Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Torah Readings for Thursday, April 23 and Saturday, April 28, 2015 Yom Ha’Atzmaut Tazria Metzora


Torah Readings for Thursday, April 23, 2015 (4th of Iyar)
Yom Ha’Atzmaut - Israel Independence Day

Yom Ha’Atzmaut As A Religious Event
The anniversary of the proclamation of Israel’s Independence on the 5th of Iyar, 5708, was declared a religious holiday by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.  A special order of service was created which is now part of many prayer books in Israel and in communities outside of the state of Israel.  For example the Conservative Movement in the United States has designated the following readings from the Torah and the Prophets.  In addition to which, Hallel, the special collection of Psalms recited on such events as the Three Major Festivals and Rosh Chodesh, is chanted.

Torah Portion
7:12-8:18 Devarim (Deuteronomy)

The Special Torah reading for Yom Ha’Atzmaut is the opening section from the weekly reading of Eikev.  In these opening verses of the reading, Moshe is telling the children of Israel of all the blessings they will enjoy when they enter the Promised Land if they remember to observe the laws God has given them.  Moshe recounts the travails that the Israelites have faced but reminds them that God has always been with them.  Their entrance into the land is proof of His might and a reminder of the covenant between Him and the Jewish people.  The parallels between the scene in the Wilderness and the events of the fifth of Iyar are too striking to require much commentary.  The children of Israel had suffered two thousand years of exile.  Now, they are returning to their homeland; a homeland that is more than a political entity.  It is the spiritual homeland of the Whole House of Israel.  The rebirth of the Jewish state is a challenge for the Jewish people to renew its connection with the letter and the spirit of the Law which has sustained us.

Haftarah
10:32-12:6 Isaiah

The Man:  The reading is the product of the historic or First Isaiah who lived during the eighth century, B.C.E.  He began preaching around 740 B.C.E.  His public career lasted for some forty to sixty years spanning the reign of four Kings of Judah beginning with Uzziah and ending with Hezekiah.  He was married to a woman he refers to as “the prophetess” and he had two sons.  Apparently he was related to the royal family which meant he could address his teachings directly to those in power.  According to tradition, Manasseh whose reign was both long and wicked, murdered Isaiah.  Isaiah lived in a time of great political turmoil.  Assyria was the leading power of the day.  He witnessed the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel and the exile of the ten tribes.  He encouraged the Judeans not to make a military alliance with the Egyptians who were the enemies of the Assyrians.  Rather, he urged the Judeans to trust in the Lord for their deliverance.  Isaiah lived in a time of affluence and economic inequality.  He chastised the people for failing to care for the disadvantaged.  God would punish them for this as well as their other moral shortcomings.

The Message:  The reading opens with a description of “the Assyrian army’s destruction at the very moment when it believed itself to be knocking at the gates of victory.” (10:32-34).  The reading continues with a description of the Messianic Age when the exiles will be gathered back to the Promised Land (All of Chapter 11).  The reading ends with “two hymns” that begin “I will give thanks unto Thee O Lord” (12:1) and conclude with “Cry aloud and shout, thou inhabitants of Zion; For great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of Thee” (12:6).

Theme Link:  The connection is to the events of the day - the historic rebirth of the state of Israel.  Just like the Assyrians, the Arabs were clamoring at the gates thinking that victory was in their grasp.  And like the Assyrians, the mightier military force lost out to the outnumbered defenders of the Jewish state.  The creation of the state of Israel is seen by many as the first part of the fulfillment of the Messianic Vision.  It certainly has marked the ingathering of the exiles.  A feeling of thankfulness must permeate the accomplishment of this great act.

Torah Readings for Saturday, April 28, 2015

This year, 5773, is a not a leap year.  In non-leap years the weekly portions of Tazria and Metzora are read on the same Shabbat.  They are both comparatively short and contain material on a related subject - Leprosy.  When the portions are read on the same Shabbat, it is seamless and only one Torah scroll is used.

Tazria (“To bring forth seed’)
12:21 - 13:59 Vayikra (Leviticus)

Tazria is the fourth sedrah in Vayikra (Leviticus).  The term “Tazria” is translated variously as “to bring forth seed” or “childbirth” or “be delivered.”  The portion begins with the statement, “When a woman at childbirth ‘Tazria’ bears a male.…”  The name of the sedrah usually comes from the first or first important word in the portion.  It would be a fair question to ask why this sedrah is not call “Ishah” or Woman since the word “Ishah” comes before “Tazria.”  The word “Ishah” would certainly seem to be of prime importance when talking about childbirth.  Also, the first chapter of the sedrah deals with laws of purification relating to the “Ishah” or woman who has given birth to a son or daughter.  The balance of the sedrah deals with “tzara’at,” a word that is traditionally translated as leprosy.  Based on the description of the affliction described in the Torah, “tzara’at” is not what we call leprosy or Hansen’s Disease.  Depending upon the commentator, the disease in the Torah is “a scaly affection on the skin” and may in fact be more a general term for several skin ailments.  The Torah is not a medical book and the Kohanim were not medicine men.

