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THE PASSOVER PUZZLE:
FIFTEEN SEQUENTIAL EXPERIENCES
by Shimon Apisdorf
Reprinted with permission from The Passover Survival Kit, Published by Leviathan Press, Baltimore, MD 1995
Books may be ordered in the USA by calling (800) 538-4284or on-line from Amazon.Com
Passover begins in the evening of Friday, April 6, 2012, and ends in the evening of Saturday, April 14, 2012.
The seder is conducted the evening of April 6th and 7th 2012.
The holiday of Passover is known as Zman Cheruteynu–the time of our freedom. And it is the Passover Seder, that most durable and popular of all Jewish practices, which is the pivotal component of this week-long “time of our freedom.” The Seder itself is composed of fifteen carefully fashioned pieces. This Seder, like the emergent picture formed by the pieces of some fantastic jigsaw puzzle, is designed to create a vivid experiential image of what freedom is all about. But these are no ordinary puzzle pieces as this is no ordinary puzzle. This is a puzzle in which the pieces are affected by the way they are held. It is through the careful and precise handling of each piece that its inherent form begins to emerge. Further, it is our thoughts and understanding of the intrinsic nature of these rebus-like pieces which serve to reveal their true color, imagery, and light. Once assembled, they create a brilliant mosaic of freedom.
And what a spectacular creation this freedom can be. That sense of profound inner confidence and strength of character born of a conviction to pursue a meaningful, spiritual, and moral existence. The freedom of a Jewish soul. A soul guided by wisdom and inspired by everything we have ever stood for. This vibrant totality becomes visible through the piece by piece assembly of the Seder experience, and in turn works its way into the very fabric of our being.
The ideas which follow are merely a glimpse into the world of insight contained in each one of the fifteen pieces of the Passover puzzle. Thousands of volumes have been written, each one exploring another facet of Passover, the Haggadah, and the pieces of the Seder. It is my hope that the ideas related here will serve as a relevant starting point as you approach your experience at the Seder, your assembly of these marvelous pieces of wisdom and your Passover odyssey in freedom.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE SEDER
From beginning to end, the Seder is comprised of fifteen specific experiences. These fifteen segments of the Seder follow a precise order and each comes with its own set of instructions.
It is a good idea for the leader of the Seder to take a few minutes and give a brief overview of these fifteen segments. This will provide people with a general framework for the Seder and give them a sense that the evening is following a purposeful pattern and not just wandering from ritual to ritual. It is also interesting to point out that the Hebrew word seder actually means order; and relates to the fact that the Seder follows a precise order, or pattern, which is embodied in these fifteen experiences. In fact, over the centuries many great scholars have revealed a wealth of ideas which illuminate a deeper meaning to these fifteen sequential experiences and how they are interrelated. Some of these ideas will be touched upon in the coming pages.
Before proceeding to kiddush, the blessing over the first cup of wine, it is customary for everyone at the Seder to sing or read the list of the fifteen observances.
1. KADESH: A special blessing is recited over a glass of wine or grape juice. This blessing speaks of the treasured role which all holidays play in Jewish life and makes particular reference to the unique opportunity embodied in Passover.
2. URECHATZ: Prior to eating the karpas (vegetable), everyone at the Seder washes their hands in the prescribed manner. Unlike the washing which will precede the eating of the matzah, no blessing is made at this point.
3. KARPAS: A small piece of vegetable is dipped in salt water and then eaten.
4. YACHATZ: The person leading the Seder takes the middle matzah and breaks it in half. The larger half becomes the afikomen and the smaller half is returned to its place.
5. MAGGID: This is the reading and discussion of the Haggadah text. At least half of the Seder is devoted to the telling of the exodus from Egypt. The emphasis here is on educating Jewish children as to the meaning of their history and identity as well as probing the text for ideas that relate to the theme of freedom.
6. RACHTZAH: After completing the Haggadah, everyone washes their hands before eating the matzah and beginning the meal. A blessing is recited by each individual after washing his or her hands.
