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Friday, April 07, 2017

Pesach Drasha

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Pesach Drasha


I am preparing this Drasha as I pack for my departure to serve as the officiating rabbi on a Pesach vacation. After resisting many such offers for years – hotels in the Catskills, Florida, Arizona, Cancun, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and Antarctica, I was asked to fill in for a colleague on one of these Pesach getaways. My good friend, Rabbi Shloimee Glandolowitzberg, was committed to a venue, but had to cancel at the last minute because he had something caught in his throat. So I will now serve as the official rabbi on the Roy Cohn Kosher LePeysach Gay Cruise to the Greek islands. 

Strangely, the organizers have suggested that I come without my Basherte, Feigeh Breinah, insisting that I will have a lot more fun that way. So she will be with the Kinderlach and Einiklach, while I sacrifice by bringing Toirah to a community of Erlicheh Yidden. Indeed, I had originally declined the offer, since I was planning to be in Eretz Yisroel for Yuntif. I explained to the organizers that Pesach is Klal Yisroel’s celebration of exiting Egypt and traveling to Eretz Yisroel, which, as the Toirah tells us, is “Eretz Zuvass Chuluv U’Dvash”, “a land flowing with milk and honey”. But they responded that the cruise will be quite similar: It will be flowing with something that looks like milk, and something else that almost has the texture of honey, but comes out of a tube. I do not know what they mean, but I look forward to being Mekayaim a new Mitzvah!

In addition, they told me that there were some additional Minhagim on the annual cruise that I would find interesting. Apparently, instead of dipping only two times – Ein Mol In Zatlz Vasser, Un Ein Mol in Charoisess – they dip a third time, after the Afikomen and Chad Gad Yuh, and suggested that I might enjoy it. Again, I am not familiar with such a Minhag; perhaps it is a Sephardic custom. But I can certainly appreciate the Mesiras Nefesh of maintaining a local Minhag. 

Pesach is a time of different behaviors and liturgy and cuisine. We spend more time preparing for Pesach that we do actually celebrating it. Great credit goes to our wives for their commitment to creating Butey Ne’eman BaYisroel, good Jewish homes. In my own home, my wife takes charge of all of the Pesach preparation. She does all the planning. She does all the shopping. And even if she does not do all of the cleaning herself, she makes certain it is all completed. What a Tzadeykess! I knew last Moitzee Shabbos she was preparing to turn the entire kitchen over for Pesach when, immediately after Havdalah, she began ironing her Gestapo uniform. By the time we had Kashered the stove, the sink, and the counters, put all the Chometz dishes away, and brought down all of the Pesach dishes from the attic, I was ready to throw myself against a electrified barbed wire fence.

But, as we know, Pesach is not simply a personal or a family celebration. It is a communal one. Ashrenu that in our generation we can embrace Pesach in a way that previous generations could not. Why, a hundred years ago our great grandparents certainly had Matzoh, Marror, wine and Charoisess. Perhaps they had a little chicken or meat, some potatoes and eggs, and if their were Misnagdim, Kneidlach. Our grandparents and parents may have already had some semblance of Koisher LePesach cakes and cookies. But we in our generation have a much greater variety of choices. Koisher LePesach mustard. Koisher LePesach rolls. Koisher LePesach beer. And my favorite: Koisher LePesach breakfast cereal. During the rest of the year we make do with all of the Goyyishe cereals, as long as they have a proper Hashgacha, of course. But on Pesach we are Zoicheh to eat breakfast cereals that are made Lishmah, expressly for Zman Chayruseinu. My favorite is Sugar Frosted Kikee-Ohs, although my Einikel Binyamin Soirer U’Moireh loves Choco Aleph Baizes. 

It is an ironic thing, of course: These cereals cost $28 a box before Pesach, but the day after Pesach the stores cannot give them away. I heard that last year the local Toimchei Shabbos was collecting unopened Pesach food for the poor: Cans, Matzoh, cocoanut covered marshmallows, etc., but had a big sign on their collection bin, “No Kosher For Passover Cereals, Please. Our Recipients May Be Needy, But They Are Not THAT Desperate”.