Interestingly enough, “tzara’at” can be found in woolen cloth and linen fabric.  This would further underscore that the disease described in the Torah is not the same as what we call leprosy.  This sedrah is dealing with a concept of “tumah” or “ritual impurity.”  In each instance, it describes the impurity, the role of the priest and the method for responding to the impurity.  According to some, ritual impurity is not to be equated with sin.  Rather it is a condition that people find themselves in; a condition that has a physical manifestation; a condition that can be dealt with and usually remedied.  There are also those who say the first part of the sedrah concerning the new mother is a manifestation of ancient man’s sense of awe when confronted by childbirth.  A lack of understanding of an event often would lead ancient man to create a series of taboos and rituals.  If this is so, then the authors of the Torah have attempted to provide a Jewish context for pre-existing behavior.

Themes
Commandments

166.           The specification that a woman becomes ritually unclean after giving birth (12:2, 5).
167.           The prohibition of a person who is ritually unclean from eating the meat of a sacrifice offered at the sanctuary (12:4).
168.           The specification of the sacrifice to be brought by a woman who has given birth (12:6, 7).
169.           The specification of ritual uncleanness of a metzora, a person with a specific sort of skin affliction (13:2-3).
170.           The prohibition against shaving the area of a scaly skin affliction (13:33).
171.           The commandment that one afflicted with the disease of tzara’at should rend his clothes and let his hair grow loose, like a mourner (13:45).
172.           The procedure to be followed when there is an affliction of tzara’at on clothing (13:47-54).
From Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Tzara’at
This is neither the first time nor the last time we will meet this skin condition.  Remember how Moshe’s hand turned white and then returned to normal in Shemot.  Also, Miriam will suffer a skin affliction when she gossips about her brother.  Judaism does not connect ill health to divine punishment.  On the other hand, Judaism, like modern psychology does see a connection between the spirit and the body.  Etz Hayim had one of the best notes about this citing the sages who saw the commonality between leprosy and malicious gossip.  They are both highly contagious.  The gossip, like the leper, can infect another with his evil tongue.  Tzara’at can be visited on those with haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood in secret, a mind that hatches evil, feet quick to do wrong, a witness who testifies falsely and one who incites brothers to quarrel.  While we may no longer perform the rituals, reading the sedrah should remind us of the evil of the wagging tongue.

Tazria
For those of you who are interested in reading more about why this sedrah is call Tazria and not Ishah, I suggest you read the section in Torah Studies by Rabbi Schneerson by that name.  The discussion is interesting, but beyond my ability to summarize.

Metzora (Leper)
14:1 - 15:33 Vayikra (Leviticus)

Metzora is the fifth sedrah in Vayikra (Leviticus).  It takes its name from the second verse in chapter 14, “This shall be the law of the leper (‘Metzora’) on the day of his purification.”  In chapter 14, the first part of the sedrah describes the steps in the ritual purification of the Metzora.  They include removal from the camp, shaving and ritual offerings.  The balance of chapter fourteen address “tzara’at” which is the most baffling form of affliction mentioned in this or the previous sedrah.  It is some kind of blight or mold or mildew that attacks houses.  It is only found in Canaan and God states that this affliction comes from him.  Coping with the affliction of the house follows the same pattern as coping with afflictions of the body.  The matter is reported to the Kohein, who periodically will check the house.  If the affliction does not disappear, the building is torn down.  If the affliction abates, then the Kohein conducts a ritual purification.  The rest of the sedrah, all of Chapter 15, deals with various forms of discharges and the rules of purification related to them.  Rules related to discharges from men are covered in verses 1 through 18.  Rules related to women are found in verses 9-32.  The Shulchon Oruch, the Code of Jewish Law, deals with these matters in much greater detail.  The two portions are easy to combine because the subject matter is inter-related.  They both deal with personal impurity and the rituals for dealing with the defilement.  These rituals ceased to be operative with the destruction of the Second Temple.  However, the Oral Law took the concepts described here and made them part of Halachah.  Even those who reject the rabbinic law based on these readings look to them for deeper spiritual meanings.

Themes
Commandments

173.          The procedure for the ritual rehabilitation of one who has recovered from tzara’at (14:2-4).
174 - 175. The requirement that a metzora should shave all his facial and bodily hair and immerse himself in a ritual bath on the seventh day after the performance of the procedure described in the preceding commandment (14:9).
176.           The specification of the offering brought by a metzora after he is healed (14:10-11).
177.           The procedure for how a priest is to treat a house contaminated with tzara’at (14:35-42).
178.           The ritual uncleanness of a man who has chronic discharges from his penis (15:2).
179.           The offering to be brought by a man after being healed of chronic discharges (15:13-15).
180.           The specification of ritual uncleanness for one who has seminal emission (15:15, 18).
181.           The specification that a menstruating woman is ritually unclean (15:19).
182.           The stipulation that a woman who has an irregular discharge of blood is ritually unclean (15:25).
183.           The delineation of the offering brought by a woman where irregular discharge ends (15:28-30).
From Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Metzora
Originally this sedrah was called “Zot Tihyeh” or “This shall be” which are the first words in the second verse of the sedrah.  For those of you who are interested in how the name came to be changed to the less flattering name of Metzora, I recommend the chapter in Torah Studies that has the same name.

Haftarah
7:3-20 Second Kings

The Man:  The prophetic portion covers two more miracles involving Elisha, the son of Shaphat from the tribe of Gad.  The miracles are noted at the end of this guide.  The haftarah comes from the Books of Kings, specifically Second Kings.  Sepher Melachim (Book of Kings) covers a period of roughly four hundred years.  It begins with the last days of King David and continues through the reign of King Solomon, the establishment of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and the destruction of both these monarchies.  From another point of view, First Kings opens with the last days of King David and ends with the events surrounding the death of King Ahab.  Second Kings opens with events surrounding the life of King Ahab’s son, Achaziah.  It ends in Babylonia with Jehoiachin, the last King of Judah, being released from prison.  This was seen as a harbinger of the ultimate redemption and return from exile.  For those of you who are into dates, the narrative begins in approximately 965 B.C.E. and ends in 586 B.C.E.  The prophet Elisha is the main character in this week’s reading.  Elisha preached in the Northern Kingdom, Israel, for approximately sixty years.  Before ascending to heaven, Elijah chose Elisha as his successor.  Unlike his predecessor, Elisha appears to have worked more as an insider, advising the monarchs instead of being an external irritant.  This does not mean that Elisha was pliant or afraid to point out the shortcomings of his society.  Elisha is noted for the miracles he performed - seventeen in all according to the sages.  These miracle stories must have been quite popular since most, if not all of them are included in various prophetic portions in the course of the year.  Two of these miracles are featured in this week’s prophetic portion.

The Message:  The haftarah is actually the climactic part of an event that began with II Kings 6:8.  The King of Aram (probably Ben-hadad who reigned in Damascus) attacked the Kingdom of Israel.  He laid siege to Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom.  According to the text, the siege was so horrific that the people resorted to cannibalism.  The King of Israel lost heart and threatened the life of Elisha.  But Elisha told him not be afraid and predicted that the siege would be lifted.  This is where the narrative of the haftarah begins.  According to the text, four Israelite lepers were sitting outside of the city.  As outcasts, they were caught between the besieged Israelites and the besieging Arameans.  Figuring they had nothing to lose, they snuck into the Aramean camp looking for food and shelter.  Much to their surprise, they found that the camp was empty.  Thanks to a miracle from God, the Arameans had retreated in the night.  At first, the lepers began looting the camp.  But then they had a change of heart and decided to go back and tell the Israelites what had happened.

Theme-Link:  The sedrah tells about the law of the leper.  The prophetic portion tells about the behavior of four lepers.  The haftarah puts a slightly different spin on this skin condition.  According to some, leprosy was a punishment for “evil speech.”  They cite the story of Miriam as an example of this.  In this haftarah, lepers behave in morally superior manner.  Even though they are outcasts, they decide that it is wrong to keep the Aramean booty for themselves.  Instead, they return to the city to let the people know that they have been spared.  Ironically, it is the lepers who reveal God’s miracle.

Miracles:  “The confusion caused by God in the Aramean camp” (II Kings 7:6).

“The lowering of prices in the markets of Samaria and the death of the captain who had jeered at Elisha” (II Kings 7:16).

Personal Note:  My grandson chanted this haftarah based on events in the life of the Prophet Elisha as part of his Bar Mitzvah.  There are those who believe that there is a special connection between the Bar Mitzvah Boy and the Prophet who provides his reading.  While Elisha is remembered for many things, the greatest thing he did came just after Elijah, his mentor and teacher, was taken up in the fiery chariot.  “He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan.”  In other words, Elisha followed in the footsteps of Elijah.  He took hold of the tradition, kept it alive and trained the next generation to follow in the footsteps of a journey begun by Abraham.  Jacob, like Elijah, has picked up the mantle.  With his Bar Mitzvah he has followed in the footsteps of all those who came before them and committed himself to travel down the road of Torah and Mitzvah.  A grandfather could ask for no greater gift.  And yet Jacob, by being a mensch in the truest sense of that word has given us so much more.  As he stood before the congregation, he knew that no matter what he does or where he goes, we will always love him.

Pirke Avot - (Sayings of the Fathers) is a collection of sayings, teachings, and ethical maxims.  A popular and eminently quotable work, it is one of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah.  The Mishnah, consisting of centuries of oral teachings passed down from one generation to the next, was finally codified by Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi in 200 C.E.  Pirke Avot is unique among the tractates of the Mishnah in that it doesn't contain any halachah (law), only aggadah (stories or legends).  Its popularity is reflected in the fact that it is included in most prayer books (including, in part, in Gates of Prayer).

Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut one of the great teachers of the Reform Movement suggests that Pirke Avot "teaches us the essentials of what life might be at its best."  It deals with some of life's most basic and important questions:  What is our purpose and destiny?  What is sin, and how do we conquer it?  What is wisdom?  What is my relationship to God?  Pirke Avot is divided into chapters, and each chapter is further divided into individual statements, each called a Mishnah.  It is customary to study a chapter of Pirke Avot starting with the first Shabbat after the end of Pesach (Passover).  Since Pirke Avot consists of six chapters, the work may be completed by the start of Shavuot.  However, other groups of Jews follow a cycle where they study and re-study each of the chapters until the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.  Regardless of the format you choose, each week the Torah page will include one verse from the chapter of the week with a few comments from a variety of sources.)

Excerpts from Chapter 2

(2:3) “Be cautious of rulers, for they do not befriend a person unless it is for the benefit of themselves; they appear like friends at a time when it benefits them, but they don’t stand by a person in his time of need.”  This statement may be attributed to Rabban Gamiliel.  There are those who say this statement applied only to the despotic government of Rome, which controlled the fate of the Jews at this time.  Other students of history would suggest that this is good advice regardless of who is in power.  While Jews have a tradition of supporting civil government, the Chosen People know how easily it can be chosen to suffer by governments of many different forms.  Pirke Avot is worth reading and re-reading because it is pithy, timely and true.