7. MOTZI: This is the blessing said anytime one eats bread or matzah.
8. MATZAH: A piece of matzah is eaten in accordance with the commandment to eat matzah on the night of Passover. A blessing is recited before eating.
9. MAROR: A blessing is said, and the bitter herbs are eaten.
10. KORECH: Having just eaten matzah and bitter herbs separately, we now eat them together as a sandwich.
11. SHULCHAN ORECH: Finally! The festive Passover meal is enjoyed by all.
12. TZAFON: The afikomen, which had been hidden earlier, is now brought back and everyone eats a piece of matzah as their own personal afikomen.
13. BARECH: This blessing is said at the conclusion of every meal. Tonight it contains special references to Passover.
14. HALLEL: Reciting the songs of praise authored by King David. We pray that we have successfully fulfilled all the observances of the Seder.
15. NIRTZAH: We seal our hopes for a brighter future with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
The remaining portion of this article contains some of the ideas which underlie the fifteen Seder experiences. The leader of the Seder should be acquainted with their meaning before the evening begins. This will allow him to provide a brief explanation of each step as it arises. Alternatively, either the leader or various guests can read the appropriate explanations at the time of the observance.
1. KADESH The recitation of the kiddush blessing over a glass of wine or grape juice. The words kadesh and kiddush are derived from the word kadosh. Though commonly translated as holy or sanctified, kadosh actually means separate or distinct.
The first piece in our puzzle–Kadesh–summons us to step into the distinctive world of Passover. A world filled with feelings, mitzvahs, (commandments), customs, and ideas, all of which point the way to freedom. This very act of separation begins to move us towards a deeper awareness of ourselves and what it will take to achieve the prized freedom of Passover.
Sometimes, “just getting away from things” is precisely what is needed to gain a fresh perspective on the situation of our lives. By separating ourselves from routine, we are able to reflect on where we are, how we got there, what’s driving us, and what our goals are. Then, with a bit more clarity, we can address the question, “Where do we go from here?”
On the Seder night we “get away” to a place filled with Jewish ideas about freedom and about life. From there we look back and imagine a life empowered by our noblest inclinations and vivified by a commitment to making the world the kind of place Judaism believes it can be.
2. URECHATZ: Washing the hands before eating the karpas.
Ask someone which comes first, the house or the blueprints. The answer you are most likely to receive is “the blueprints, of course.” The truth, however, is quite the opposite. In a song which is sung at the Friday evening Shabbat service we find the words, soaf ma-aseh bemachshava techillah, which means, every goal must precede itself in thought. First comes a completed house in conceptual form–the goal–and only then are blueprints drawn up and a house finally built.
Today it is the practice to wash one’s hands only before eating bread or matzah, but when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Jews also washed before eating other types of foods. The washing before the karpas is reminiscent of life at that time. After having entered the dimension of Passover by way of the kiddush, urechatz now tells us to stop and focus on another time and on other goals. Because freedom is not the license to gratify impulses on demand, but the state of mastering the range of one’s drives and powers. Only then is the full force of one’s being brought to bear on the realization of his or her ultimate goals.
This is Jerusalem. More than just the seat of Jewish national sovereignty, the restored Jerusalem we have always dreamt of is one from which all mankind are to draw inspiration and wisdom. It is the embodiment of our goals and our mission. Born in the darkness of Egypt, we have been called to be “a light unto the nations.” A spiritual conduit, with Jerusalem as the nexus, through which enlightenment will come to the world.
Jerusalem, with the Temple at its heart, is where we develop our most intimate relationship with a sublime Creator. From there we are stirred to translate the energy of that relationship into a passionate pursuit of our goals as a people. The dream of Jerusalem–the dream of humankind achieving a state where it is both human and kind–is the dream of every Jewish soul.
Right from the start urechatz tells us to lift our eyes and gaze at a vision of our ultimate goals. Because–every goal must precede itself in thought.
Another piece in the puzzle, and another move towards freedom.
3. KARPAS We dip a piece of vegetable in salt water and eat it.
I. Close your eyes and picture someone who you consider to be a beautiful human being. Someone who embodies the finest qualities a person can possess.
