Friday, April 19, 2024 / 11 Nisan 5784

Shalom Chaverim,

A few thoughts as we get ready for Passover starting Monday night:

  1. There is a tradition of trying to cleanse all the ‘chametz’ out of our lives, to do a ‘spring cleaning’ of our souls as well as of our houses. Nevertheless, if you are like me, the perfection of your soul might still be a work-in-progress.

    So…you might have some chametz still in your house – expensive scotch, extra boxes of mac n’ cheese you can’t bear to part with, etc.

    Don’t fret [well, at least don’t overly fret]: You can put all your chametz that can’t be disposed of into a drawer or cabinet, tape it shut, and “sell it” for the duration of the holiday. There is a special form that you must fill out in order to sell your chametz [the form was sent in the Temple Sinai newsletter, or find it here]. It MUST be at Temple Sinai or scanned/photo sent to my email by SUNDAY EVENING AT 7:00pm. Quite simple to do and no cost [though it is customary to give some tzedakah either to Temple Sinai or out there in the wider world].
  1. You might recall the special ‘Counting of the Omer’ that many of us did last year. Beginning with the second night of Passover, we count 49 days until Shavuot. In the mystical tradition, each separate day has a spiritual theme, and the entirety of the seven complete weeks is considered a time of great vulnerability as well as of great spiritual opportunity. Last year I sent daily reminders to make the count, which involves a short blessing and recitation of a simple sentence marking the day.

    Last year during the Omer, there was a tremendous sense of division within the Jewish people, especially within Israel. A potential constitutional crisis was brewing, and there was a real fear of political bloodshed, God forbid. I wrote ‘meditations’ for each day of the Omer on themes of Jewish unity and Peoplehood.

    This year, the Omer counting will again take place during a time of crucial importance to the Jewish People and for Israel. I will again try to offer what I hope will be helpful, challenging, and meaningful reflections through the 49 days of the Omer this year. I invite you to join me in going through these days, sharing our most heartfelt concerns and hopes. Please send me an email ASAP if you would like to receive the daily Omer reminders and thoughts.
  1. Balance:

    Scholars have pointed out the similarities between the customs and literary forms of the Passover seder with the Hellenist banquet, or “symposium.”

    At the symposium, Greeks and Romans would gather for a meal, wine-drinking and discussion. Their servants would wash their hands for them (Tosefta Berachot 4:8), they dipped “chazeret” (lettuce) and ate charoset (Pesachim 10:3), and reclined to the left while eating (Pesachim 10:1 and 108a). Plutarch in the 1st century CE described the symposium as “a communion of serious and mirthful entertainment, discourse, and symbolic actions…[furthering] a deeper insight into the points debated at the table. For, the memory of the pleasures arising from the food is short-lived, but the subjects of philosophical queries and discussions remain fresh after they have been imparted.”

    The ancient rabbis clearly modeled themselves on these customs. The Jewish People have never lived in a complete vacuum. We have always absorbed customs, laws, foods, words, etc. from our surroundings…

    …But not haphazardly.

    Although the Rabbis adopted the form of the symposium, they changed its content drastically. The Greeks and Romans discussed love and beauty, food and drink. We discuss our Exodus from Egypt, the miracle of redemption, and the challenges and responsibilities of freedom incumbent upon us in our own day.

    The symposium was for the well-educated and high-born elite. The Seder is designed as an educational experience for the entire Jewish People: young and old, rich and poor, women and men, scholars and the so-called “am ha’aretz”, your average Jew.

    Perhaps the most striking difference between the seder and the symposium is the afikoman: “One does NOT conclude Pesach with an epikomion [= afikoman]” (Pesachim 10:8). The Hellenist epikomion was distinguished by the practice of bursting into neighbors’ houses and forcing them to join in drinking and sexual revelry. In contrast, we established the afikoman as a totally different kind of ‘dessert’— one imbued with Jewish values. Memories of searching for the afikoman – and then receiving a reward for finding it – serve as a model for all of us as we ‘search’ for our Jewish identity throughout our lives. Our afikoman recalls the taste of the Passover sacrifice eaten when, nearly 2,000 years ago before the incredibly special historical era we are privileged to be living in for the last 76 years since the re-establishment of Israel, we were last a free People in our own Land. It is the taste of freedom, gratitude to God, and fulfillment of a mitzvah.

We Jews today have never been so “free” to adopt the customs and habits of our surrounding society. Like the Rabbis of old, we must balance this freedom with the restraint and wisdom to imbue the forms and patterns of our lives with Jewish content, meaning, and values.


Rabbi Michael Schwartz