Tag Archives: passover

Easter, Passover, and Myriad Truths

When our universe as we know it first emerged, the soil of the earth was imbued with a wondrous power—the power to generate life.

Place a tiny seed in the ground and it converts the carbon of the air into a mighty redwood—a decomposing seed awakens the power of the infinite.

Yet another miracle, even more wondrous: A quiet act of kindness buried in humility ignites an explosion of G‑dly light.

Infinite power is hidden in the humblest of places.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Seeding Miracles”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Depending on your religious orientation, we are entering a “season of miracles” in a few days. If you’re Christian, then you are certainly looking forward to Holy Week, culminating with the festivities of Easter and the celebration of the risen Christ this coming Sunday. If you’re Jewish, then you are busy preparing your home and your soul for the Passover season, which begins with Erev Shabbat this coming Friday evening.

Or you have another sort of religious tradition that has no holidays at this time of year, or a tradition that contains no wonders or miracles at all.

I haven’t celebrated Easter for many, many years but I usually look forward to Passover. My wife and I haven’t discussed plans for Pesach this  year, and there are years when we don’t have a personal Pesach seder in our home. Life gets hectic and my spouse isn’t always up to the challenge of preparing an elaborate meal along with the many other preparations and tasks she performs. I suggested yesterday morning, that my sons and I take a turn this year at preparing the Passover meal, but my daughter (who knows what it all entails) just rolled her eyes (mercifully, my wife wasn’t present when I “shot off my big mouth”).

I’ve been avoiding the obligatory Passover blog posts so far due to the uncertainty of the season and, like corporate fellowship, I may have to admit that there will be no personal Passover for me this year. I suppose because I’m not Jewish that it shouldn’t apply to me anyway, so in that, there is no loss if one less Christian isn’t available to attend a purely Jewish commemoration of freedom from slavery and bonding with God.

While, as Rabbi Freeman says, “infinite power is hidden in the humblest of places,” sometimes only humility is to be found in such places as well. There is a time to rise up, to attempt to exceed your limitations, and strive to touch the hem of the garment of God. There are other times that it’s best to step aside and make room for others to achieve that purpose by making yourself small and still. The latter is what’s best for me.

I used to think that so much time had passed since I initiated this “experiment” that my “alternate path” should be apparent to me by now. However, I realize that only an instant has elapsed and it is my place to sit in the shadows and wait. If there is a “miracle” for me, it will be the silence and the muted shades and the stillness of the abyss as I contemplate my existence and ponder on the wonder of God and His unique, radical Oneness.

And I contemplate my path and consider the fork in the road. I can hardly say that it’s either Judaism or Christianity that presents themselves before me, since my options are not two but rather nearly infinite. Within Christianity, there are a myriad of possibilities, both “formal” and idiosyncratic. Judaism, as an option, really doesn’t present itself to me for the simple reason that I am not Jewish. Yet some part of that voice speaks to me and incorporates itself in the other, more “appropriate” options that I still find available to me. Rabbi Freeman presents the transcendent path of truth as containing two paths, but indeed, it contains so much more.

If you find yourself affixed to a single path to truth—

the path of prayer and praise,

or the path of kindness and love,

or the path of wisdom and meditation,

or any other path of a singular mode

—you are on the wrong path.

Truth is not at the end of a path.

Truth transcends all paths.

Choose a path. But when you must, take the opposite path as well.

But if “truth transcends all paths,” then how do you tell truth from its opposite? If choosing truth means choosing opposite paths, when how can I make a choice? If I can’t make a choice, I can then walk no particular path in seeking God.

That leaves me with an impossible decision and no way to make that decision. How can I choose truth if truth is transcendent but I am only human?

If, for me, there is no Easter and there is no Passover, then my choice is to choose no option. That may be the only choice in relation to truth as well. Is it Jacob’s ladder of prayer that sits in front of me, shimmering faintly in the darkness and taunting me in the twilight, or is it the point at which a billion, billion paths converge all demanding I choose the truth and all demanding I choose all truths?

Hypothetical indecision must give way to practical living. I still must wake up each morning, must acknowledge God as the author of my life, such as it is, must get dressed, go to work, labor, go home, be a husband, and father, and grandfather, and walk all the different paths that my life requires, as my tiny march of days on this earth continues to elapse.

All of Judaism will be reading from the seder in a few days, and in a week, Christianity will turn to the end of the Gospels and the resurrection of Jesus. But I will wait and by the dim light of a candle or my soul (I can’t always tell which), I’ll thumb through the pages of Lamentations:

My transgressions were bound into a yoke;
by his hand they were fastened together;
they were set upon my neck;
he caused my strength to fail;
the Lord gave me into the hands
of those whom I cannot withstand.