II. Having done so, now ask yourself if it isn’t that person’s capacity to be a giver which allows you to identify him or her as beautiful. Their penchant for being outwardly focused and other-centered. To be benevolent and compassionate. To be sincerely concerned with the well-being of others.
We are transfixed by the artist’s talent, carried away by the virtuoso’s melody and envious of the Fortune 500 C.E.O. Yet the quality of beauty is not one we necessarily attach to any of these men or women of achievement. But we do intuitively associate giving with beauty, and thus, almost instinctively, we try to raise children who are “givers” and not “takers.” After all, is there anyone who could proudly state, “my son the taker”? A doctor, a professor, an athlete, or even an author–but none at the expense of being a self-centered taker.
Hebrew: The Fantasia of LanguageIn the Hebrew language every letter is not only a letter, but also a number, a word, and a concept. As an example, the letter aleph, the first letter of the alphabet, has the numerical value of one. Aleph is also a word which means to champion, or to lead. The second letter of the alphabet, beit, has the numerical value of two and also means house, or bayit, in Hebrew. Hebrew letters, then, are far more than mere letters, but are actually linguistic repositories for numerous concepts and ideas. Words, too, become not only an amalgam of random sounds but precise constructs of the conceptual components of the object with which the word is associated.
When we analyze the word karpas and break it down to its four component parts–its four letters–what we discover is an encoded message which teaches a basic lesson about how to develop our capacity for giving.
The Hebrew word karpas is constructed of four letters; kaf, reish, peh, and samech. These four letters are also four words, and when taken together they steer our mind’s eye towards an essential aspect of giving.
|| –> Kaf
||= Palm of the hand.
||= One who is impoverished
||= To support.
The word kaf, the first letter in karpas, means the palm of the hand. This part of our anatomy is exposed when the hand is open –in a giving mode. The word reish means a poor person. When taken together these first two letter/words speak of a benevolent hand opened for the needy. Thus we have the classic image of giving; one who has more, lending assistance to one who has less. But what if you are a person of limited means? What if you simply have precious little to give? The second half of the word karpas reminds us that there are many roads to becoming a giver. The letter peh means mouth, while the final letter samech means to support. True, you may not be capable of giving in the material sense, but you can always give with your words. Words of kindness and concern. Words of empathy and understanding. Words that can lift an impoverished soul and provide a means of support where nothing else will do.
We dip the karpas in saltwater. The saltwater is meant to recall the bitter tears shed in Egypt. But there is more. The Jewish people, though awash in the tears of bondage, were able to preserve their ability to give. Rather then succumb to the morass of self-pity, they were able to maintain their dignity by maintaining their beauty. The beauty born of giving.
|1. Besides teaching your kids to share with siblings and friends, what will you do to instill in them the quality of giving?2. Which posture will contribute more to the accomplishment of your most important life goals– that of the giver or that of the taker? 3. Did you–or will you–enter marriage looking more to bestow or to receive?
* Hebrew is a consonantal alphabet. Vowel sounds are represented as diacritics and not as individual letters.
4. YACHATZ: Break the middle piece of matzah. The smaller piece is returned to its place while the larger one is wrapped and put aside to serve later as the afikomen.
If a friend of mine needed to borrow one of our cars for a couple of days, I’m sure my wife and I would try to be accommodating. On the other hand, if they needed it for a month or two, we would have to apologize and explain that we really can’t manage with just one car.
Recently something happened which forced us to rethink this position. One of our cars broke down. And it took a month to get the right parts! So how did we deal with this suburban catastrophe” Did we rent, did we borrow, did we steal? No. We simply managed. With an adjustment here, some juggling over there, and an added bit of patience all around, we were able to adjust our schedules, give one another rides, make alternative arrangements, and barely miss a beat in our busy schedules. We also had the pleasure of some extra time together.
Funny isn’t it? There are so many things which we simply “can’t live without,” until, of course we have to. But mind you, our new bread maker is a different story all together. We really can’t live without that!
