Passover: Liberty and Freedom are the Inalienable Rights of Every Human Being

On Pesach (Passover), we celebrate the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt.

We retell the story of the Exodus each year to remind ourselves that the gift of freedom comes with great responsibility: the responsibility to take care of others. Our freedom means we have the responsibility to work to free those who are still bound by the shackles of poverty, war, famine, hatred, racism…whatever issues are still plaguing our world.

 “Passover affirms the great truth that liberty is the inalienable right of every human being.” (Morris Joseph)

 During my 26 years in the rabbinate, I have been blessed with many different seder experiences that exemplify this notion of “liberty” and “freedom”. Not long after Glasnost and Perestroika, I went to the Former Soviet Union for two years with congregants during Pesach. We brought in much needed medical supplies, taught about Pesach and led Pesach seders in Minsk, Vitebsk, Gomel and Mogilev (all in Belarus). After the first seder, one woman approached us with tears streaming down her face, “I am 40 years old and this is my first Pesach seder. Thank you!” Up until then, the Jewish community had not been allowed to celebrate, and there was no one who knew the rituals.

This year, on the eve of the first seder, I led a seder at an Assisted Living facility at noon for about 30 Jewish residents, their families and some of their non-Jewish residents who wanted to learn more about our holiday.

I met George, who moved into the facility two months ago. George is a Holocaust survivor, the only member of his family to be liberated from Auschwitz. He showed me his number tattooed on his forearm and briefly shared with me his story of captivity, liberation and survival.

He came to live in the Assisted Living facility two months ago because he outlived all his friends and was no longer able to get out and about. He stayed home by himself all day and all night. His children worried about him. He was isolated, lonely and depressed. So his children wanted to find a place for him where he would be safe, where he would be surrounded by other people and where he would find stimulation and activity.

Since moving into the facility, he feels a new sense of “liberation”. He told me he loves living there. He has made friends. He has a new lease on life, he has activities to keep him busy every day, people with whom to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. He loves playing cards and bingo. He was smiling from ear-to-ear.

Sometimes LIBERATION and FREEDOM are “big concepts” – how to save the world from a nuclear Iran, how to stop human trafficking, how to end poverty and war.

But what I saw this afternoon, was that “liberation” and “freedom” are concepts that affect each and every one of us personally. George was enslaved in the shackles of loneliness and isolation. He had almost given up on life. After the Holocaust, he experienced LIBERATION and FREEDOM and was able to build a beautiful life in the United States.

And now, once again, he is experiencing a different kind of “liberation” and “freedom” – a personal sense of “joie de vivre” that enables him to live each day to its fullest with meaning and purpose. He told me that Pesach this year was particularly meaningful to him and he was so glad to celebrate it with his new friends.

 This Pesach, our “Festival of Freedom,” I hope we all can do our part to make “liberation” and “freedom” lasting realities, both on the larger scale world-wide and personally, for our friends and family.

I wish you and all your loved ones a sweet, wonderful and meaningful holiday. Next year, may we all celebrate in peace, liberty and freedom.

Chag Pesach Sameach – Happy Pesach!

“Let All Who Are Hungry, Come and Eat…”

When I was growing up, you could buy two kinds of matzah in the store: plain or egg.

Today, the grocery store shelves are overflowing with a plethora of varieties of matzah :

Plain, egg, onion, spelt, oat, gluten-free, tea matzah, whole wheat, whole wheat and bran, matzah “sticks”, English matzah, Israeli matzah, chocolate covered matzah, small size matzah crackers (and all of the varieties exist in the crackers as well).

Some of the different varieties of matzah available today
Some of the different varieties of matzah available today

It can seem overwhelming looking at all the different types of matzah lining the shelves at the grocery store.

And don’t forget about buying matzah meal, cake meal and matzah farfel. They also come in “original”, whole grain and now gluten free. Want some matzah Panko crumbs? Plain or flavoured? Regular or gluten-free? They are all readily available.