(2:9) “Rabban Yochanan, the son of Zakkai, received the tradition from Hillel and Shammai.  He used to say, If thou hast learnt much Torah, ascribe not any merit to thyself, for thereunto was thou created.”  This sage lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 A.D.).  According to legend, his disciples smuggled him out of Jerusalem; that event led to a fortuitous encounter with the Roman general whom Ben Zakkai predicted would become Emperor.  As a reward for his prophetic vision, Ben Zakkai was allowed to establish an academy at Yavneh.  Yavneh became the gathering place for Jewish scholars and sages after the fall of Jerusalem.  Thanks to Yochanan Ben Zakkai, the dimming light of Judaism was kindled anew as our people used Torah (in the broadest meaning of that term) to turn a new chapter in our history.  Obviously Ben Zakkai felt that it was praiseworthy to study Torah.  The admonition is against bragging about studying, since study of Torah is what a Jew is supposed to be doing in the first place.

(2:15) Rabbi Tarfon says:  The Day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great and the Master is insistent.

(2:16) He used to say:  You are not expected to complete the work and yet you are not free to evade it.  If you have studied a great deal of Torah, you will be given great reward and your Employer can be trusted to pay you with the reward for your work, but know that the reward of the righteous will be paid in the World to Come.

“The work” refers to the study of Torah and the Employer” is God.

Rabbi Tarfon is an interesting personage.  He was actually born into the Priestly family and served in the Temple during the days just prior to the destruction by the Romans.  According to one legend he had three hundred wives.  He married them in a time of great famine and hunger.  By marrying these women he made it possible for them to partake of those parts of the sacrifice that were reserved for the families of the Priests.  The legend continues that he was so respectful of women that when his aged mother would arise from her bed he would let her use his back as footstool to ease her way to the floor.  According to some he favored the strict teaching of Shammi (consider the tone of the quote), but he was in accord with Rabbi Akiva in working against the death penalty.  After the Roman victory, he went to Yavneh and set up an academy at the town of Lydda.  He wrote at a time when the people were demoralized by the seeming victory of the wicked.  So he provided them a prod for studying - just because you cannot learn it all is no reason not to begin or continue.  And he reminded the Jews that in the Jewish concept of Justice there was a final judgment that took place in the World to Come.  Hence, the victory of the villain was only superficial and not lasting.  For those who grapple with the issue of God and the Holocaust this is an answer supplied by a man who lived through what, for his generation, was an equally devastating event.

(2:18) “Rabbi Shimon says:  ‘Be meticulous in reading the Shema and in prayer.  When you pray do not make your prayer a set routine but rather (make it a request) for compassion and supplication before the Omnipresent.  As it is said:  For gracious and compassionate is He, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and relenting of punishment; and do not consider yourself a wicked person.’”

Prayer is a serious business.  It is a conversation between man and his Maker.  This is one of a series of admonitions in Jewish writing about thinking about what you are saying when you are praying.  There are those who believe that God is as “meticulous” in his response as we are in the words we speak to Him.  The command to not consider yourself a wicked person is directly tied to the quality of ones efforts at praying.  If you consider yourself unworthy of God’s compassion and forgiveness, you will pray in that manner.  Furthermore, if you think of yourself as evil you will lose heart and not fight against the Evil Inclination.  Yes, this does begin to sound something like the modern concept of self-esteem.  But Jewish self-esteem does not come just come from convincing yourself you are a good person.  It comes from studying Torah, serving God and performing acts of loving-kindness.

Copyright, April, 2015, Mitchell A. Levin

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Torah Readings for Saturday, April 18 through Monday, April 20, 2015 Shemini Rosh Chodesh Iyar


Torah Readings for Saturday, April 18, 2015

Shemini (Eighth)
9:1-11:47 Vayikra (Leviticus)

Shemini is the third sedrah in Vayikra (Leviticus).  Shemini means eighth.  The sedrah takes its name from the third word in the opening verse of the sedrah, “On the eighth (‘shemini’) day, Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel.”  In the preceding sedrah of Tzav, we read about the consecration of the Kohanim, which took seven days.  The narrative in Shemini starts with the day immediately following the events described in Tzav; hence the appellation of the eighth day.  There are those who liken the seven days described in Tzav to the Seven Days of Creation.  In the first week, God was at work in the world.  On the eighth day, it was time for Man to take responsibility for the world he had been given.  Likewise, Moshe had worked for seven days to consecrate the Kohanim.  On the eighth day, it was time for Aaron to assume his responsibility in helping to make the Israelites a holy nation, a nation of priests.

The sedrah is three chapters long.  Chapter 9 describes the events of the Eighth Day.  Chapter 10 describes the events surrounding the death of two of Aaron's sons.  Chapter 11 describes the Laws of Kashrut.