Lamentations 1:14

Vayikra: Voluntary Offering

The Torah portion Vayikra discusses various types of korbanos, sacrificial offerings, first relating the laws of voluntary offerings and then of obligatory offerings. Why does the Torah begin with free-will offerings; one would think that we should first be made aware of the laws regarding the korbanos that must be brought, and only then learn about the details of the voluntary offerings. The answer is that, by doing so, it indicates that the most crucial aspect of all offerings is that they be offered from a genuine desire to come closer to G-d – “his heart’s intent is for the sake of Heaven.”

It can thus be said that all korbanos are to be considered free-will offerings, for at the crux of all offerings are the feelings of the individual bringing them.

In fact, the intention required is found within each and every Jew, but when an individual brings a free-will offering, these latent desires are revealed for all to see.

Thus, it is not necessary for the Torah to command this intent, for it is found in any case; bringing the offering will automatically reveal the Jew’s innate intention of drawing close to G-d.

-from “Korbanos and the Heart’s Intent”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, pp. 9-13
and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

In Christianity, we have a tendency to view Jewish religious behavior as obligatory, works-driven acts; almost a kind of “slavery” to God. By comparison, the Christian believes that grace makes us as free as a bird in flight to enjoy the peace and understanding of a loving and forgiving God. What we do in response to the grace of God and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is based (ideally) on sheer gratitude for all God has done for us. There are few, if any, obligations incumbent on the Christian, or at least that’s how it sounds when most Pastors deliver their message from the pulpit on Sunday.

But here we see a different side of Judaism, one that we’re not always aware of. We see that a Jew is encouraged to embrace the motivation of voluntarily drawing closer to God. It’s not a slave approaching a Master with bloody sacrifices on a hot, burning, and ash-filled altar, but a person who actually wants to approach, as a lover with a gift, desiring to enter into the presence of her paramour.

Today’s daf continues to discuss the halachos of various issurei kareis.

The evil inclination will drive a person insane if given half a chance. First it entices a person to sin. Then it riddles him with thoughts of guilt and gloomy thoughts of what will be the result of his sinful activities.

Rav Yitzchak Sher, zt”l, explained why the yetzer hara won’t even allow a person to enjoy having sinned. “The yetzer wants to kill us, as our sages teach. He therefore pushes one to sin and urges God to punish the hapless fellow. Even if he cannot kill us, he wants us to suffer. He is in essence saying, ‘You sinned, now give up all the pleasure too.’”

One of the strongest arguments the yetzer has is when a person transgresses issurei kareis, chas v’shalom. The evil inclination immediately begins harping on this stain, insisting that teshuvah doesn’t help—in direct contradiction of the Gemara itself. Yet even one who learned that kareis can be rectified cannot help being daunted by the need for Yom Kippur and yesurin to clean away such guilt. Although the Meiri there adds that a complete teshuvah also atones alone, who can say he has done a complete teshuvah?

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, brings that the Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avodah, zt”l, teaches how to wipe away even the kareissins. “It is brought from the Arizal that one who did a sin punishable by kareis should stay awake the entire night and learn Torah, especially those segments where the sin he transgressed is discussed.”

The Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avodah adds, “This practice is most frequently followed during the nights of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. The custom is for people to stay on their feet and learn Meseches Kareisos the entire night.”

The Chofetz Chaim adds that one who learns Meseches Kareisos well attains added holiness and purity. Learning this tractate is a segulah to rectify transgressions.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Repairing the Damage”
Kereisos 3

That doesn’t sound very voluntary, but when we have distanced ourselves from God, it’s pretty tough to actually want to face Him again, particularly after we’ve sinned and let Him down. Guilt makes things a mess and we’ll put ourselves through all kinds of pain and sorrow as a result.

But God does not want sin to make His people distant and desires that His chosen ones draw close, even after periods of separation.

The unique love which G-d shows the Jewish people is reflected in the beginning of our Torah reading, which states: “And He called to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him.” Before G-d spoke to Moshe, He called to him, showing him a unique measure of endearment. G-d did not call Moshe to impart information; on the contrary, He called him to express the fundamental love He shares with our people. (For although it was Moshe alone who was called, this call was addressed to him as the leader of our people as a whole.)

The inner G-dly nature which we possess constantly “calls” to us, seeking to express itself. This is reflected by the subject of the Torah reading, the sacrificial offerings. The Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, shares a root with the word kerov, meaning “close.” Sacrifices bring the Jews’ spiritual potential to the surface, carrying our people and each individual closer to G-d.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
from “The Dearness of Every Jew”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, pgs. 24-26;
Vol. XVII, pgs. 12-15;
Sefer HaSichos 5750, Vol. I, p. 327ff

But how does this speak to the Christian? Actually, it speaks to us especially so that me might understand how passionately God does not want His chosen ones, the Jewish people, to be distant from Him…ever. How can the joining of the nations to the God of Israel ever diminish, or God forbid, destroy the loving union between the Jews and God? How can we ever dare believe such as thing?

But if God is so close to the Jew, where does that leave the Gentile?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. –Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

God’s grace and mercy are not limited to the Jewish people, although the Jews have been and always shall be a special people unto the Creator. God grants His grace to the nations of the world as well, but here’s the catch. We must volunteer to draw near to Him. We are not compelled to do so, nor are we born into His grace.

To one degree or another, if you are born Jewish, even though God desires the Jewish person to draw near of his or her own free will, there is an attachment of the Jew to all other Jews and to the Torah that can never be disconnected. You belong, quite frankly, whether you want to or not. This is not true for the rest of us. Although each of us was created in God’s own image, we either choose to draw near to Him or we choose to be distant. Even the atheist, who believes it is more rational to disbelieve in the existence of God, is still making a choice, since knowledge of God is abundant in the world around us.

But God desires us. He desires that we all draw near to Him and that none should be lost or perish (2 Peter 3:9). But we must desire Him. How can this be done, since all human beings desire only their own wants and needs without hardly a thought of God? It would take a miracle. Rabbi Touger’s commentary continues.

The G-dly potential within every Jew and within our people as a whole will not remain dormant. Its blossoming will lead to an age when the G-dliness latent in the world at large will become manifest, the Era of the Redemption. At that time, the Jewish people will “relate [G-d’s] praise” in a complete manner, showing our gratitude for the miracles performed on our behalf.

Herein we see a connection to the month of Nissan, during which Parshas Vayikra usually falls. Our Sages associate Nissan with miracles. Further, Nissan is the month in which the Jews were redeemed, and the month in which we will be redeemed in the future. At that time, our entire nation will proceed to our Holy Land and “relate [G-d’s] praise” in the Beis HaMikdash. May this take place in the immediate future.

The Rabbi’s words echo those of the Apostle Paul who also said that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). We also see how the rest of us are included in God’s grace, as Rabbi Touger says that the “blossoming” of Jewish holiness, “will lead to an age when the G-dliness latent in the world at large will become manifest, the Era of the Redemption.”

This is the era of the Messiah’s return.

The Christian world is looking forward to a reminder of the return of Jesus in its celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday, which is on April 8th this year. For the Jew, the special time of redemption is when the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery by God, during the Passover season, which begins at sundown on Thursday, April 5th. I personally relate more to the Passover season for reasons too numerous to mention here, but regardless of which time you hold dear in your heart, realize that we are called, not to be chained to God, but to fervently desire to be near to Him, to draw close, to love His Word and His Presence in our lives.

To want to be near God, we must believe we are safe when we are with Him. We must do more than hope in Him, we must trust in God, something that is not always easy for me. I suppose this is a major reason why our relationship isn’t what it should be. I suppose it’s why God drops little reminders into my calendar; little invitations to draw near to Him. He does so every week on Shabbat. He does so every day for morning and evening prayers. He does so many times a year and, after all, as I just mentioned, Passover is drawing near. These are times when God asks me to set aside my doubts and fears, to trust Him, to believe in miracles, and to approach.

Trust transcends hope, as the sky above transcends the earth below.

The heart that clings to a thread of hope is anchored to its earthly bounds. It desires to receive, but its capacity is tightly defined. The thread snaps and your eyes look up to see nothing more than the open sky. Hope is gone. All you can do now is trust the One who has no bounds.

That is Trust: When you stop suggesting to your Maker what He should do. When you are prepared to be surprised and open to wonders and miracles.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Trust over Hope”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.

Counting Down

Torah at SinaiOn the sixth day of the third month (Sivan), seven weeks after the Exodus, the entire nation of Israel assembles at the foot of Mount Sinai. G-d descends on the mountain amidst thunder, lightning, billows of smoke and the blast of the shofar, and summons Moses to ascend.