So you want to be a giver, only you think you have nothing to give. Not in the material sense and not even in the emotional or spiritual sense. Well, think again. Quite often our inability to give and to share is the product of a skewed picture of reality. Many of our limitations are only perceived limitations. Fictitious barriers which many before us have overcome and others just like us will continue to surmount.
This is yachatz. The middle matzah is broken in two, the larger piece is hidden away, and the smaller piece returns to its place where it continues to fulfill its function despite the loss. No, this is not a suggestion that you go out and intentionally smash your second (or third) car, trade in your microwave for a Bunsen burner, or cut your sleeping hours in half, but it is a suggestion to pause.
If your brother or sister needed some of your time, money, or a piece of your heart, would you not find a way to give it to them? Humankind is a family and Jews are all brothers and sisters. Just as there are plenty of needs, there are also plenty of resources. If only we realized how much we had to give, and how much we truly want to give.
Imagine this: One day you get a phone call. Your relatives from Russia have just arrived with their three children. No money, no possessions, they don’t speak the language, the local federation has exhausted its funds, and they are counting on you. What would you do?
Read and discuss the text of the Haggadah. Would it really be such a big deal if parents never taught their children to say “thank you”? Obviously it would be, because if you don’t say thank you, you’re an ingrate. And just like no one wants to be an ingrate, no one wants to marry one, be friends with one, or raise one. Thus, the “magic words”–thank you.
All ingrates end up in prison. Their ego-obsessed lack of gratitude erects impenetrable walls which lock the world out and shut the ingrate in.
The Talmud teaches that the thematic flow of the Haggadah narrative is meant to sensitize us to one of life’s most basic traits of self-liberation. Gratitude. The textual flow of the Haggadah follows a pattern known as “opening with the ignominious and concluding with the praiseworthy.” It is for this reason that the Haggadah begins by highlighting the less-than-flattering origins of the Jewish people–“we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt… Our forefathers were idol worshippers…”–and concludes with our triumphant liberation and the formation of a relationship with G-d. This recurrent theme of contrasting lowly origins with ennobled achievements is meant to sensitize us to that trait which stands as the ingrate’s staunchest rival–gratitude.
Those successful men and women who forget their humble origins and eschew the commoners who helped them achieve their success are doomed to occupy a cell, plush though it may be, inhabited only by themselves and a gaggle of smiling opportunists cum friends. As ingratitude builds walls, thank you, two truly magical words, are able to build bridges. From man to man and from man to G-d.
“Toda”: Another Look at Thank YouThe Hebrew word for “thank you” is toda, which means to admit. When we say thank you we are making an admission. We admit that we needed someone else. You passed me the salt, helped me in business, changed my tire,-or raised me as a child. To say thank you means to admit that “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Beneath it all, when we express our gratitude, be it to man or G-d, we are recognizing our dependence on another and acknowledging the kind assistance we have received. And though dependence is never easy to admit–when graciously acknowledged–it facilitates harmony, bonding, and freedom.
6. RACHTZAH: Washing the hands prior to eating the matzah.
With one-third of our pieces in place, and another two-thirds waiting to be assembled, rachtzah prompts us to focus on an essential perspective necessary to attaining the freedom of Passover. This is the awareness of our ability to make changes in life. To cleanse ourselves of corrosive habits which stymie our efforts for fulfilled living. If life is about growth and growth means change, then, to pick up where one sixties-era lyricist left off, Freedom’s just another word… for change! Or, as William James put it, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.”
Rachtzah is exactly what it appears to be. It is a washing away of those rusty attitudinal routines which threaten to lock our lives into a holding pattern for mediocrity. There may be nothing more liberating than recognizing the possibility of liberation. The realization that one is capable of change and growth qualitatively alters the rules of the game. Where once the deck seemed to be stacked against us, the odds are now clearly in our favor.
7. MOTZI: The blessing recited before eating the first piece of matzah. The blessing we say for matzah is the same blessing we say before eating bread. “Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe–hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz–who brings forth bread from the ground.”