The Eighth Day (9:1-24)
After seven days of consecration where Moshe was performing the rituals, now, on the eighth day, Aaron begins to function fully as the Kohein Gadol.  From now on, only the Kohanim will be responsible for the sacrificial cult in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.  According to some commentators, Aaron shows some hesitancy in accepting his role because he remembers, with shame, the episode of the Golden Calf.  But Moshe reassures him that his sin has been forgiven and Aaron does indeed “Come forward to the altar.…”  Supposedly, the sacrifices offered by Aaron in Shemini mark the start of our formal worship, which continues unbroken to modern times through the daily prayer services.  At the conclusion of the sacrifices, Aaron blesses the people.  We see a reminder of this in many congregations today, where Rabbis offer a blessing at the conclusion of Shabbat Eve and Morning Services.  Finally, a fire from the Lord consumes the offerings signifying Divine approval.  Since we have just finished celebrating Pesach, you might remember the fifteenth and last part of the Seder, which is called Nirtzah.  During Nirtzah we ask for God’s approval for what we have done.  For without His approval, all is for naught. The event described here is an earlier reminder of the concept that without a spark of the divinity, ritual is a meaningless spectacle.

The Events Surrounding the Death of Aaron’s Sons (10:1-20)
The chapter opens with the death of Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s four sons.  They are described as bringing “esh zarah” (alien or strange fire) before the Lord which results in their instant death.  The text offers no explanation for their behavior nor does it specify what is meant by the term “alien fire.”  Some commentators contend that they brought incense of their own creation into the Tabernacle.  We know from previous discussions that incense was of great importance since the morning service carries the daily reminder that a Kohein Gadol who entered the Sanctuary with unfit incense was subject to the death penalty.  What we do know for sure is that God found the behavior so offensive that he took their lives in a seemingly miraculous way.  He rejected their fire by consuming them with a fire of His own.  Apparently, only their souls were consumed, because in subsequent verses we read about their cousins grabbing the miscreants’ tunics and removing their bodies from the camp.  All that is offered by way of explanation in the text is Moshe telling Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when He said ‘Through those near to Me I show Myself holy and assert My authority before all the people.’”  In other words, the Priests are expected to follow the rules.  Leadership does not allow for license and privilege.  Rather it demands an even higher standard of behavior since failure on the part of the leaders (remember Aaron and the Golden Calf) will cause the people to go astray.  And what was Aaron’s response to this calamity at the moment of his greatest triumph?  “And Aaron was silent.”  Aaron said nothing.  Aaron did nothing.  Did he “accept the justice of the decree” or was he a grieving father, too overwhelmed by the events, or a little of both?  We cannot be sure.  But just in case Aaron or his two remaining sons missed the message, Moshe tells them not to mourn so that they can avoid death at the hands of an angry God.  This strange chapter ends with Moshe angrily denouncing Aaron and his sons for not consuming the sacrifice of purification in the appropriate manner.  Aaron points out the ritual reason for why they behaved as they did.  At the human level, he also points out to his brother that they were reluctant to eat the purification sacrifice in light of the punishment that had befallen their family.  Moshe acknowledges that Aaron has acted correctly after all.

The Laws of Kashrut (11:1-47)
This is the latest in a series of strictures about eating and food.  We have already been told not boil a kid in its mother’s milk, not to consume blood and to avoid chametz during Pesach.  Now we are given lists of creatures we can and cannot eat.  We also are given rules about contamination and containers.  God has given us these commandments so that we might be holy (11:43-45).  Some commentators put the Dietary Laws in the category of strictures known as Chuchat - laws we obey without fully knowing the reason other than that we have been commanded to follow them.  Why is hamburger holy and lobster unholy?  Despite much speculation, nobody will know until the Moshiach comes and answers the unanswerable.  There is no need to rehash the rather detailed information in the Sedrah.  (See Below)  There are many foods on the approved list that most of us would not consider eating.  For example, those of you who are tempted to eat locusts, consider this word of caution.  Ashkenazim do not eat them because their Rabbis feel that it is too difficult to distinguish the different varieties.

In the meantime here are the definitions of a few terms as they are now used that you might find useful.  “Kasher” or kosher means “ritually fit” or proper.  The designation is generally applied to food that is on the “acceptable” list and/or has been prepared according to ritual and under proper supervision where required.  “Terefah” or “treif” is the opposite of kosher.  Treif literally means torn, but now is generally applied to any food that is not kosher.  “Tame” is the term used for what is unclean.  “Tahor” is the opposite meaning pure.  These last two terms are used for matters other than just food.  There is no need to re-hash the views of different groups of Jews about the Dietary Laws.  Etz Hayim does offer an interesting middle ground, as one would expect from the harmonizing world of Conservative Judaism.  It points out that the Torah gives the laws of Kashrut in an incremental manner.  “Similarly, many Jews who begin from a position of limited observance can commit themselves to sanctifying their mealtimes in an in an incremental manner.  They may begin by avoiding pork and shellfish; continue by separating meat and dairy products, and so on.  No one need feel like a hypocrite for not keeping all of the commandments immediately.  What is important is to be on the path, to be a ‘striving’ Jew.”

Themes
Commandments
149.        The stricture against priests entering the sanctuary with disheveled hair (10:6).
150.         The stricture against priests entering the sanctuary with torn clothing (10:6).
151.         The requirement that priests, under threat of divinely ordained death, are not to leave the sanctuary during a service (10:7).
152.         The stipulation that priests should not enter the sanctuary, or render a legal ruling, after imbibing liquor (10:8-11).
153.         The specification of two characteristics - split hooves and chewing the cud - which renders land animals kosher (11:2-3).
154.         The prohibition against eating unkosher animals (11:4-7).
155.         The specification of the two characteristics - fins and scales - that render fish kosher (11:9).
156.         The prohibition against eating fish that lack fins and scales (11:10-11).
157.         The stricture against eating unkosher birds (11:13).
158.         The specification of characteristics of permitted locusts (11:21-22).
159.         The delineation of the ritual uncleanness of crawling creatures (11:29-31).
160.         A commandment relating to how food or food containers become defiled and what is to be done with them (11:32-34).
161.         The law that ritual uncleanness is conveyed by touching an animal’s carcass (11:39).
162-163. The prohibition against eating swarming creatures and tiny insects found on grains and fruits (11:41-42).
164.        The prohibition against eating creatures that swarm in water (11:43).
165.         The stricture against eating swarming creatures (11:44).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Demarcations
Shemini is a sedrah of demarcations.  According to Rabbi Hertz, the first ten chapters of the book of Vayikra, including the first two chapters of Shemini, “contain The Law of the Sanctuary in the stricter sense of the term.”  Starting with the eleventh chapter of Vayikra, the last chapter in Shemini, most of the rest of the book “deals with matters other than priests and sacrifices, with what might be described as The Law of Daily Life.”  As we move through the rest of Vayikra, I will leave it to you to see if you agree with Hertz’s demarcation.  According to a note in Etz Hayim, the letter ‘Vav’ in the word ‘gachon’ (belly) in 11:42 is the middle letter of the entire Torah.  The ‘Vav’ is always written large to emphasize this.

Moshe
With the death of Aaron’s sons, we see Moshe torn between his role as a brother and a national leader.  Surely as a brother, he wanted to comfort his grieving brother.  But he had to set his personal feelings aside and serve as the national leader in a moment of challenge.  This conflict might account for his outburst concerning the consumption of the purification sacrifice.

Wine
According to the Psalms, wine may gladden the heart.  But according to Torah, leaders performing their duties are to have a clear head and avoid intoxicants of any kind lest their judgment be impaired.

Strange Fire
Traditionally, this term has been used to refer to practices that did not conform to either the Written or Oral Law.  It is often joined with the injunction about not adding to or subtracting from the Law.  Obviously Judaism has changed over the centuries.  But those changes have supposedly always been anchored in our basic laws and customs as found in the Bible.  One of the reasons we find such an emphasis on intellectual pedigree among Rabbis and Commentators is to ensure that their interpretations and innovations are not whimsical innovations.

The Easy Way to Practice Judaism
There are many reasons given for not practicing Judaism.  My parents weren’t religious.  I didn’t go to Sunday School.  I cannot read Hebrew.  I am busy on Friday night or Saturday morning.  Ah but everybody eats.  And living in the United States with its abundance of food, most of us can control what we eat.  This means, most of us could practice Kashrut at least in its most rudimentary form.  This means that eating in at least a semi-kosher manner is an easy way for all of us to practice our Judaism.

The Importance of Eight
Shemini or Eight reminds of the importance of this number.  God created the world in seven days.  Moshe consecrated the Mishkan for seven days.  But on the Eighth Day, Moshe turned the Mishkan over to Aaron.  In effect he said, now that this has been created as a holy place it is up to you to use it as such, to take it to the next level.  In the same way, God turned the world over to mankind on the Eighth Day.  He said he had created this world and now it was our place to use it properly, to take it to its next level.  The brit takes place on the Eighth Day.  The child has survived the “week of creation.”  Now it is the parents’ job to bring it into the covenant and take it to the next level - a committed Jew and decent human being.  With Havdalah, the Eighth Day begins for each of us.  Each of us has the challenge of taking the spirituality of the Seventh Day and taking into the real world of the Eighth day.

Paying the Rabbi
In Pirke Avot Rabbi Tzaddok teaches, “Do not make the Torah into a crown with which to aggrandize yourself or a spade with which to dig.  And Hillel states:  “He who uses the crown (of Torah) will pass on” (above, 1:13).  From this Rabbi Dovid Rosenthal says we “may learn that anyone who derives benefit from words of Torah takes his life from the world."  Does this mean that nobody should be able to earn compensation by “making utilitarian use of their Torah knowledge?”  There are numerous examples of sages who worked for a living, many of them at humble positions such as woodcutter, charcoal maker and a seller of pins and needles.  Rashi was a vintner and Maimonides was a full-time physician.  Apparently Maimonides thought that this injunction was aimed at the “large class of able-bodied people  who studied Torah while freeloading off of local charities, often imposing charity ‘quotas’ upon the greater community to assist them in their” self-described sacred pursuits.  Congregational rabbis in the United States hardly fit this description.

In this week’s Torah portion we are reminded that one of the purposes of the sacrifices was to provide food for the Kohanim and their families.  While rabbis are not priests, the words of our lips (prayers) have replaced the offerings on the altars (sacrifices).  If the priests gained sustenance from the role they played in offering the sacrifices of our forefathers, it serves to reason that we should provide sustenance for the rabbis who play such an integral part in our worship activities.  So, it would seem that congregational rabbis are the exception to the injunction about not making a profit from the crown of the Torah.

Haftarah
Machar Chodesh
20: 18-42 First Samuel

The Book:  Samuel is the third book in Neviim (Prophets), following sequentially Joshua and Judges.  The Book (or books, since there is a first and second Samuel) begins with Samuel’s birth and ends with the last days of King David.  Samuel’s death is actually recorded in the first verse of Chapter 25 of First Samuel.  But such was the influence of the last leader of the Israelites who was not a King that the entire work bears his name.