G-d proclaims the Ten Commandments, commanding the people of Israel to believe in G-d, not to worship idols or take G-d’s name in vain, to keep the Shabbat, honor their parents, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, and not to bear false witness or covet another’s property. The people cry out to Moses that the revelation is too intense for them to bear, begging him to receive the Torah from G-d and convey it to them.

The Parashah in a Nutshell
Yitro in Nutshell
Exodus 18:1–20:23

Starting the second night of Pesach, we begin counting seven weeks, 49 days, until the holiday of Shavuos. This counting is called Sefiras Ha’Omer, The Counting of the Omer. (For more information on Sefiras Ha’Omer, see I:16, I:18)

-Rabbi Yehudah Prero
“The Counting of the Omer – A Count of Anticipation”
YomTov, Vol. IV, # 7

We see the events of the Torah reflected in current Jewish practice. According to the commandments (Ex. 12:16, Ex. 23:14, Lev. 23:7) the Jewish people commemorate the Passover every year in order to remember the Passover in Egypt and the great exodus of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. Then comes the Omer count, whereby Jews are commanded to count the Omer for 49 days in anticipation of the festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The events we see displayed with such grandeur and majesty before us when we read the Torah portions that relate these times, are part of the lived experience of every religious Jew and any Gentile who is attached to the Jewish community for various reasons.

But there’s one other event that we Christians must consider.

And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. –Mark 15:42-47 (ESV)

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was crucified on the same day as all of the representatives of the Jewish families in Israel were presenting their Passover lambs for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, in obedience to the commandment. He should have died right before sunset; right before the eating of the Passover lamb by each Jewish family, again, in obedience to the commandment.

But not all of the Gospel versions of the death of Jesus line up chronologically and we cannot be sure of the exact date. Was the “Last Supper” a true Passover seder or some other meal that occurred the evening before? We don’t know. We do know that Jesus died at about the time of the Passover, and we are fond of referring to Jesus as our “Passover lamb”. And three days later, Jesus rose from the tomb and he was with his people again for forty days. And then he ascended.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God…And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. –Acts 1:1-3, 9 (ESV)

It would be nice if things lined up neatly but forty days does not equal the forty-nine day count of the Omer. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Christians don’t also “count the Omer” from the day of the crucifixion, which the church calls “Good Friday” to the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit, which Christians call “Pentecost”, but which also was the day of the festival of Shavuot commemorating the Sinai event.

So the Bible and our celebrations don’t line up into nice, neat, perfectly ordered events and holidays. I also understand that, during the schism between Gentile Christianity and Jewish Messianism, most or all of the Jewish connections to the Christian faith were summarily erased, along with the Jewishness of Jesus. Christians were not taught to count the Omer and in fact, were likely forbidden to perform any celebration of their faith that even vaguely resembled the worship of the Jews.

But wouldn’t it be great if, after the return of the Messiah, the Jews and the Gentiles counted the Omer together, in commemoration of the Passover and the gift of the Messiah to humanity? For just as death passed over the obedient Israelites in Egypt, so has eternal death passed over all who are faithful and obedient to Jesus, the lamb of God, who gave his life for the sake of the world and yet lives. And the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Holy Spirit nourishes all of the Master’s disciples, in accordance to our covenant relationship with God.

But for this tearing down of the wall of enmity to happen, we Christians must not be careless or dismissive of the things that God has created for the Jews and for the good of everyone.

As a young boy, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe) would go with his father on walks through the woods. One time, as they talked, the boy absent-mindedly plucked a leaf off a tree and began to shred it between his fingers. His father saw what his son was doing, but he went on talking. He spoke about the Baal Shem Tov, who taught how every leaf that blows in the wind—moving to the right and then to the left, how and when it falls and where it falls to—every motion for the duration of its existence is under the detailed supervision of the Almighty.

That concern the Creator has for each thing, his father explained, is the divine spark that sustains its existence. Everything is with Divine purpose, everything is of concern to the ultimate goal of the entire cosmos.

”Now,” the father gently chided, “look how you mistreated so absent-mindedly the Almighty’s creation.”

”He formed it with purpose and gave it a Divine spark! It has its own self and its own life! Now tell me, how is the ‘I am’ of the leaf any less than your own ‘I am’?”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Purpose of a Leaf”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Do not shred a “leaf” too quickly, for you may not correctly understand why God created and sustained it. So it is with the Jewish people. So it is with counting the Omer. So it will be one day when a few, and then many, and then all of Israel sees the Divine spark, the “I am” in the Messiah; in Jesus of Nazareth.