Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Compassion, Anger and Hope: Pesach 5779

Compassion, Anger and Hope.

When do we open our doors?  The truth is, we only open our doors for people we know or for mail and packages.  We have created a world of locked doors and security cameras, with good cause - but also with deleterious effect.  We are more isolated from each other, and have become often removed from the social and economic needs of the disadvantaged in our society.  Our homes are our castles, and we create Passover comes to teach us that freedom and justice are for all by making us open our doors.

The seder demands that we open our doors twice, and with good reason, during the meal: HaLachma ‘Anya and Sh’fokh Chamatekha.  One is an act of compassion and the other determined anger.  In response to economic and political injustice, we need both.

HaLachma ‘Anya, “This is the bread of poverty/affliction.”  We begin the maggid telling of the Passover story by opening the door and proclaiming that “All who are hungry, come and eat.  All who are in want, come, celebrate the Passover.”  A student asked this past week, what if there is a homeless person out there? The answer is clear: the invitation is real. Passover is a retelling aimed at action, not a re-enactment devoid of immediate relevance. We are not play acting when we declare that our feast is for all who are in need of food and freedom. We mean it.  We open the maggid with the lesson of Compassion.

The story goes on with the four children, the rabbinic interpretations, modern applications, dayeinu, the seder plate, the meal and the festive birkat hamazon grace after meals for the third cup.  Save time for the end of the seder, because before you sing Chad Gadya or Adir Hu there are two crucial lessons yet to be taught:  Anger, and Hope.

Elijah’s cup is presented, the door is opened for a second time, and we spill our anger into the night. Sh’fokh Chamatekha al ha-goyim asher lo yad’ukha... We declare to God our anger, and command that He pour out his wrath on the anti semites of history and today, to all forms of hatred, bigotry that are in league with them: “Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations which do no know you and upon the kingdoms which do not call Thy name, for they have devoured Jacob and have laid waste his home. Pour out upon them Thy indignation and may Thy fury overtake them. Pursue them with Thine anger and destroy them, from under the heavens of the Lord!”

In a world where racist anti semitic slaughter wreaks havoc and murder in our synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the same hatred and vitriol mows down the innocent in the mosques of New Zealand, do we even hesitate to utter this prayer? How dare we? Anger is the appropriate response, and wishing God to crash down upon it is a legitimate prayer. We open the door to let our anger out into the night.

But, like a haftarah that must not end negatively, we then close the door, pour the fourth cup and sing the praises of hallel and silly songs of our eternal faith.  We conclude with hope: Next year in Jerusalem.  Ken yehi ratzon, may it be so.

A zissen Pesach,

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