GOOD MORNING! As Jewish women the world over are keenly aware, the holiday of Passover is quickly approaching. Passover begins next week on Wednesday night, April 8th, and for the last month Jewish women everywhere have been frantically cleaning and cooking in preparation for the holiday. Jewish men also spend time preparing for Passover, but it mostly concerns an in depth investigation into what types of alcohol are acceptable for Passover.

There's a story of a young husband who is vaguely aware that his wife is overwhelmed with preparing for the upcoming Passover and asks her what he can do to be helpful. After careful consideration she responds,“You want to be helpful? Leave the house for the entire day and don't bother me while I try to clean and get everything ready.”

The husband responds, “Fine, I also have some things I have to do, I will see you later.” A few hours later, around midday, he strolls back into the house. His wife asks, “What are you doing home? I thought we agreed that you would be out the entire day?”

The husband replies, “You didn't actually expect me to help the whole day did you?”

Perhaps the most famous question related to Passover is: “Why is this night different than all other nights?” Unfortunately, this year the answer is very obvious. Jews all over the world will be celebrating this Passover almost exactly the same way that their ancestors celebrated the very first Passover in Egypt over 3,300 years ago; closed up in their homes with their nuclear families because of the plague that was claiming lives in the streets.

Still, this year that question has an even deeper meaning. For most of us this seder night will not only be different than every other night of the year, but perhaps equally important, it will also be vastly different than other seder nights that we have celebrated in our lives.

Generally, the seder is experienced generationally; grandparents, parents, and children all coming together for a joyous meal. In addition, most share and enjoy the seder with many close friends. But this year will be different because of the safety precautions to which we all must adhere.

Thus, many of us will be without much of the family and friends that we are accustomed to and there might even be a sad sense of loneliness. But even here we can find some solace in the teachings of our tradition.

We find a fascinating Jewish law related to the seder night. On this night we must retell the events that God did for the Jewish people to free them from slavery in Egypt. We must recount all of the wonders and miracles that God performed on behalf of the Jewish people. This law is based on the verse, “Moses said to the people: Remember this day as the time you left Egypt, the place of slavery, when God brought you out with a show of force…” (Exodus 13:3).

According to Maimonides (Yad Hilchos Chametz U’Matzoh 7:1) this obligation to retell the story during the seder is derived from the verse, “On that day you must tell your child it is because of this that God acted for me” (Exodus 13:8). Maimonides rules that, “even if one has no children and is a great scholar, he must retell the story” even to himself. But this seems odd, if a person is supposed to retell the story what is the point if there is no one to tell it to?

My good friend Joseph Rackman, son of the famous Rabbi Emanuel Rackman of blessed memory, suggests that from this law we see that a Jew is never alone. We are connected beyond time and space to the rich heritage of the Jewish people. As one sits at the seder table he can imagine his father and grandfather being there with him. As we sit down at our seder we know that our children and grandchildren are sitting at theirs as well and we are intimately connected with them.

Moreover, we are connected to the entirety of the Jewish people, both past and present. Thus we are never alone. The Jewish people aren’t merely a physical entity – the real message of Passover is that the Jewish nation is a concept that transcends time and space. Passover is the time we were born as a nation, but more importantly this nationhood became a concept. A concept that has survived every effort to extinguish it.

Of course this week’s Torah reading reflects this very same concept. The portion that we read this Shabbat is called “Tzav.” This name is derived from the first verse of the reading “Command (‘tzav’) Aharon and his sons saying…” (Leviticus 6:2). The word tzav is translated as command and is therefore understandably the root of the word mitzvah – or commandment.

Yet according to Rashi – the most well-known commentator on the Bible – the verse is telling Moses to “enthusiastically encourage” (Aharon and his sons) in their responsibilities as members of the priestly caste known as Cohanim.

This is somewhat incongruous. Have you ever tried to command your children to clean up their room and they somehow felt that you were enthusiastic and encouraging? If you don’t understand the difference between commanding and encouraging try “commanding” your spouse to wash the dishes and see how well that works out for you.

This is why the ancient translation of “tzav” into Aramaic wasn’t to “command” but rather it was translated as “to appoint.” Moses is being told to explain to Aharon and his sons that they have been appointed to a very lofty position, but that position comes with responsibilities. These are responsibilities that they have to accept upon themselves. They cannot be forced upon them.

This is also the very definition of a mitzvah. Did you ever wonder why God had to ask the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah and the accompanying 613 mitzvos? Why didn’t God just tell them, “I created the world and I demand that you fulfill the Torah and its commandments?” Why did the Jewish people have to willingly accept the Torah and the mitzvos?

The answer is that fulfilling the Torah is a responsibility that we are taking upon ourselves. The Torah isn’t merely a book of laws; it’s the owner’s manual for this world. By accepting it upon ourselves we are taking responsibility for fulfilling God’s vision for this world. That kind of responsibility has to be accepted upon oneself willingly.

Consequently, the Jewish nation is different from any other nation on the face of the earth. The Jewish people are much more than a bunch of individuals connected to each other either by blood, geography, or both. Rather the Jewish nation is a concept. We are a nation that has agreed to partner with God and to take responsibility to see that God’s vision for this world is fulfilled. It is this partnership with God that gives us eternality and therefore allows us to transcend time and space.

So this Passover, more than ever before, revel in the past, present, and future of our people, and know that you are intimately connected to all Jews of all times. You are not alone.

What follows is part one of a two part series on gaining a deeper understanding of the Passover holiday.

Q & A: WHAT IS PESACH (PASSOVER) AND HOW IS IT CELEBRATED?

One of the overriding themes of Passover is the prohibition against consuming foods that are “chametz” – the literal translation being “fermented.” This refers to any food that contains grain (made from wheat, barely, oat, etc.) whereby the leavening process (“fermentation”) begins when water is added to it. This includes virtually any food that has a grain ingredient, they are all prohibited on Passover unless they have a reliable Kosher for Passover certification.

Beverages that are made from grain are also prohibited (e.g. beer, and most alcoholic spirits as well - sorry) and, because the majority of processed products have some trace elements of grain derivatives, no food or drinks should be brought into the home without proper Kosher for Passover certification.

Passover has an added stringency; Jews aren’t even allowed to own these products during Passover. Herein lies the source for one of the greatest “workarounds” in Judaism: Any product containing chametz is sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday. After the holiday, the chametz is purchased back. This is a legally binding sale, both in Jewish law and in civil law.

In general, the practice has been to go to the home of one’s rabbi before Passover and authorize him to sell whatever products and chametz you own. In the twenty-first century, many of these transactions have shifted to e-commerce – meaning you can now conveniently sell your chametz online. Never has this been more relevant than in these days of social distancing. If you would like to sell your chametz, please visit www.talmudicu.edu/chometz.

There is no charge whatsoever for this service (though you can make a small donation if you desire).

 

Torah Portion of the Week

Vayikra, Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36

This week's Torah portion includes the laws of: the Burnt Offering, Meal Offering, High Priest's Offering, Sin Offerings, Guilt Offerings and Peace Offerings. It concludes with the portions of the Peace Offerings, which are allotted to the Priests, and the installation ceremony of the Priest for serving in the Sanctuary.

Candle Lighting Times

(or go to http://www.aish.com/sh/c/)

Jerusalem 6:24
Miami 7:20 - Guatemala 5:56 - Hong Kong 6:22
Honolulu 6:29 - Johannesburg 5:45 - Los Angeles 6:57
London 7:22- Melbourne 6:52 - Mexico City 6:33
New York 7:05 - Singapore 6:53 - Toronto 7:29
Moscow 6:54

Quote of the Week

This is the first time in history that people can save lives by sitting home and watching TV all day. Try not to mess this up.
– Overheard Conversation

In Memory of

Alisa Flatow
 
She found favor and goodness in the eyes
of the Almighty and all who knew her.
-- Rosalyn and Stephen M. Flatow

In loving memory of
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Kalman Moshe ben Reuven Avigdor
1950-2019

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

Copyright © 2020 Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig