Monday, April 12, 2010

When Passover Became A Holiday Again

29 of the First Month 5770

Once upon a time, there was a holiday called Pesah (Passover).

It was a joyous time for all Jews. But then the current galuth (exile) came, and things began to change. Jews began to change. They had to adapt and to hide and to assimilate into the cultures of the surrounding goyim, in order to survive.

It was a challenge to wear Jewish clothing and to observce Jewish customs. Jews were beaten up or even killed for being different, eating differently, and dressing differently, and believing different things than their neighbors did. So, gradually they changes their habits, to look and act more like their neighbors.

What choice did they have?

Even those Jews who isolated as much as possible, and who were uncompormising in their loyalty to Torah, were not immune to such changes in practices. Yet their isolation caused another fundamental change in Jewish thinking.

The despair set in. If only we could fill our “mitzvah piggy banks” to a critical mass, Mashiah (The Messiah) would come and save us, take us to Eretz Yisra'el, rebuild our Holy Temple, and all would be well!

We would live happily ever after.

There was no need to learn about the Laws of the Temple. After all, weren't they only relevant to the First and Second Temples? The Ramba”m never intended for us actually to build it, just to have the merit of studying them. After all, EVERYONE knows that RaSh”I said the Temple will fall from the sky,...prefabricated.

There was no need to learn the Laws of Kings and their Wars. Mashiah would know them already, and teach us everything that was necessary. And after all, he will have supernatural powers enabling us to be free from such matters anyway.

All we had to do was to was sit back, learn, say Tehillim (Psalms), and placate the goyim as best we could, and our Hero would eventually come to rescue us (ie. do all the work of redemption).

This focus on only parts of the Torah led to new ideas. If only we were more stringent on this issue or that, Mashiah would come sooner. Some of these stringencies were necessary, keeping Jews far from sin, while residing in a foreign environment, a Jew's natural habitat being Eretz Yisra'el. However, some stringencies began to arise, simply because there was nowhere else for Judaism to go. Moving to Eretz Yisra'el, where most misswoth could be performed, where learning Torah was optimal, and where Jews belonged leHatkhilah was only an impossible dream.

This became the prevailing hashqafah (view), and all Torah learning began to fit into this pre-established rubrick, pertually letting Jews off the hook from being active participants in the redemptive process.

Then came the Maskilim, the academics, the so-called “rationalists,” the ones who were too progressive and enlightened to believe in the “superstitions” of their forefathers, not even entertaining the idea that maybe the Judaism of their fathers and grandfathers was not Judaism lived by HaZa”L (Our Sages, may their memories be for blessings), nor even the Rishonim. Nope. Everything had to go.

At the end of the 1700's, a new strategy arose. Some asked, “Why don't we try chipping away at that 'superstitious' Torah one piece at a time? We'll go after the Oral Torah first, and pretend to believe in God and the Written Torah.” But, this strategy wasn't really a new one. It had already been tried by the Tzadoqim (Saducees). Similar strategies were later attempted by early Christians, altered and refined by keeping a pulse on what was popular, keeping what the Romans and other pagans liked about Judaism, and discarding what was proclaimed to be too difficult or demanding.

Much of this very, pick-and-choose strategy was next incorporated into that of the Jews with “new ideas” of the 1700's. Halachah (Torah Law) quickly lost its status as something binding.

All of these movements of Jews recognized that something was wrong with Judaism. Yet, none of them actually went back to re-examine the Halachah and its supporting sources. Well, one group sort of did, but felt compeled to tweek the conceptualization of the Oral Law first. So, that hardly counts.

Other groups emerged which emphasized person meaning in religious observance, some with more of a “do whatever you want and call it Jewish” attitude than others. Yet by concerning themselves with the selfish feelings of Jews who were lost, angry, or confused, over the search for what was authentically Torah, they sacraficed their heritage to the God of Self, and successfully created something which was still endlessly farther away from Judaism than what was in the hands of the isolationists who valued stringencies, and shunned anything incompatible with their preconceived notions born out of galuth.

The battle between the pseudo-old ideas and the pseudo-new ideas continues, and this Pesah, the following could still be heard:

“I hate Pesah.”

“I hate cleaning for Pesah.”

“There's nothing good to eat during Pesah.”

“I'm always too exhausted to enjoy Pesah.”

“If Passover is an indicator of what the rest of Judaism is supposed to be about, then I want nothing to do with it. I just don't get it.”

Waiting to eat, and thus starving for hours, trying to focus on heavily detailed divrei Torah and complex midrashim, and then told to stuff your dinner down your throats, in order to eat the afikoman before halachic midnight. Where is the simhath yom tov in that?!

However, the solution to the damage done by the pseudo-old ideas does not come from those with the pseudo-new ideas.

The solution is NOT to do whatever we want and ignore the centrality of halachah.

The solution is NOT to pretend to be frumer than frum, so that we can legimize our unsubstantiated leniencies in other areas of Judaism.

The solution is NOT to replace the centrality of halacha with an emphasis on only what is “meaningful,” in other words, make it up according to your feelings, like putting an orange or even a piece of bread on the seder plate.

The solution IS to rediscover what the Halachah (Torah Law) actually is, and then do it.

Unfortunately, both those with the pseudo-old ideas and the pseudo-new ideas are too stuck in their ways. Those who are close-minded close themselves off from authenticity, fooling themselves into believing the notion that the way they look, act, and speak is not so far away from HaZa”L. After all, they believe that their stringencies have made Judaism better than it was. And, although in some ways they deserve credit for the survival of Judaism, the idea that we can now move back to the proper (ie. only) Jewish Homeland, and learn what is proper Jewish dress, observance, and speech is nothing less than heresy. They are too blinded by hashqafah and power to see what is or is not authentic Judaism. They “know better.”

Those who proclaim open mindedness are not really open minded at all. After all, they are enlightened and progressive, and have no desire for authenticity anyway, fooling themselves into the belief that enlightenment and progress, adopted from Western society, IS authentic Judaism. They “know better.”

May the Holy One, Blessed Be He grant guidance to those of His People who are lost.

May He grant all those who had a lousy Pesah this year, the knowledge and courage to have an enjoyable Pesah next year, the one I had.

A Pesah which follows a period of SANE cleaning that which is halachicly necessary to clean
(You'd be surprised!)

A Pesah which offers more to eat than eggs, oil, shmaltz, potatoes, carrots, coconut, and preservatives

A Pesah Seder with lively and interesting discussions of Yetziyath Mitzrayim, yet also...

A Pesah Seder in which the meal commences not long after returning home from beth kenesseth (synagogue)

A Pesah Seder in which the meal is relaxed, and not rushed

A Pesah Seder in which guests do not struggle to stay awake, nor are bored out of their minds

A Pesah in which people feel comfortable eating at each other's homes

Then maybe Pesah will become a holiday once again.

בשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה

Next Year may we all be celebrating Pesah in a rebuilt Jerusalem!


A version of the Ramba"m's Hagadah may be printed out from