But what we have done in our generation is not that different from the actions of our predecessors. “B’Chol Dor VaDor Chayuv Udum Lirois Ess Atzmoh Ke’Iluh Hoo Yutzuh MiMitzrayim.” “In every generation, a person is required to view himself as if he (himself) escaped from Egypt.” The strength of our tradition has been the ability of our nation to seek relevance in each generation and make the Yuntif, and the ideas it represents, “their own”. Sometimes those additions have resulted in additional guidelines and restrictions that we find a source of annoyance, such as Kitniyois. Sometimes those additions have added strictures that many of us ignore, such as Gebruchs. And sometimes those additions have made Jewish lives so intolerable that CHAZAL had to find a back door to nullify their impact, such as Chometz She-Avar Uluv Al HaPesach, which led to the institution of Mechiras Chometz, symbolic selling of Chometz to a Gentile.

Like with so many other examples in Yiddishkeit, every generation and every community has left its mark on our grand tradition. In doing so, we do not abandon the notion of the Divine to the distant, irrelevant, somewhat unknowable past, but seek to embrace the Divine in our own lives. We pursue active engagement with the Reboinoisheloilum to satisfy our own spiritual cravings, as well as to have an excuse to take a few days off from work at the beginning of Spring.

I am reminded of a Ma’aseh Shehoya. One year the Vilna Goyn was leading the Seder at his Yeshiva, surrounded by his family and hundreds of his Talmidim. He had just made Kiddush on the first cup of wine and began to recite the Hagaddah, “Kol Dichfin Yaysay V’Yaychol, Kol Ditzrich Yaysay V’Yifsach”, “All who are hungry should sit down and eat; all who are needy should sit down and partake of the Karban Persach.” At that point, a homeless man dressed in tattered clothing entered the Yeshiva dining room and pulled up an empty chair to the table.

“Sir, what do you think you are doing?” asked the Gruh.

“Well, Mr. Goyn, I am hungry and needy, and I am taking up your offer to join your Seder” responded the man.

“Schmuck!”, the Goyn screamed, “Do you think I really mean this stuff that was written over 1,500 years ago? Next thing you know, you will expect me to believe that 600,000 people left Egypt! How the hell could 600,000 males, plus their families, live in the desert for forty years?! What were the Jews, a group of people, of a bunch of camels?!!”

At that point the vagrant revealed himself to be Eliyahu HaNavi. “Reb Goyn”, he said, “you are indeed wise. The miracles did not really happen the way the Toirah and Hagaddah describe, but we celebrate them anyway, to give meaning to our everyday lives. But you have rejected someone genuinely in need, and for that you will be punished by being known throughout history as a heartless Misnagid who has about as much spirit in him as a twice squeezed lemon has juice.” The man then took away all of the Afikoman presents left under the tree and left the building.

That night, the Goyn was very disturbed. He was wrought with guilt and confusion. Finally, Hakadoshboruchhu came to him in a dream. “Goyn, what is the problem?” He asked.

“Your messenger Eliyahu HaNavi showed me tonight what a selfish person I am, and told me I will be punished for all eternity as a result.”

The Aimishteh laughed a hearty laugh. “Goyn, that was no Eliyahu HaNavi! That was the Baal Shem Toiv playing a practical joke on you. He even took all of your Afikoman Tchatchkees to sell in order to buy vodka for his followers.”

“You mean I am not punished?!!” asked the Goyn, relieved.

“Well, you are a cold Misnagid. That is punishment enough, since you can only see what is in front of you. But I guarantee that the Baal Shem Toiv is also punished, since he can only look under the surface and cannot see obvious truths in front of him. Until you learn to live together, you will both be lost.”

Excitedly, the Goyn asked, “And at that point, will we be Zoicheh to witness the Geulah Shelaymah?”

“Well, not exactly. But your respective descendants will happily go on Gay cruises together.” With that the Reboinoisheloilum departed the dream, and went off to visit with some worshipers at a Hindu temple.

So every generation finds new ways to instill spiritual meaning and relevance. For one generation, it was Kitniyois. For another, it was Gebruchs. For countless others, it was the development of new creative recipes and additions to the Pesach liturgy. And for some in our day, it is the recreation of “a land flowing with milk and honey”, hopefully using proper precautions, if you know what I mean. Ashrenu that in our generation Klal Yisroel can embrace Pesach in ever more creative ways!

Ah Zissen Yuntif, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

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