following poem is apt:

Any moment, preparing this meal,
we could be gas thirty thousand
feet in the air soon
to fall out poisonous on leaf,
frond and fur. Everything
in sight would cease.

And still we cook,
putting a thousand cherished
dreams on the table, to nourish
and reassure those close and dear.
(Edward Espe Brown, The Tassajara Recipe Book)

We eat, "our cup runneth over," grateful for our appetites and for the gift of God's gracious Hand."You open Your hand, and satisfy every living thing."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


At the time that the Temple stood in Jerusalem, it was Hillel's custom to combine the the Matzah and Maror and eat them together. Today we place Maror between two pieces of Matzah forming a sandwich and eat it. "Korech" means to bind, to wrap, to enfold. No new substances are added to our celebration. Rather, the primary items-Matzah and Maror,the Paschal Offering as well when the Temple stood, were eaten as a unified substance and not as individual items.
It is the act of binding together, of enfolding, that gives this ritual step a unique spiritual significance.

The sandwich transcends plurality and difference.Multiplicity and individuality are preserved.The Maror does not lose its taste; it is only connected to a different enfolding and embracing substance that points to the "divine manifestation" of Unity and harmony.
The Breslav Haggadah puts it best:"In this world we experience plurality. The oneness of all things, the Unity of God as it is manifested in Creation, is hidden. We find it difficult to comprehend how from the One comes the many...Hillel realized that all things are One.( The schools of Hillel and Shammai disagreed on a wide range of issues, but there was great accord and mutual respect between them.) It is the Holy Temple which symbolizes the great harmony in Creation, the elevation of all things to their Source....With the Holy Temple, we experience the unity of humanity, the oneness of adversity and contentment."
Unity is not equivalent to sameness. Again and again, Judaism proclaims the legitimacy and necessity of diversity and individuality under an all-embracing canopy of unity and commonality.Sharing does not mean relinquishing the singularity of one's identity, one's ideas or levels of understanding. We were all created in the image of God yet no two individuals are identical. The Mishnah points out this phenomenon as an expression of God's omnipotence and insuperable creativity.: “Therefore but a single man was created in the world to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He; for man stamps many coins with one seal and they are all like one another; but the King of Kings has stamped every human with the seal of the first human yet not one is like his fellows.”
The Matzah-symbol of freedom suggests in its sandwich form, the capacity of the human heart to gain freedom as it enfolds the bitterness of life in its loving embrace of life's fullness and totality , especially the experience of suffering and pain. "Korech" reminds us that avoidance is not the way of freedom; compassionate encounter and embrace is the path of liberation and spiritual redemption.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Maror, the bitter herbs , are never eaten without the sweet condiment known as "Haroset," a mixture of sweet fruits , spices, nuts and wine. We all experience bitterness in our lives. How do we deal with those moments of misery, those times of tragedy and trial? Passover, the Seder, suggest that the discernment of sweetness amid adversity can be derived from this practice of mingling "maror" with "haroset." The bitterness of life becomes bearable only if somehow we discover a morsel of meaning and depth from this suffering. God never imposes a challenge we cannot withstand, we cannot bear.
How do we cope with bitterness? However difficult and demanding it may be, we somehow find the strength to recite a blessing, as we do before partaking of the "maror." Our Rabbis indicate that in the same way we recite God's praises when life is sweet, likewise do we bless God when life's shadows cross our paths. To praise God at moments of challenge like death and loss is to transcend the immediate and touch the eternal. Is this not the reason for reciting Kaddish, the prayer said by the mourner after the loss of a loved one? Kaddish bespeaks nothing of death; it is a prayer of praise. Saying these words-"Magnified and Sanctified be Thy Great Name..." stretches our souls to savor the sweetness of grateful acceptance of life's mystery and totality.
As we chew on the harshness of "maror", its bitterness is mitigated, is softened to the point of coming to terms with its severity and being able to swallow the sting of of its pain.
The wholeness of the Matzah restored to its original intactness reminds us of the inseparability of life's polarities, how attached we are to life's ambivalences and ambiguities.Perhaps that is why Hillel suggested the practice of "Korech," making a "sandwich" as the next step along our spiritual journey of redemption.

