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Friday Night Sermon (4/10/20): "Spirituality of Passover"

Happy Passover, everyone. And of course, Shabbat Shalom. Today is both Shabbat and the first intermediate day of Passover/Pesach, in Hebrew “Chol HaMoed”, the time during the week.

We all know that Passover is eight days out here in the Diaspora and seven days in Israel. The former had an extra second day added to put a fence around the Torah. As Jews spread out into the world there was concern that they would miss out because information from our land by the court maybe didn’t have time to reach them in time for the proper observance. This extra first day created a buffer.

The sages will say that Passover is maybe the most important holiday or festival because it celebrates the central theme around which Judaism was created. So much so that the phrase “I am Hashem who brought you out of Egypt to be your G-d” is pervasive in our daily liturgy. Here, according to the introduction to the Artscroll Talmud Tractate of Pesach, G-d is referred to as not the Creator, but the Redeemer.

Hashem rescued us from Egyptian bondage to give us Torah and make us caretakers of His principals and laws and become a nation of priests. It is we who are to bring the light of G-d’s Word to All His peoples on Earth. While we acknowledge this daily in our prayers, it is during this time of the first month of Spring that we really focus in on it.

Judaism is a very hands-on, in-your-face system. Our most important holidays involve longer prayer services and some change in diet and a focus on food. While during minor festivals of Hanukkah and Purim we eat a lot of dairy and special cookies, respectively, it is really Passover and Yom Kippur when the changes are more extreme. Yom Kippur has us abstaining from ALL food and liquid for about 26 hours. Passover requires that we abstain from any “leavened” food to commemorate how the Israelites prepared to leave Egyptian bondage immediately.

The Tractate of Pesach in the Talmud focuses on the laws of observance. As the Artscroll edition states, it follows the order of the holiday. Commentary starts with the search for chametz and then talks about the Pascal sacrifice and finally the second Passover for those who were ritually impure from the mitzvah of final care for someone who just died.

Such are the laws. Let’s talk about the spirituality.

In Judaism there are typically two or three reasons, sometimes more, for doing something. One of the reasons that we eat a special diet of unleavened food is to remember what Hashem did for us back in Egypt. Consider that besides that, the specific diet during these seven or eight days is a constant reminder of that, and thus the Redemption is on our minds throughout this period.

So there is the idea of gratitude. During the silent standing prayer, the Amidah, we recite the second to last blessing of Thanksgiving. We thank G-d for the daily miracles he provides us evening, morning and afternoon.

The idea is that G-d has our backs. Now, there are times, like during this period of 120 years of slavery, when G-d doesn’t act right away. In our lives, there are challenges and times when we wonder where G-d is. When G-d reached out to Moshe Rabbeinu to be the agent of change for the Israelites, He said that He has heard their cries for help. The takeaway is that it had to be the right time.

So it is in our own personal lives. We may get frustrated that we face a challenge, do what we feel is the best way to resolve—maybe adjust our actions as we see fit to meet those challenges—and things still don’t seem to improve. We then start questioning where is Hashem?

As the story of Passover illustrates, G-d is always there behind us. He knows when the right time to resolve will be. We just need to patient and continue observing and doing the mitzvot of the commandments. There may a lesson to be learned that may take some time. We tend to appreciate that for which we work very hard.

In this extraordinary time in which our lives are so disrupted by this pandemic, we need to be patient and keep the faith. There are experts who are telling how to act. And to our credit, we’ve complied with those dictums. Yes, there have been some tragedies and we do our best to deal with them. However, the experts are now telling us that because we all obeyed those instructions, this crisis may resolve sooner.

It’s definitely hard to see past the human tragedies that have resulted from this. Because we have taken those precautions and adapted the best we can to the circumstances, pollution has abated in many places and the environment is becoming more sustaining. We’ve also, as the human race, dug down into our psyches and found the good in ourselves as we’ve reached out to those in need.

Things may not always work out immediately; remember that our ancestors were slaves for over 120 years. But when we persist, we will be successful.

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