Matzah has come a long way from its biblical and historical origins.

Matzah was originally the “bread of affliction”. In Exodus 12:8, the ancient Israelites ate unleavened bread as they hastily departed Egypt on their way to freedom. They had no time to bake bread and let it rise, so they quickly mixed some flour and water and made flat bread. A type of bread which would bake quickly and not spoil as they travelled.

Ha lachma anya

Di achalu avatanya b’arah

d’Mitzrayim… (Passover Haggada)

“This is the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry, come and eat. Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.”

With these ancient Aramaic words, we break one of the symbolic pieces of matzah on the Seder table and our Pesach (Passover) seder becomes an evening of community, story-telling and hospitality.

By breaking a piece of matzah in half and opening our front door, we invite all those who have no where to celebrate and join us at our Seder tables. We invite all those who are hungry, to celebrate Passover along side our own families.

Thus matzah comes to symbolize two things:

  • the affliction and suffering our ancestors suffered as slaves in Egypt;
  • freedom, hospitality and welcoming. Matzah was eaten by people on the cusp of becoming free. We now use it to welcome others to our homes during this special time.

The dual nature of matzah is not lost on us. Matzah is hard and crumbly. It can get stuck in our throats. Yet, we have the ability to transform it into something edible and delicious. (Ever had caramel matzah crunch, aka, matzah “crack?”, or a delicious blueberry matzah brei for breakfast, or just plain matzah with fresh butter and strawberry preserves?)

We find that when we gather together with friends, family and community and share food and celebration, the bonds we form can help lighten any burden we bear. When we gather together as community, we can find a way to alleviate the suffering of others. There is power, strength and healing in community. Matzah thus reminds us of the dual nature of life: slavery and freedom, hunger and hospitality.

Matzah is made from only two ingredients: flour and water. It mixes together and bakes up quickly. And it lasts a long time without going bad. It is a simple food. Not complicated.

It should be a simple thing for us to reach out to others in friendship and love, to open our doors, our homes and our hearts. It should be easy and not complicated – like matzah.

So as you do your Pesach shopping this year, and contemplate which type of matzah you will bring home, think about how to make the ancient words of “Ha lach ma anya” come alive by opening your home and your heart to others this Pesach.

Chag Pesach Sameach! A happy and healthy Passover to you and your family!

Click on the links below for some of my favourite Passover recipes:

Sharon’s Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts

Susie Fishbein’s Tri-Color Matzah Balls

Betsy Stone’s Carrot Kugel/Carrot Muffins

Sue Devor’s Decadent Flourless Chocolate Torte

Grain-Free/Gluten-Free Blondies

 

Iron Chef Rabbi – Thornhill edition (February, 2010)

Two rabbis. Two chef-wanna-be’s. Each brandishing knives, spoons and a hot stove. We learn that teaching Torah comes in many forms!

Secret Ingredient: Pesach

My dear colleague and friend, Rabbi Cory Weiss (Temple Har Zion, Thornhill, Ontario) and I conceived of this event together. We both love to cook. We both view food as a way to bring people together and create community.

This was not a competition. We each shared different dishes that we loved to make and were ‘Pesach’ (Passover) friendly.

The real challenge was all the preparation in advance: cooking the food so you could show it in all the different stages of cooking. And cooking enough food for a few hundred people so everyone could have a taste of everything.

Exhausting but great fun!

My dear colleague and friend, Rabbi Cory Weiss (Temple Har Zion, Thornhill, Ontario) and I conceived of this event together. We both love to cook. We both view food as a way to bring people together and create community.

This was not a competition. We each shared different dishes that we loved to make and were ‘Pesach’ (Passover) friendly.

The real challenge was all the preparation in advance: cooking the food so you could show it in all the different stages of cooking. And cooking enough food for a few hundred people so everyone could have a taste of everything.

Exhausting but great fun!