The Men:  As you will see from the comments below, the reading involves three different men - Saul, Jonathan and David each of whom played a different role in the history of our people and each of whose lives teaches us different lessons.

Theme Link:  Usually the haftarah, the reading from the Prophetic portion of the TaNaCh, is linked to the weekly Torah portion.  However, there are some times during the year when the haftarah is tied to events on the calendar.  This is one of those times.  Whenever Rosh Chodesh falls on a Sunday, as it does this week, the preceding Shabbat is called Machar Chodesh.  Machar is the Hebrew word for “tomorrow.”  Chodesh is the Hebrew word for “month.”  Figuratively speaking, one might translate it as “tomorrow is the new month.”  The special haftarah for Machar Chodesh comes from the First Book of Samuel (20:18-42).  The first sentence of the haftarah reads “Jonathan said to him (meaning David):  “Tomorrow is the New Moon (Machar Chodesh) and you will be missed because your seat will be empty.”  David, with good reason, is afraid that King Saul is trying to kill him.  The haftarah tells of a plan that David works out with Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s brother-in-law and best friend, to find out what Saul’s intentions are.  And, if he does in fact desire the death of David, how they can help him escape?  Jonathan is one of the noblest characters in the entire pantheon of Jewish heroes.  He is a brave warrior, a devoted son, and a loyal friend.  He had to know that Saul was losing his grip.  But he never pulled away from his father.  He never turned his back on him.  In fact, he died in a battle that could not be won rather than leave his father.  At the same time, he maintained a friendship with David even though he probably knew that son of Jesse and not the son of Saul was destined to be the next King of Israel.  We spend a lot of time studying evil.  Under the guise of modern scholarship, we spend a lot of time in finding flaws in biblical figures.  It is too bad that we do not spend more time studying Jonathan and his virtue.  After all, if you want to be good, wouldn’t it be more profitable to spend some time studying those who are good?  Unfortunately, as far as I know, the definitive study of Jonathan still waits to be written.

Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) - Saturday, April 18,2015
Pirke Avot is a collection of sayings, teachings, and ethical maxims.  A popular and eminently quotable work, it is one of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah.  The Mishnah, consisting of centuries of oral teachings passed down from one generation to the next, was finally codified by Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi in 200 C.E.  Pirke Avot is unique among the tractates of the Mishnah in that it doesn't contain any halachah (law), only aggadah (stories or legends).  Its popularity is reflected in the fact that it is included in most prayer books (including, in part, in Gates of Prayer).  Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, one of the great teachers of the Reform Movement, suggests that Pirke Avot "teaches us the essentials of what life might be at its best."  It deals with some of life's most basic and important questions:  What is our purpose and destiny?  What is sin, and how do we conquer it?  What is wisdom?  What is my relationship to God?  Pirke Avot is divided into chapters, and each chapter is further divided into individual statements, each called a Mishnah.  It is customary to study a chapter of Pirke Avot starting with the first Shabbat after the end of Pesach (Passover).  Since Pirke Avot consists of six chapters, the work may be completed by the start of Shavuot.  However, other groups of Jews follow a cycle where they study and re-study each of the chapters until the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.  Regardless of the format you choose, each week the Torah page will include selections from the chapter of the week with a few comments from a variety of sources.)

Pirke Avot - Chapter 1
“Shimon Ha-Tzadik was among the last (members) of the Great Assembly.  He would say:  ‘On three things the world depends:  on Torah study, on the service (of God) and on bestowing kindness.’” (1:2).  Simon the Just was the High Priest who served in the Second Temple at the time of Alexander the Great.  According to the Talmud, he is the one who convinced Alexander not to destroy the Temple as he had been requested to do by the Samaritans.  Simon the Just sees the world as resting on a combination of study, ritual observance and positive human behavior.  Like a three-legged stool, the world would collapse if any one of these elements were missing.  All three are mutually inclusive and required if the world is to survive.  The Hebrew term translated, as “on bestowing kindness” is “Gemilut Chasidim” which is also translated as “acts of loving-kindness.”  Reform Jews should know this line well since it is sung to a perfectly marvelous tune during the Torah Service.

Torah Readings for Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rosh Chodesh Iyar
28:9-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)

Rosh Chodesh Iyar is a Two Day Rosh Chodesh.  When a month is 30 days in length, the following month’s Rosh Chodesh is celebrated for two days because the 30th day of the month past is counted as Rosh Chodesh and the first day of the subsequent month as the second day of Rosh Chodesh.  Nissan, the month that comes before Iyar, has thirty days.  Iyar has 29 days.

Rosh Chodesh is the name of the minor holiday that marks the start of each month.  The term Rosh Chodesh is translated as New Moon.  The first day of the month is referred to as Rosh Chodesh because the months are lunar and the first day of each month comes with the start of the new moon.  In the days of the Temple special sacrifices were brought in honor of the new moon.  With the destruction of the Temple, the sacrificial system ended.  In place of the sacrifices, Jews read a description of the sacrificial offerings, which is set forth in the first fifteen verses of chapter 28 in the book of Numbers.  The Torah reading takes place during the daily morning service.  There are many Jews who have no desire to return to the sacrificial system.  They use these readings as a way of providing a connection with the past which is one of the keys to our future preservation.  Because of its connection with the moon, Rosh Chodesh is thought to have special meaning for women.  There are some sages who suggest that wives and mothers should be presented with gifts on this, their holiday.  In lieu of gifts, others suggest giving Tzdekah in their honor.

