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Passover Arrived But Not The Seder

Moses called to all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Draw forth or buy for yourselves one of the flock for your families, and slaughter the pesach-offering.”

“It shall be that when you come to the land that Hashem will give you, as He has spoken, you shall observe this service. And it shall be that when your children say to you, ‘What is this service to you?’ You shall say, ‘It is a pesach feast-offering to Hashem, Who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but He saved our households,'” and the people bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. The Children of Israel went and did as Hashem commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they do.

Exodus 12:21, 25-28 Stone Edition Tanakh

PassoverToday is the first full day of Passover. Jews and a good number of Christians all over the world held their home and community seders last night.

My home wasn’t one of them.

For some months, my wife has been planning on visiting our daughter in California. She left early Sunday morning and won’t be back until midday on Thursday. My grandchildren are with their Mom for the next two weeks, so it’s really only my two sons and I at home. They weren’t exactly clamoring for their old man to dust off our haggadahs and start a lot of cooking.

Passover just sort of crept up on me and suddenly it’s here.

Pesach hasn’t felt this chaotic since the Uninspired Seder of 2012 or the Unanticipated Seder the following year.

And given my comments in my previous blog post, initiating any sort of response to Pesach as a Gentile believer is beyond the scope of my obligations or my rights.

It’s been a difficult time. My Dad is slowly dying of cancer. My Mom’s cognitive abilities continue to dwindle. And as the old time actors used to say, “I am between engagements,” and have been since last Friday. One of my sons had his car engine blow up on him, and the other is buying a house, which sounds wonderful (and in many ways it is), but also introduces different stressors.

I decided to at least do the readings for Pesach I, but when I couldn’t remember where to find my Tanakh on my bookshelf, I realized it has been a really long time since I’ve read the Bible.

That can’t be good.

A friend found a piece of furniture for my son’s new home (since his ex took most of their stuff), so driving over to the gentleman’s house to pick it up, I saw a number of “Jesus loves you” bumper stickers and messages of a similar nature. I figure everything that’s happening to me now is God’s way of getting my attention.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

“This too is for the good.”

Or as Rabbi Zelig Pliskin put it:

No person can know what is really good for him in the long run.

We lack peace of mind because we feel anxious and worried about what has happened to us in the past, or what might happen to us in the future. But the reality is we can never know in advance the ultimate consequences of events. Being fired from your job, or being forced to find a new home could likely lead to events that will be beneficial for you.

Today, try to recall a time when a “bad” event turned out for the “good.”

I can remember when bad events ultimately resulted in a good outcome, but I also remember the pain involved in dealing with the bad part, and the lengthy time period between bad event and good outcome.

It can be a lonely road from the bad starting line to the good finish line.

But then as long as we live, there never really is a finish. We’re never done contending with life, with other people, disappointment, loss, anxiety, desperation, the works.

I suppose that’s why I’m writing this. I need to gain perspective and to get a handle of everything that’s happening to me right now. I probably should be doing more constructive things, such as cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, scouring job boards and the like, but I’m not.

On Friday, I initiated a flurry of activity post my “between engagements” experience earlier that morning, but over the weekend, the shock had worn off. I had my grandchildren with me, and since they require a lot of attention, that provided a distraction.

But then they left to return to their Mom Sunday afternoon, and I realized just how empty I felt inside.

Okay, God. You got my attention. Now I just need to find a way to change my focus, to even have a focus. A seder last night would have been good timing, which is why I’m puzzled that Hashem arranged for it not to happen.

My wife and my daughter are together, so I hope they had the opportunity to attend a community seder, perhaps at the Chabad.

Found at racingjunk.com

The quiet finally got to be too much for me, so I started listening to “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” by the Bill Evans Trio. It was recorded live in New York City on June 25, 1961 (my daughter’s birthday, though she wasn’t born until decades later).

Over a month or so ago, I wrote about trying to jump start my faith, and as you can see, things haven’t gone so well up.

The prodigal son is still struggling on the path that leads to home.

At the end of each seder, the last words uttered are, “Next year in Jerusalem.” For me, I’d settle for “Next year at home with my family.”

Okay, God, you’ve got my attention. Now what?

A Knock on the Door

Open doorIt should have said “And I will dwell in its midst”; instead it says, “And I will dwell in their midst.” This is because every person is obligated to make a sanctuary [for G-d]. And this [element of the mitzvah] can always be fulfilled, [even during the era when there is no temple].

Rabbi Yeshayah HaLevi Horowitz
Shenei Luchot Haberit
Masechat Ta’anit 28

When a person reflects on this, his soul will burn with love. He will say to himself, “Am I worthy that G-d Who cannot be contained by the upper heavens shall yet desire to dwell with me – a mere mortal being, but dust and ashes, carved from clay? Who am I that the King should come dwell in my home? It is therefore fitting that I make a beautiful dwelling place for Him to dwell with me.”

