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Showing posts from April, 2009

Listen to the Voice of silence

In the Torah reading this week, the unthinkable happens. There’s a moment that no parent should ever have to see: to witness the death of one’s own children. Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon HaKohen, Aaron the High Priest, bring esh zarah, strange fire, before God. As a result of their actions, fire comes out of the sacred shrine, and the two young men are killed before their father, and before all 600,000 Israelites. It’s a stunning moment. And in the shock and horror, Moses speaks God’s words: birkrovai ekadesh, through those near to me, I, God make myself holy. And in response to Moses words, in response to the shocking death of his children, the Torah uses only two words to describe Aaron’s reaction: vayidom Aharon, and Aaron was silent. Most of could only imagine how we would respond at such a sight: searing horror, grief, agony, screaming out in indescribable anguish. But in the case of Aharon, all it says is vayidom Aharon, Aharon was silent, still. Perhap…

Do we welcome suffering?

During our seder last week, we came to the section where we take ten drops of wine from our cups, reducing our joy because of the suffering of the Egyptians from the plagues. A young woman at our seder table raised a very poignant idea, one that plagues us all during the course of life: she said, it’s fine that we should feel compassion for the Egyptians. But how can we believe in a God who can bring about that kind of suffering at all? I responded with a very traditional, albeit difficult response: that the Haggadah makes it very clear that God is responsible not just for the good things, but for the whole experience, the bad with the good. The same God who brought about our freedom and redemption, is also the same God who brought about the plagues on the Egyptians. Just as, in Judaism, we bless God for the good, so too in life, when death and loss happen, we say a blessing: Dayan Ha’Emet, that God is the True Judge. And this young woman, like so many of us, had real problems…

Pesach: It's all about "Me"

In the Haggadah we read how, in each and every generation, we must see ourselves as though we personally went out from Egypt. This is a central message of Pesach, perhaps the fundamental experience of the whole seder. It’s not enough just to imagine what it was like for the Israelites as slaves leaving Egypt. On a gut level, we are to feel as though it happened to us: we literally taste the bitterness of slavery through the Maror, the bitter herb. We feel the wonder and terror of the plagues. We sing out in joy as we witness our Redemption. The Hebrew word "Haggadah" means "The Telling." It is through the stories that we tell that we build our understanding of the world, of who we are, of the nature of Truth. The very identities that each of us hold as "ourselves" are really a collection of personal stories that we believe about ourselves. Through the experience of Pesach, we add to our personal narrative, the story of the redemption of our people. We hol…