This blessing doesn’t seem to be giving credit where credit is due. Granted, G-d may bring forth wheat from the ground, but when was the last time you saw a farmer harvesting loaves of bread? Bread comes from the ovens of bakers and bubbies, not “from the ground”! And, if you want to be a stickler about this, G-d doesn’t even deserve all the credit for the wheat. Isn’t the farmer the one who prepares the soil for planting, properly sows the seeds, and then harvests at just the right time? If anything, the production of bread and matzah is a partnership, with G-d acting as the junior partner.
There is an idea in Jewish law which seems to reinforce the problem with the way the blessing of hamotzi is worded. Jewish law states that upon saying hamotzi one should be careful to hold the loaf with all ten fingers. This is to remind us that the production of bread is a ten step process. From the preparation of the soil, to the planting, harvesting, grinding, and right through the kneading and baking of the dough, is a full ten, steps. Aren’t all of these steps in the hands of man, as the Jewish law implies, and not in the hands of G-d, as the blessing implies?
The Partnership of Man and G-dWhen I floss my teeth and thereby forestall the creeping advances of tooth and gum decay, do I deserve a pat on the back and a round of applause? Do I hold my head high and flash a proud contented smile? Or, do I say, “thank G-d I’ve got the brains and ability to prevent my teeth from becoming premature mush.”
Judaism says take pleasure–not pride–in the constructive choices you make in life. The Jewish view of the man – G-d partnership boils down to this. You make the sensible choice to floss your teeth: the rest is a gift. The cognitive aptitude necessary to grasp the hygienist’s instructions on how to floss. The ability to consistently judge whether or not you’ve pulled out the right amount of floss. The dexterity required to gently maneuver the floss between tooth and gum. Each of these disparate abilities along with countless others are gifts from G-d.
A fresh loaf of bread, like a well-flossed tooth, is a marvelous accomplishment. We take pleasure in our accomplishments, and are thankful that we chose to use our many gifts in a constructive and meaningful manner.
8. MATZAH. Eating the first piece of matzah.9. MAROR. Eating the bitter herbs.10. KORECH. Eating the sandwich of matzah and maror.
11. SHULCHAN ORECH. Eating the festive meal.
12. TZAFON . Eating the afikomen, the hidden piece of matzah.
These five pieces of the Passover puzzle are each centered on eating and together form one suprapiece. When taken together, these pieces provide a sweeping view of the basic spiritual makeup of every human being. In doing so they simultaneously reveal a path for successfully engaging the ever-present physicality of our existence.
The Continuum of Human SpiritualityAt one end of the spectrum of created beings there are purely spiritual entities. These are the angels. The other end is populated by purely physical beings. For instance, cows. The question is: where on this continuum do we fit in? “Well,” you might think to yourself, “some people I know come close to that end, while others seem to belong to the end where grazing is the dominant activity of the day.”
The Jewish concept is that human beings, unique creatures that we are, are a blend of both ends of the spectrum. That is, each and every one of us is part angel and part Holstein. Part spiritual and part physical.*
Take a look for yourself. Isn’t there something within you– an angelic core–which is inclined towards the spiritual? Towards that which transcends the mundanity of the corporeal? A portion of your being which yearns to dispense with its preoccupation with food, sleep, and comfort. To free itself to pursue the eternal and not the transitory, to experience that which is intensely meaningful and not fleeting or petty.
Now look again. Is there not a part of you that longs to spend endless sun-massaged days on a quiet beach? Chilled beverages at your side, CDs playing your favorite music, the Sunday paper… and drift away… from all your cares, worries and responsibilities.
This is us. A not always so harmonious blend of spiritual and physical. One moment selflessly seeking to better the lot of all mankind, the next in a huff over the delivery of a pizza without the extra cheese. One day inspired to find private time to meditate or nurture our spousal intimacy, only to wake up at week’s end buried by a heap of files labeled wealth, success, and acclaim. This is all of us. It is the conundrum of our existence and the dynamic to which the “matzah” and “maror” allude.
