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Passover Is Coming!

Dear Members and Friends of Kehillat Lev Shalem,

As spring arrives (in fits and starts!), with it another Passover approaches. As much as I thrill at the promise of spring, I marvel at the longevity of Passover. I feel privileged, and also obligated, to continue to celebrate this ancient festival that Jews have marked for some 3,000 years or more.

Passover actually has four Hebrew names; taken together these names cover the breadth of this holiday:

  • Pesach – “Pass over”. The Children of Israel slaughter lambs and then spread the blood of the sacrifice on the lintels above their doors. On the terrible night when the Angel of Death sweeps over Egypt, slaughtering the Egyptians’ first-born sons, the Angel of Death passes over the Israelites’ homes. When we sit at the Seder table, we mark the night vigil of Pesach. The roasted lamb shank bone on the seder plate reminds us of our ancestors’ vigil so many generations ago, and we are commanded to tell the story to the next generation, just as we received it from our own elders.
  • Chag Ha’aviv – The Festival of Spring. Passover is our ancient springtime celebration, always timed for the first full moon of spring. We clean our houses, throw out our old, fermented food stores, take off the storm windows, and let the fresh air in as we rejoice in the end of winter and the rebirth of spring.
  • Chag Hamatzot – The Festival of Unleavened Bread. The Torah commands us to eat only unleavened bread – matzah – for the full week of the festival. Matzah is known as lechem oni, which can be translated as either “the bread of affliction” or “the bread of poverty”. As we tell the story of our escape from bondage, the Torah instructs us to eat matzah in order to identify with the fleeing slaves, and with poor people everywhere. Therefore during the seder we hold up the plate of matzot – some also open their front door – and announce, “This is the lechem oni that our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry, come and eat!” Our tradition wants us not only to hear the story of our oppression and liberation, but to taste it, to ingest it, to embody it, so that it becomes a part of who we are, people who can empathize with the degradation of oppression, and who can appreciate the gift of freedom.
  • Z’man Cheruteinu – The Season of Our Liberation. For me, this traditional name for our Festival encompasses all of the others, for liberation is at the heart of our yearning and our celebration. We celebrate the earth’s liberation from the bondage of winter, and the life that bursts forth in spring. We celebrate our ancestors’ liberation from bondage, and our birth as a free people. We retell and re-embody the story of that dangerous and difficult time, so that the ancient memory lives on. We celebrate the ever-present potential for human liberation, for the ultimate triumph of the human spirit against those who would wish to crush it. We ponder what our tale of freedom means for us, in our generation, as the Haggadah instructs: “In every generation you must see yourself as personally journeying out of the land of bondage.” And we celebrate that the Jewish People are still here to share our inspiring tale with one another and with the world.

If you are looking for an inspiring and uplifting seder to join this year, look no further than the WJC. Our long-time friend, singer, songwriter, activist and all-around amazing human being Reggie Harris will be joining me for our annual 2nd-night Community Seder, Tuesday, April 11, 5:30-8:00pm. It will be an evening of great music and food and meaningful conversation as we apply our ancient message to our contemporary challenges. Register soon – space is limited and we expect a full house.

Wishing us all energy and inspiration in this Season of Liberation!

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan