Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Revealed: The real Passover Seder

Next Friday night is Passover and I’m sure you will be participating in a Seder (if you don’t have plans yet, consider joining the Community Seder here in Folsom or in Placerville).

The question is, what is the purpose of the Seder? Is it simply about commemorating what happened back then? Actually, that’s the conventional understanding; it’s all about remembering the Exodus.

One second, if it’s all the remembering the Exodus, why then does the Seder include bitter herbs and salt water (reminiscent of the suffering of the slavery)? Shouldn’t the focus of the night be on the Exodus?

The easiest understanding is that to highlight the scale of the redemption, it’s necessary to first appreciate the level of persecution.

However, while accurate, that answer is somewhat lacking; in fact, it’s much more than that.

You see the Passover Seder is not just about commemorating something that happened in the past; that can be done by reading a few passages. The Seder is specifically structured to be experiential, it’s about reliving the slavery and reliving the Exodus.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means borders, or limitations. We eat the maror, the bitter herb, not only to remember their suffering over 3000 years ago but also to acknowledge our own struggles; the limitations in our own life that we just can’t seem to overcome.

And we eat the matzah, not only to remember their Exodus so many years ago, rather to assist us in our personal process of redemption. The matzah is the key ingredient to overcoming our limitations. Matzah is flat and unassuming, with the most basic of ingredients. It’s all about humility - not the sit-quietly-on-the-sidelines image of humility that many people have; it’s the get-out-and-do-what-you-were-placed-here-to-do kind of humility.

We each have a purpose, we were put in this world to fulfill that purpose. And only we can achieve our specific mission, no one can replace us.

We eat the Passover foods and participate in the Seder not just to commemorate the past, but we do it all in order to live the Exodus. To live a truly redeemed and purposeful life.

The Seder therefore includes the bitter herbs and the salt water because it’s about the transition from slavery to freedom. We acknowledge and identify our limitations and only then can we successfully overcome them and be redeemed in every sense.

Eat your cud

“I can’t eat that, I’m vegan.”

It wasn’t always this way, but now it’s perfectly acceptable to maintain a specific restrictive diet. Especially in California.

Kosher too - today it’s easy to explain “I keep kosher,” and usually they’ll respectfully appreciate your response. Which definitely makes keeping kosher and explaining our dietary restrictions quite simple.

But keeping kosher is much more than a particular diet or type of food. Keeping kosher is a spiritual diet. And it not only nourishes our body, it also nourishes our soul. In fact, it even guides us in how to interact with the world around us in a healthy and productive manner.

Think about the two signs of Kosher animals that are instructed in this week’s Torah portion - chewing the cud and having split hooves.

An animal that chews its cud is because it eats foods that are difficult to digest, like leaves and grass. Its food then has to go through a much more thorough digestive process in order to break it down so that the animal is able to transform it into energy.

Hooves protect an animal from the rough ground they tread upon. Split hooves are more dexterous and not only protect but also provide them the means to escape a potentially harmful situation.

Whether you choose to eat meat or not is up to you - I have no stake (or is it steak?) in the matter; but we can all learn a thing or two from the kosher signs.

We have a responsibility to ourselves and a responsibility to the world at large. And in order to be effective in our work we need to employ these two elements: Chewing the cud and split hooves.

Our responsibility to ourselves is to refine and elevate our own natural tendencies. Our responsibility to the world at large is to refine the coarseness of the world and help bring a greater realization of Hashem’s presence to humanity. In other words, whether working internally or globally, we need to  “chew the cud” i.e. refine the coarseness that we encounter.

But in the course of our refinement work we can often discover treacherous things; the hooves remind us of the need to distance ourselves from negative influences. And sometimes in a hurry, hence the split hooves.

It’s not enough to eat Kosher, we need to be Kosher ourselves, having a positive influence on surroundings in the process.

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