Tag Archives: pesach

The Uninspired Passover Seder

All in all, this year’s Passover seder in my home was pretty lousy. There are a lot of reasons for this, most of which I am not at liberty to discuss. It’s wasn’t anyone’s fault. No one burned the roast, or behaved poorly, or arrived abysmally late to the event. But it certainly wasn’t the joyous occasion of freedom that I usually anticipate…at least not on the surface.

But I was disappointed and sundown at the end of Shabbat and the first full day of Passover was a sad relief. At least it was over.

I had anticipated a simple but happy affair. It is true that we were all busy for the past couple of weeks and there was no elaborate preparation for Passover, as there has been in years past. My wife and daughter (the principle authors of our family seder) were incredibly busy in the weeks approaching the first day of Pesach, so there wasn’t an opportunity to plan an elaborate meal. I had once suggested to my daughter that my sons and I do the actual planning and cooking this year, but her disdain for our “male” abilities in this area became immediately apparent. I actually thought at one point that we wouldn’t have a seder at all.

As the head of household, the responsibility to lead our family seder falls to me. This is when I become acutely aware that I’m a goy and while reading the Leader’s portions of the Haggadah, I tend to become more than a little embarrassed. This year, I was also the only Gentile present in a family of Jews, so my chagrin was even greater than usual. I also hadn’t had time to even look at the Haggadah prior to the start of the seder, so I could feel myself stumbling over the words and wondering if it was such a good idea to even hold the seder.

But it was my idea.

My wife, son, and I actually talked about not having the seder earlier in the day. True, all the food had been prepared, but perhaps, given the circumstances, we should just have a “Passover-themed” meal and call it good. But then, I had to shoot off my big mouth (and remember, I’m the only goy in this conversation) and say that Passover has been observed by Jews in all sorts of difficult circumstances but it has been observed. It’s important (in my humble Gentile opinion) to not give up the celebrations and commemorations of Judaism when faced with adversity. If a little difficulty was all it took to stop a Jew from celebrating what is Jewish, then probably there would be few or even no Jews left by now, or at least, no Jews who remember how to have a Passover seder.

So we went ahead and had our seder.

I won’t describe the grizzly details, but it wasn’t joyous. It wasn’t hideous or outrageously bad, but it simply fell rather flat. It lacked “pizzazz.” Whatever makes a seder an experience rather than just a meal with some reading just wasn’t there.

It was sort of like praying to God in a time of need and then feeling worse after praying then you did before entering His presence.

And it’s over for another year. Next year in Jerusalem? I’d be satisfied if it’s next year in my dining room, as long as at the end of the seder, we all felt, as a family, as if the Passover had been observed and not mangled or abused.

So for the next week or so, I’ll be dining on dry matzah and ashes and trying to remember that holiday expectations are not the same as a relationship with God. Events can be messed up for many, many reasons but it’s what God experiences with us that matters. Since I’m not Jewish, I am not strictly commanded to observe the Passover, but my family is. If I’ve done anything to prevent them from observing the mitzvot associated with the Pesach meal, then I’ll bear my guilt and whatever consequences that go along with it alone.

It’s not particularly my fault. It’s no one’s fault. But this being the first year I’m not affiliated with any congregation or religious organization, I somehow feel that I’m to blame. I’m looking for the good among the bad; the flower among the weeds, but so far, it hasn’t bloomed.

It is hard to describe the dire poverty that afflicted the citizens of Yerushalayim eighty years ago. The scarcity of food was so extreme that children sometimes went to sleep without having tasted a morsel the entire day.

One child was was walking along on a Shabbos afternoon when he noticed a very valuable gold coin. Of course he could not pick it up, since it was muktzeh. But he figured that he could stand on it, to guard it and take it after Shabbos. Unfortunately, an Arab youth passed by and he noticed that the boy remained stationary. Understanding that it was the Jewish Shabbos and that the boy might be guarding something to take after Shabbos, he threw the child to the floor and spotted the valuable coin— which he immediately pocketed.

The child was overwhelmed with grief. Not only had he endured being thrown violently to the ground, he had also lost a coin which could have fed his family for quite some time. He went into the Rachmastrivka shul and began to cry bitter tears.

When Rav Menachem Nochum, zt”l, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, heard a child crying copiously in the beis haknesses, he immediately went to see what had occurred. When he asked the child and was told the entire story, he comforted the child. “Today is Shabbos, so we can’t speak about money, but please calm down for now. Come to see me after Shabbos.”

After Shabbos the rebbe took out a coin—exactly like what had been taken from him— and showed it to the child. “I am happy to give you this coin if you will sell me the merit of having endured great pain for the honor of Shabbos. To keep the halachah you were thrown onto the floor and you lost a fortune of money.” But the boy immediately refused. “No. I will not relinquish the reward for this mitzvah for any money in the world!”

Later the boy recounted. “I left the rebbe’s presence with a conviction that the treasure I had gained through my suffering was much more valuable than any mere coin!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Golden Treasure”
Kereisos 20

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:3 (ESV)

The “poor in spirit” is looking for the golden treasure among broken crumbs of matzah. When a celebration of God dedicated to joy and freedom is anything but joyous and free, what then?

NOTE: I didn’t post my usual “meditation” Sunday morning because, outside of Israel, both the first and second day of Passover are considered “Sabbaths.” For that reason, I refrained from making any comments on the Internet during these special Shabbatot. Thank you to those who contacted me behind the scenes asking if everything is OK. I appreciate it.

Passover: Kos shel Eliyahu

In addition to the four cups of wine that each participant drinks during the Pesach Seder, a fifth cup is placed on the Seder table. This cup, which is not drunk, is known as kos shel Eliyahu , Eliyahu’s Cup.

Regarding this cup, the Alter Rebbe states in his Shulchan Aruch : (Orach Chayim, 481:1.) “It is customary in these countries to pour an additional cup — one more than for those seated. This cup is called kos shel Eliyahu.” What is the reason for this additional cup, and why is it so named?

There is a difference of opinion in the Gemara regarding the necessity of pouring a fifth cup of wine. Since this matter was not clearly adjudicated, there are those who say that a fifth cup is placed on the table. This cup, they say, is called kos shel Eliyahu , because, just as Eliyahu will clarify all doubtful Halachic matters, he will clarify the ruling about this cup as well.

The very fact that kos shel Eliyahu is merely placed on the table and not consumed indicates that it is bound up with a level of Divine service loftier than man’s drinking of wine. This is so, for kos shel Eliyahu is bound up with the final Redemption, something that transcends man’s service.

This belief is to be found within all Jews, for all are “believers and children of believers.” And this is so, notwithstanding the individual’s revealed level of service. For every Jew intrinsically believes in and awaits the coming of Moshiach — this belief and anticipation being a Divine command both in the written and oral Torah. Moreover, these feelings grow ever stronger as we move closer to the Redemption.

“Kos shel Eliyahu— A Cup of Redemption”
Commentary on Pesach
The Chassidic Dimension
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, pp. 48-53
and on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26:27-29 (ESV)

The cup of redemption. The fifth cup. Based on the above, the meaning of this cup is abundantly clear. Its placement at the Seder table is a testimony to the coming redemption of the Jewish people by the prophesied Moshiach. But the cup of the Messiah has meaning for the Goyim as well, since the Master commanded that the nations also be joined to him as disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Can I say that the actual Passover Seder has meaning for we Christians? Perhaps. I know that it has meaning to me.

I just became aware of the Christian tradition of Maundy Thursday. My daughter plays drums with the local Highlanders and the group practices once a week at a church. When I was driving her to practice on Wednesday evening, I saw on the church marquee a mention of Maundy Thursday, but neither one of us had any idea what it meant. Of course, I looked it up.

Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday and Thursday of Mysteries, is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Spy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.


My first reaction when reading this was that it was a waste of effort, since Passover is a perfectly good occasion to commemorate these things and it existed thousands of years before the establishment of the Christian event. Kind of like re-inventing the wheel, and maybe it misses the point as well. I subsequently learned that there’s a little more to it than that. The interpretation of the scripture behind the holiday is that Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love each other and then (apparently) washed their feet, linking the two events. For different churches, this is interpreted either as a tradition, a custom, or an actual, literal commandment to show love by washing the feet of your fellow believer.

I think that’s a little too literal, and my interpretation was that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in a “teachable moment” to  illustrate a point by metaphor. But I’ve been wrong before.

Christianity sees the Passover as the commemoration of the death of Jesus and Easter as the celebration of his resurrection and his life, so I suppose they found it necessary to initiate Maundy Thursday to “fill in the gaps.” But as we have already seen, the presence of the fifth cup; Eliyahu’s Cup, is the presence of the promise of the redemption, which encompasses all of these things, including loving God and loving one another. Death and Life are bound together at the Seder table, along with the bitter herbs, the bread of affliction, and the sweetness of the charoset. The beitzah or roasted egg symbolizes life everlasting and the meaning of the shank bone of the lamb should be obvious.

While the Passover Seder is primarily the story and the promise of the Jewish people, the final Seder meal (if it was a true Seder) of the Master is the bridge that allows we who call ourselves by his name to also find meaning and significance in the promise of life through the death of the Lamb. When he was resurrected, joined with Jesus, so were we. But we don’t drink the fifth cup because of its transcendent nature, and because we have yet to come to that place in the progression of all things. The Moshiach hasn’t returned yet. When he returns, he will come for his chosen people, his lost sheep of Israel. And by the grace of God, he will also come for we among the nations, who wait in humility and unworthiness for the King of the Jews.

Why pour a cup if we lack the ability to drink it?

In the course of the Passover Seder we drink four cups of wine, corresponding to the four “expressions of redemption” in the Divine declaration (Exodus 6:2-8):

“I will take you out”,

“I will deliver you”,

“I will redeem you”,

“I will acquire you.”

But the final and culminating level of redemption – its “I will bring you” element, which shall be fully realized only in the era of Mashiach – is something that transcends our human efforts.

This is not a cup we can drink on our own. We can only bring ourselves to the threshold of this Divinely perfect world, through our active realization of the first four “expressions of redemption.”

The drinking of the fifth cup awaits Elijah, herald of the final and ultimate redemption.

“The Fifth Cup”
Commentary on the Passover Seder

Chag Sameach Pesach

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