Monday, April 7, 2008


The salient substance and symbol of Passover is Matzah,unleavened bread. One of the several names of the Passover celebration is the Festival of Unleavened Bread-"Hag Ha 'matzot. Of all the multitudes of legal minutae surrounding the observance of Passover, no item other than Matzah and its counterpart -Hametz-occupies so much attention and "halachik" consideration.
Matzah is moored to life's ambivalences . Its two ingredients , water and flour, simple and unadulterated by spices or seasonings, harken back to the two primordial opposites of dry land and water. Mingled in chaotic formlessness, dry land and water are separated, pulled apart by divine words. On Passover, mixed together once more, they are forged into a unity through the energy of fire and heat.
On the one hand, Matzah represents the bread of affliction, the food of slavery, simple, primitive, prepared and eaten quickly, without the luxury of leisure and comfort. It is the food of flitting impatience, eaten on the run while hurried and harassed. Conversely, matzah is eaten on the night of redemption, while reclining, bearing the taste of Mannah, of the bread from Heaven.
As we chew on its hardened crust we become aware of life's polarities and contradictions, darkness and light, sadness and joy, good and evil, love and hate, affection and anger, life and death. As "lechem oni"-the food of response and story -telling, we begin to gain an insight into the unity of all things, recognizing that at the core of all reality is a harmony and interconnected integration enfolding everything in an embrace of compassion and love. Matzah makes for the unfolding of spiritual maturity,enabling us to hold these contradictions of life in our heart, and understand life's ambiguities and crosscurrents, its many levels of inherent conflict. The heart's graciousness endows us with the gift of grasping the whole, the outrageousness and the beauty, under a canopy of grateful compassion.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


The blessing over bread-the staple of life-is the "Hamotzi"-"Who brings forth bread from the earth. " Implied in this blessing is the emerging awareness that "Lechem"-bread-the very sustenance of life -is extracted from the earth. In other words, the spark of God, that which engenders life, is inherent in the physical and material fabric of existence, in the earthiness of life itself.
The dichotomy of heaven and earth as loci of God's presence is artificial and misleading. "The earth is replete with God's glory"-God is everywhere, not only in the farthest reaches of heaven. The entire cosmos is suffused with God's reality.
When we recite the blessing -"Hamotzi"-we extract the godliness that is contained in the earthiness of our experience. The Hebrew word for bringing forth-Hamotzi-is closely related to the Hebrew word for finding, for discovering , "matzoh". As we acknowledge in formal words the hand of God in the provision of food, we rediscover His presence in the depths of our earthly existence.
On Passover, we recite this blessing over Matzah, the "bread of affliction, of impoverishment and servitude." Passover allows us to perceive with our hearts through story telling and tangible tastes of ritual foods, the nearness of the divine in contexts of struggle and hardship. While our outward awareness is blinded to God's presence because of suffering and want, reciting a blessing reminds us deeply of the hiddeness of God that will eventually re-emerge into fuller view.We wash our hands first-Rachtzah- and with complete trust we are able to speak the words of blessing that allow us to recognize and rediscover the elusive reality of God's presence everywhere and anywhere.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


We have told the story. Responses reflecting diversity among us have been shared. We are not alone in our thoughts and feelings.The story has softened our hearts, has penetrated the hardness of our fears and artificial defenses and pierced open the stoniness of our suspicion and distrust.
Our children have asked the questions and we have tried to answer them, honestly and openly.Children recognize insincerity instantaneously; we dare not deceive them with disconnected intellectualization or abstract pontification. We thus extend the depth of our feeling and memory with them, inviting them to step into our stories in the hope that they will be lovingly nurtured through our personal and intimate revelations of who we were and who we try to be. After all, the story is told around a family table, its listeners are loved ones, its conveyers are sources of care and concern. We let go of barriers of distance and detachment, embracing one another's words and gestures hungrily and gratefully.
Now we feel more trusting, sharing strengthens bonds of togetherness -it is time for "rachtzah"-fuller trusting, tangibly executed by the washing of the hands with the pronouncement of a blessing, expressing our trust in and gratitude to, God.
The water refreshes and cleanses our spirit of the dross of feeling apart, isolated, even alone; we are family again, our ties reinforced by a common story of reaching for redemption.
We ready ourselves for the meal, for the partaking in a scrumptiously sacred meal; but first a reminder of the paradoxes of life and how to embrace them with the the wisdom of the heart.
Matzah-unleavened bread-the substance of the next posting, the next step in the spiritual process of Seder.


"Facts lead us to knowledge, but stories lead to wisdom."(Rachel Naomi Remen-Kitchen Table Wisdom).
To tell a story is an act by which we try to realize our capacity for wonder, meaning and delight. We understand human experience when we listen to a story, and its meaning changes as our capacity to understand meaning unfolds and grows. All of us have stories; all of us are stories in the making, whose value is appreciated when we pay greater attention to their meaning.
In Jewish thinking, " God, as it were, camouflaged Himself in stories."(Breslov Haggadah).
The narrative of the Bible, especially that of the Exodus, transcends literature, words of entertainment and education. The stories of Scripture in mystical thinking are the disguises of divinity in the world. God is hidden in every word, every episode, every experience. This in fact is what transforms Scripture into a sacred story.
The Exodus story-a tale of exile and eventual redemption, is the story of all humanity, not only Israel. As we relate the details of these stories, so too must we relate to them.

Story telling transcends the social, the psychological. Sharing stories around the Seder table-Magid- transports us to a place where God's hand in history and the world becomes evident. In a sense, a story is a renewed revelation but hidden and discreet requiring an openess of heart and mind to perceive the pulse of the divine.
Stories stir our souls, shape memories and connections, stretch our imaginations and nurture our hearts. Magid offers us a vehicle of invaluable spiritual enrichment, linking us to those who came before and leading us into the unknowable future with roots out of which we can encounter what lies ahead with greater wisdom and faith.
"The one who elaborates upon the story of Yetziat Mitrayim-the Exodus from Egypt-is considered praiseworthy. " We are grateful for the story and for the gift of once again being able to share it with ourselves and others.
When the Ba'al Shem Tov had to fulfill a difficult task before him, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire, and meditate in prayer, and what he set out to perform was done.
When a generation later the "Maggid" of Mezeritz was faced with the same task, he would go to the same place in the woods and say:"We can no longer light the fire but we can still say the prayers," and what he wanted done became a reality.
Again, a generation later, Rabbi Moishe of Sassov had to perform a task. And he too went into the woods and said:"We can no longer light a fire, nor do we know the secret meditations belonging to the prayer, but we do know the place in the woods to which it all belongs," and that must be sufficient; and sufficient it was.
But when another generation had passed, and Rabbi Israel of Rishin was called upon to perform the task, he sat down on his chair and said: " We cannot light the fire, we cannot speak the prayers, we do not know the place, but we can tell the story of how it was done. " And the story that he told had the same effect as the actions of the other three.
"In every generation we are obligated to tell the story..." The story will enable us to perform the holy task of touching the Holy Presence. The story is all we have.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