Rabbi Eliyahu ben Moshe Vidas
Reishit Chochmah
Sha’ar Ha’ahavah 6:19

This blog continues my series based on the JLI course book for Toward a Meaningful Life. If you haven’t done so yet, please review the previous blog, Time is the Fire, and then return here and keep reading.

How amazing that God would want to dwell among mortal humanity, not only as a collection of beings but as individuals, which is what both of these esteemed Rabbis is suggesting. This is a direct extension of my previous blog post Who Are We to God where I explored why God would want to “marry” the nation of Israel or why Christ would want “the church” as his “bride”. I still find it a stunning image and rather mind-boggling to entertain the thought, but I can’t deny that God does desire this.

God wants to dwell among His creation, among human beings. We see this in Eden when God walks in the Garden and speaks to Adam (Genesis 3:8-9). We see this at the end of all the things (Revelation 21:22-27) when people from every nation and tongue will enter into the Holy City of God and of the Lamb. We also see some sense of it here:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14

We see that God, His glory, His Divine Presence, did dwell among His people Israel in ancient times:

And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst. –Exodus 25:8

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. –Exodus 40:34-35

I surely have built You a house to dwell in; a settled place for You to dwell in forever….But will G-d indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; much less this temple that I have erected. –I Kings 8:13-27

Though it seems more than a little crazy and even impossible from a totally human perspective, God not only wants to enter into a close, intimate relationship with corporate and individual humanity, but He wants to live with us, both as a group (looking at the examples of the Tabernacle and the Temple when He dwelt among Israel) and within our individual homes and lives.

The church readily accepts the concept of God; the Holy Spirit actually, dwelling in our hearts and that people, individual Christians, are “spiritual Temples”, effectively replacing the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (and sadly from a supersessionist point of view, permanently replacing the Temple), so the idea of God living with us as individuals doesn’t come as too big a shock. However, if Christianity took this imagery more seriously and literally, would individual believers try to amend their behavior (since God is with you, right next to you and dwelling inside of you, even when you think you’re alone)?

But is the heart of man God’s “home” so to speak, or are there times when He is more “with” us than others? For that matter, what is a home (as opposed to a house)?

Shabbat candlesThe JLI course material for Toward a Meaningful Life has an extensive set of definitions comparing a home and a house. A home is a “shelter” for who we are spiritually and emotionally. A place where it is safe to nurture our families with the values we have received from God. It is a place where we can fully welcome God into our lives without the distractions of the outside world, where we can embrace Him completely and open ourselves to Him. A house is just wood and plaster, a roof and walls, but we transform it into a home, as the Tabernacle in the desert was transformed, from its raw materials into a structure, and into a place that incredibly could contain the Presence of the living God, even though the Universe itself cannot encompass Him.

But how do we welcome God into our home? Is He just “there”? Do we take him (God forbid) for granted, like the kitchen table or our old, worn out sofa?

If a person does not have enough money to purchase both Shabbat candles and Chanukah candles, or if a person doesn’t have enough money to purchase both Shabbat candles and wine for Shabbat kidush, the Shabbat candles take precedence because [they bring] peace to his home…Peace is so great that the entire Torah was given to bring peace to the world, as it says (Proverbs 3:17), “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”

-Maimonides, Mishnah Torah
Laws of the Megilah and Chanukah 4:14

Relative to how a Jew makes a house a home, this is especially important. Christianity doesn’t have an analogous process for welcoming God’s peace into the home and I believe that’s our loss. The “feeling” that God is with us is one thing, but people so often ignore what they “feel” and pay attention to the concrete. I think that’s why God mandated so many visual and physical “reminders” for the Jewish people. Part of the JLI lesson book contains a list of what a Jew can do to help welcome God into the home:

  • Place mezuzot on the doors to remind all that this is a G-dly home.
  • Fill your home with Torah books to inspire and set the tone of the home.
  • Place a charity box in each room of the house to create an atmosphere of giving.
  • Light Shabbat candles to create an environment permeated with peace and love.
  • Invite guests into your home to share the warmth with others.
  • Use your home to host meaningful classes and charitable functions.

The list goes on, but this gives you a general idea that a home with God in-dwelling is one that is actively used for His purposes and one in which everyone feels His Presence.

One of the commandments observed by religious Jews is to cling to God. In order to fulfill the commandment, a Jew must attach himself or herself to a tzadik or Torah scholar, since they are considered closer to God due to their studies and status. Often, this means inviting such groups of scholars and teachers into your home, creating a welcoming atmosphere for them and in doing this, God is also present.

