Thursday, April 21, 2011

More than words

היום שלשה ימים לעמר
Today is the third day of the omer
תפארת שבחסד
A day of compassion in a week of loving kindness

In my 7th grade Torah Study class last week we listed the Biblical holidays and looked at what the Torah has to say about Pesach. While all the kids knew the story of Pesach, I doubt any of they had ever read the text that is the source for the story and for the rituals.

In the course of the discussion, one of the boys volunteered the information that he had every intention of eating whatever he wanted during the week of Pesach. I asked him why. He just shrugged and said something to the effect of "'s too hard...there's not much to you can eat...just because...." At this point, some of the others joined in, although most were not as strident about it. They try to not eat bread for the week, they told me, but it's just too hard.

I agreed with is hard. I actually think Pesach is the most physically demanding of all the holidays. The preparation is hard---all the cleaning and the clearing. Seders go into the night and services are early in the morning--sleep can be at a premium. Just cooking and eating during the week takes extra effort--especially in a town where Kosher for Passover is hard to find.

I think there is a method to this madness that the rabbis gave us as this holiday's rituals. In yesterday's post I made the point that the telling of the story to our children is a core rite of Pesach, since the remembrance is a key to our survival as a people. But for the memory to take hold through the ages, we need to feel it, we need more than words. By setting up this yearly re-enactment of this seminal event in our history--this release from slavery to freedom--we not only remember our own time of liberation, but reflect on the importance of freedom for all people. And we can take positive actions--action that is built into the rituals. We donate the food that must leave our pantries. We find a seder table for any visitors in our midst. Small acts that add up to a greater sum.

I told the kids in my class that I wouldn't and couldn't tell them what to do or not do. They were all going to seders, and that was fine. But the seders represent the communal, social practice. I asked them to try and see if they could not eat bread during the week as a personal practice, something they do for themselves. And use the act of not eating bread as a way to remind themselves to care for those who have none to eat. That way they can see that Pesach is not just a holiday commemorating the past but a way to renew ourselves in the present to help create a better future.

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