It may come as a surprise but Judaism does not insist on perfection. In all of Jewish sacred texts nowhere do we encounter the divine demand: Thou shalt be perfect. Recognizing that perfection belongs exclusively to God and to pursue it would be construed as an act of hubris. Judaism did, however, hold out the expectation that we strive for holiness, to emulate God’s deeds of compassion and justice, but never to entertain the prospect of becoming God.
Human life is incomplete, imperfect, in a state of fragmentation and brokenness.
We break the Matzah, putting one part aside , hiding it for later, with the knowledge that the divided piece will suffice for our current celebration. Wholeness, perfection, the ideal is something hidden, “zafun,” as yet undiscovered. The ultimate transcends our awareness; all we can do is imagine and reach for that which we conceive of as God-the Source of perfection, unity, “Shalom.”
To engage in the journey of greater God consciousness we can only break up the wholeness of life into understandable segments, partialize reality and grasp, if blessed, only a momentary glimpse of God. The matzah over which we conduct our Seder is ”Lechem Oni,” a broken matzah, the food of humans whose mortality and creatureliness render us insignificant, almost desperate in our search for the divine. It is poor man’s bread, as we emerge spiritually impoverished, a faulty facsimilie of God’s Image and likeness.
Yet, it is precisely by way of a broken heart that we arrive at an awareness of greater proximity to God. Can we pray when feeling smug about life, perfect and complacent?
The mature heart is not perfectionistic; it rests in the compassion of our being instead of the ideals of the mind. Before we seek the piece that fits the puzzle of our bewilderment, and restore the hidden piece to our fuller awareness and knowledge of God, we bless, praise God for the partiality of life , of matzah, and discover gratefulness in every bite of this bread of affliction.
We are left with the shattered pieces of our lives, with the fragments of our history as a people still struggling to unify God’s name in this world. What remains as we continue our ritual is the broken matzah, and the story of lives unleavened and incomplete.
It is time to tell the tale-Magid.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Seder participants take a small morsel of an ordinary vegetable, dip it in salt water, and recite a blessing of thanks. Each of these elements, that which grows from the earth, the salt water representing the oceans of this planet, embrace the fundamental totality of all life . Taking these items together and praising the Source of these essentials of life bring to our attention the wonder of the ordinary. The obvious becomes mystery, activating a heightened sensitivity to the simplicity inherent in everything.
Our generation is a complex one. Technology's intention to simplify has paradoxically , in fact, only made life more intricate, even confusing. Karpas and salt water return us to our beginnings, to the basics of human existence.Simple food, simple drink, simple taste.
"The ordinariness of spiritual life comes from a heart that has learned to trust, from a gratefulness for the gift of human life... like water which finds its way between the stones or wears them away a litle at a time and gradually lowers itself to the ocean, this ordinariness brings us to rest."(A Path With Heart).
Salt water has been seen as the tears of suffering and sorrow. Amidst the sadness of life however, the gift of the simple and ordinary grants us comfort and hope. Salt water incubates lifelessness.The green vegetable graces our palates with the prospect of renewal and aliveness.
"Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being." (The Wisdom the Tao te Ching)
The simple, ordinary act of karpas in salt water speaks volumes of the power of life to conquer death. Passover , after all , celebrates the process of redemption from the salty tears of slavery to the refreshing flowering of freedom, from the confusion of complexity to the clarity of the simple and ordinary.


"Rechatz" in Aramaic means trust. While washing is a tangible act, trusting is a response of the heart. It is only in the aftermath of recognizing the sacredness of life through joy that one is able to extend the heart and hand with a sense of trust. As the heart opens to all that is, it is touched by the capacity to let go and to love.Washing the hands is wedded symbolically and spiritually to an act of inner cleansing. As the prophet Ezekiel states in the segment read for Parashat Parah-the Sabbath not long before Passover-"I will sprinkle pure water upon you...I will purify you from all impurities and all your fetishes..and I will give you a new heart-I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh."(Ezekiel 36:25-26)
What is a heart of stone?
The impurities and fetishes referred to by Ezekiel are the constituent parts of a heart of stone. Such a heart is impervious to feeling, to empathy, to trust. It is a heart rooted in suspicion and fear, hardening itself to form an artificial barricade of self protection. Behind barriers of defensiveness and distrust, the world is seen as a place of danger, and life , a burden of blight.
What is the desired heart of flesh? Waters of purity, of gentle goodness will wash away the hardness. Instead of stone, the heart will pulsate with the soft and pliant fleshiness of feeling and vulnerability. The Targum, the Aramaic translation of the Bible, interestingly renders heart of flesh as "Lev Dachil-" a heart of fear of God, reverence, awe perhaps vulnerability.
By incorporating the simple and ordinary act of washing the hands the Seder introduces a further stage in the unfolding of the spiritual process of greater God awareness. Without the capacity of trust, without allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable and sensitive to the pain,the joy, the compassion and tenderness of life, our hearts remain implacable and stony, callous and unfeeling, even inhuman. A human heart of flesh is necessary to begin to touch the transcendent divinity within us and in the world.
A trusting and gratefully joyful heart is the beginning of attaining a heart of wisdom, the divine destination of the Seder experience.