Matzah… is the soul. When pared of his or her external trappings and physical interests you will find that something yet remains of the human being. The longing of the soul. The basic nucleus of self. Likewise a loaf of bread. When denied all its additives; of sugar and salt, of poppy seeds or raisins, and even of time to rise, an essence still remains. Stripped-down bread is matzah and a stripped-down human being is a soul.
For an entire week we eat only matzah and consider only our deepest aspirations and loftiest dreams. Like an unwieldy corporate monster which has become diversified beyond recognition, we now attempt to get back to the basics. To focus not only on priorities but on the basic values and goals which define our priorities. Ultimately, to reconnect with that inner force which once promised to animate our every move.
Maror… is our physicality run amok. To demean the body and shun the world of physical pleasures is never the way of Judaism. Rather, Judaism asserts what all of us know. If you eat too much ice cream, you get sick; if you eat ice cream too fast, you won’t taste it, and, if you eat too much ice cream, eventually you will lose your taste for ice cream.
The alternative, the Jewish path to both ice cream and spirituality, is to master our desires for the delicious. The bitter herbs are not a call to ascetic denial, but rather a reminder of one of life’s earliest learned truths. That for a cow a life guided by moment-to-moment physical needs and urges is fine, perhaps even sweet, but for us–angels that we are–it can get a little bitter. Remember this lesson and you are halfway home to becoming an authentic connoisseur–of life.
Korech… is the most precise picture of who we are. We are neither the unencumbered soul of the Brahman nor the untamed body of a gluttonous boor. Rather, as two hydrogen atoms adhere to one of oxygen and form a new entity called water, so a soul when fused with a body becomes the crowning element of creation. A striving, struggling, growing, free-willed, creative human being. He who masters the tensions of this duality. He who can achieve a spiritually driven balance, who is able to live like a soul while dressing like a body is ready to move on….
… to Shulchan Orech. To a grand view of life which sees the world as an exquisitely set table of delicious opportunities for growth. A banquet without end. Know your essence, beware the bitter herbs, harmonize the totality of your being in the service of your greatest goals, then–and only then–will the delicacies of living truly be open to you.
Tzafon… means concealment, and depicts ultimate potential. We bring the afikomen out of its place of hiding and with it we bring a message of the hidden potential in every aspect of creation.
The afikomen represents the Passover lamb which was eaten by every Jew when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. The halacha (Jewish law) regarding the Passover lamb states (1) that it must be eaten only after the Passover meal has been concluded, and (2) that nothing may be eaten after the lamb. In effect, it is lamb chops and not macaroons which are the Passover dessert of tradition. Today the same rules apply to the afikomen. We eat it only after concluding our entire meal, and it is to be the last food we taste at the Seder. The afikomen is not consumed because we are hungry, but only because it is a mitzvah, a spiritual directive.
Generally when we eat, it is to satisfy our appetite–but not tonight. Tonight the afikomen points to eating not as an ends but as an enabler; to physical pleasures as an aid and not as an aim. Ultimately the intended state of the physical world is that of a vast tool shed overflowing with devices designed to access a higher reality. When properly understood, the hidden potential of our physicality is to connect us to a spiritual dimension stored in every corner of creation.
This is the secret of eating the hidden piece of matzah. Every aspect of life, every person and every fruit, every moment and every blade of grass, possesses ultimate potential. Like the latent forces of energy stored up in every atom, there is the potential of spirituality waiting inside every morsel of life. And once you experience this, once you taste the subtle flavors of afikomen, you won’t want to taste anything else.
*This illustration is a simplification of an esoteric area of Jewish thought. It is beyond the scope of this work to deal with these ideas in an exhaustive manner.
13. BARECH: Birkat Hamazon,
the blessing recited at the end of the meal.
Life is a struggle, a burden, and often very painful. Above all, life is a blessing. The Hebrew word for blessing, bracha, is closely related to the word breicha, which is a free-flowing spring of water. Once we have grappled with our goals, striven to clarify our spiritual ambitions, and fought tooth and nail to master the conflict of body and soul, then we can view life with all the freshness of a clear, living stream.
|A comfortably middle aged couple from suburbia were visiting Israel for the first time. In Israel, all roads lead to Jerusalem. It was there that they struck up a conversation with an American who had recently settled in Jerusalem. They stood beneath the Western Wall and they talked. In the shadow of Jewish history yet unfolding, thoughts and feelings comingled as one. “What made you move to Israel?” They asked. “Israel.” they were assured, “is a freshly prepared canvass; here you can touch your brush to the palette of life and use the colors of your soul and your history to paint your future and destiny.”