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” –Matthew 18:20

Small plantI’m nurturing a little bud of hope taking root within me. Maybe God isn’t so impossibly distant after all. Perhaps He really does want to be close to people and has taken incredible steps to make Himself available to us, ashes and dust though we are. This is why I love to watch my wife lighting the Shabbat candles and anticipate God dwelling among us in a particularly close and special way as the first two or three stars appear in the Friday night sky.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. –Revelation 3:20

Is it really as simple as answering a knock at the door? So it would seem.

Building a Home

RainA home is more than a house, it is a state of being. A home provides space and shelter, not just for bodies, but for the human spirit.

Who creates this space? Mainly the woman. As it says, “A woman’s wisdom builds her home.”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

“There’s no place like home.”

Sometimes I catch myself saying “I want to go home.” No, it’s not like I’m having a bad day at work and want to go home to wife and hearth. It’s more like I get tired of the various battles of life and I want to go “home” to someplace safe and quiet. It’s not even a feeling that I want to be in a place. It’s more like a sense of nostalgia; stringing together little bits and pieces of my memory and history together from the fabric of my life to create a warm and secure blanket in which to hide.

Then I blink and return to whatever I was doing when that random musing happened upon me.

The world isn’t a safe place. I’m not talking about the physical dangers around us, although they exist, but when I say the world’s not safe, I mean it’s not safe for our souls. It’s not easy to contemplate a life of holiness when everything we’re surrounded by is unholy. It’s difficult to find the tiny and precious pearls in life when they’re covered by a humongous pile of manure. But then, I’m forgetting myself.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” –John 17:13-19

The Master left the world, but he did not leave us alone:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:15-18

There is much talk in the church about Jesus the Savior and about the comfort and wisdom given to us by the Holy Spirit of God, but I find it more than coincidental that the giving of the spirit, the event Christianity calls Pentacost, comes on Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks (which is arriving in just a few days), the anniversary of the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel at Sinai. Is the Torah another “comforter”?

The sages expounded in the language of the Mishnah (blessed is He who chose them and their learning):
Rabbi Meir would say: Whoever studies Torah for Torah’s sake alone, merits many things; not only that, but [the creation of] the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called friend, beloved, lover of G-d, lover of humanity, rejoicer of G-d, rejoicer of humanity. The Torah enclothes him with humility and awe; makes him fit to be righteous, a chassid, correct and faithful; distances him from sin and brings him close to merit. From him, people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power, as is stated, “Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is power.” The Torah grants him sovereignty, dominion, and jurisprudence. The Torah’s secrets are revealed to him, and he becomes as an ever-increasing wellspring and as an unceasing river. He becomes modest, patient and forgiving of insults. The Torah uplifts him and makes him greater than all creations. –Pirkei Avot 6:1

While the sages are addressing a Jewish audience, I don’t see anything here that can’t apply to any person who is devoted to God and who clings to His wisdom and teachings. In clinging to the Torah, we are indeed clinging to God, and perhaps there is no difference between what the Apostles received in that upper room of the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-4) and what the Children of Israel received from God through the hands of Moses thousands of years before:

Adonai’s Torah is pure, reviving the soul.
Adonai’s testimony is sure, educating the simple.
Adonai’s laws are just, delighting the heart.
Adonai’s command is clear, lighting the eyes.
Adonai will give strength to his people. Adonai will bless his people with peace.
God’s way is pure, and Adonai’s word is clear. He protects all who seek refuge in Him. All you who cling to Adonai your God are alive today.

from the Torah Service portion of
My People’s Prayer Book

Ruby SlippersGod has provided something to comfort us regardless of where we are or what we’re doing. He has given us access to His Spirit, but in more than one way. David, Israel’s greatest King and forerunner of the Messiah, loved God and He cherished His Torah:

One who learns from his fellow a single chapter, or a single law, or a single verse, or a single word, or even a single letter, he must treat him with respect. For so we find with David, king of Israel, who did not learn anything from Achitofel except for two things alone, yet he called him his “master,” his “guide” and his “intimate,” as is stated, “And you are a man of my worth, my guide and intimate friend.” –Pirkei Avot 6:3

Perhaps David expressed his relationship with God, the Torah, and provided the answer to my need for “home” in times of distress, in his most famous Psalm:

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; He guideth me in straight paths for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. –Psalm 23

David found “home” in the midst of his enemies, yet he feared no evil and lived in the presence of God. His cup overflowed with goodness and he was anointed with oil. In the valley of the shadow of death, he was in God’s house forever.

Rabbi Freeman says that “a women’s wisdom builds her home” and this is very true, but it isn’t always that simple. Beneath the woman’s wisdom and warmth, it is God’s providence that is the foundation of home, both the dwelling of the family and the shelter for the heart. Near the end of the film The Wizard of Oz (1939), we discover that Dorothy had the power to return home to Kansas at any time she wanted. She just had to discover that power within herself. We too have that ability but we have to discover God within ourselves and within the pages of the Torah. When He created the Torah and us, He made it all out of the stuff of Heaven. This is what we use to build “home”.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day.