That is the feeling of blessing. A canvass full of life and hope and promise just waiting to be painted. A sense of overwhelming potential and vibrant optimism, firmly rooted in reality while freely reaching for the stars.
14. HALLEL HALLEL: The songs of praise. My grandfather once helped someone who is now one of the most respected members of Congress break through what was then an almost impenetrable racial barrier. He gave him a job, an opportunity, and hope where society said he must not. He was tough, he was encouraging, and he was a friend. My grandfather is not with us anymore; but whenever given the opportunity, there is one man on Capitol Hill who continues to sing his praises. From the liberation in Egypt to the impossible rebirth of Israel, it sometimes seems that little has changed.
|A Jewish cadet at West Point was taking a course on modern warfare, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq the Falklands, and even the invasion of Grenada. Each was carefully analyzed for lessons which might be applied to future conflicts involving U.S. troops. Well into the curriculum this cadet had a question. Why was it, he asked a commander, that not one battle involving Israel was ever studied? Not the Israeli War of Independence fought by a tankless, planeless “army” of hastily trained soldiers and Holocaust survivors against a well-armed invasion force; not the Six Day War, which Arab leaders promised would be the Jews’ final dying breath; not the Yom Kippur War, which snatched near disaster from the jaws of one of histories largest sneak attacks; not a single one? Could these glaring omissions be reflective of an anti-Semitic blind spot? Could Americans not stoop to learn how to fight from Jews? No, the cadet was assured, this was no ethnically derisive oversight – those wars just weren’t normal. Those types of events, that type of fighting – the things that took place in all the battles that birthed and sheltered the Jews of Israel – just doesn’t happen anywhere else. It doesn’t pay to study them, because there is nothing for other countries to learn.
Tonight we feel the freedom of our history. Free of the historical strings which seem to bind all people to the predictable routes of nations and civilizations. Free of every societal force which attempts to restrict us to its path, its ideals.
Tonight we are free to be Jews. To be the Jewish people, and to make a difference. And free to sing the praises of One who broke the chains of bondage to set us free.
Next year in Jerusalem -
L’shana Haba B’Yerushalayim.
Every synagogue in the world faces Jerusalem. In prayer– whether in a synagogue, at home, or in an open meadow–every Jewish heart is directed towards Jerusalem. As the ne’ilah service draws to a close at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, congregations the world over proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Every groom breaks a glass under the chuppah, and for a moment, all thoughts are on Jerusalem. And again tonight. In the waning moments of the Seder, every Jewish family prays–Next year in Jerusalem.
The name Jerusalem means “city of peace”. Peace, shalom, is not merely the absence of conflict. Neither is it a utilitarian notion of cooperation and coexistence. Peace is the seamless harmony of individuals genuinely embracing a common vision. Not that each becomes lost in some faceless wave of the masses, but that each aspires to lend the beauty of his or her potential to the realization of a transcendent mission.
With nirtzah, with our eyes on the city of peace, we have come full circle. The pieces of our Passover puzzle are now in place. Where each had been part light, part penumbra, this vagueness has now given way to a brilliant singularity of vision. That our freedom be directed towards the imminence of Jerusalem–the imminence of peace.
Way back at urechatz we were transported to Jerusalem of old. It was then that we heard the words “every goal must precede itself in thought.” Jerusalem is our goal. That the wisdom and way of Jewish life should work to liberate the potential of every Jew, of the Jewish nation, and thus to transform the landscape of history. That somehow the intimate relationship of one lonely people to G-d should bear the fruits of spiritual symphony.
The fruit of freedom is peace. Peace of mind. Peace of body and soul. Peace within us, and so too, between us.
Next year in Jerusalem!