Iyar is the second month of the year counting from Pesach and the eighth month of the year counting from Rosh Chodesh.  Iyar is a quiet month coming as it does between the tumult of the month of Nissan with Pesach and the climatic moments of the month of Sivan with Shavuot.  According to tradition, Solomon began building the Temple on the second day of Iyar.  Pesach Sheni, The Second Passover, established for those who could not observe Pesach for certain reasons, is celebrated on the 14th of Iyar.  Lag B’Omer (literally the 33rd day of the Omer), a minor but joyful celebration, falls on the 18th of Iyar.  The month of Iyar has taken on renewed importance in modern times.  Israeli Independence Day falls on the fifth of Iyar.  Jerusalem Day which celebrates the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 falls on the 28th Day of Iyar.

Torah Readings for Monday, April 20, 2015

Rosh Chodesh Iyar
28:9-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)

Today is actually the first day of the month of Iyar.  The Torah reading is the same on the second day of a two day Rosh Chodesh as it is on the first day.

Copyright; April, 2015; Mitchell A. Levin

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Torah Readings for the week of Pesach Passover April 4 through 11, 2015

Special Readings for Pesach - Taken as a group the readings from the Torah touch the major themes of the holiday including the Redemption from Bondage, Springtime, Harvest and Temple Sacrifices.  Two scrolls are used since there are two separate readings.  The second scroll provides the Maftir or Concluding Portion.  The second reading is the same on all eight days.  It is only called the Maftir Reading on the first two days, the last two days and on Shabbat.  Yes, the Torah is read on all eight days of the holiday.  Each of the readings from the Prophets reinforces a theme from the Torah portion of the day.  However, you only read a haftarah on the first two days of the holiday, the last two days of the holiday and on Shabbat.
 
Torah Readings for Saturday, April 4, 2015
First Day of Pesach
12:21-51 Shemot (Exodus)
 
This was selected as the Torah reading for the first day of Pesach because it describes the laws of Pesach as communicated by Moshe to the elders.  Incorporated in the instructions are statements outlining the origin and significance of the festival.  The reading includes the commandments concerning the first Pesach (in Egypt) as well as the rules for the Passover Offerings for all subsequent observances of the holiday.  The narrative high point is the description of the actual Exodus.  During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Bo.
 
Maftir Portion
28:16-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
The selection describes the sacrificial offerings that were to be brought to the Temple for seven days during Pesach.  This ritual, with its bulls, rams and goats ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.  During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Pinchas.
 
Haftarah
3:5-7; 5:2-6:1, 6:27 (Ashkenazim)
5:2-6:1 Joshua (Sefardim)
 
This is the reading from the prophets for the first day.  Just as the Torah reading describes the first Pesach, the Haftarah describes the first Pesach the Israelites celebrated upon arriving in Canaan.  Among other things, the generation that has been born in the Wilderness must be circumcised before it can observe Pesach since the Torah portion states, “But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.”  (Shemot 12:48).  The Torah portion marks the start of the Exodus.  The haftarah marks the end of the Exodus.  The people enter the land and eat its grain for the first time.  At this point, the manna ceases to fall.  Having given us the Land of Milk and Honey God no longer needs to provide us with this magical nourishment.
 
Omer
In the evening count the Omer for the first time.
 
Torah Readings for Sunday, April 5, 2015
Second Day of Pesach
22:26-23:44 Vayikra Leviticus)
 
This was chosen as the Torah reading for the second day of Pesach because it specifies the compassionate treatment that must be accorded sacrificial animals and then proceeds to describe, holiday by holiday, beginning with Pesach, the sacrifices to be brought on each holiday in the Jewish calendar.  The holiday calendar here is a complete one including Shabbat, the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, Rosh Hashanah (although not by name) and Yom Kippur.  It includes a detailed description of rituals for observing these holidays including the Counting of the Omer.  In other words, we read the command for counting the omer, which technically starts on the second day of Pesach, in the Morning Service for the second day of the holiday.  During the year we read this material in the sedrah of Emor.
 
Maftir Portion
28:16-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
The selection describes the sacrificial offerings that were to be brought to the Temple for seven days during Pesach.  This ritual, with its bulls, rams and goats ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.  During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Pinchas.
 
Haftarah
23: 1-9; 23:21-25 Kings II
 
This is the reading from the Prophets for the Second Day.  Just as the Torah portion describes events surrounding the sacrifices to be brought to the Temple, so the Haftarah describes events relating to a later Pesach when the Temple had been repaired and the proper sacrifices were brought.  Specifically, the reading describes events in the life of King Josiah who reigned in Judah from 637 to 608 B.C.E.  During his reign, workmen repairing the Temple found a scroll.  This scroll is thought to have been Devarim.  The discovery brought about a religious re-awakening and the Kings II tells us that Pesach was celebrated at a level that had not been since in the land since the days of the Judges.
 
Torah Readings for Monday, April 6, 2016
Day 1 Chol Hamoed
13:1-16 Shemot (Exodus)
 
This is the reading for the first Intermediate Day.  From a narrative point of view, it immediately follows the material read on the First Day of Pesach and includes another recitation of the Pesach rituals.  It also includes the famous lines, “And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying, ‘What does this?’ you shall say to him, ‘It was with a mighty hand that the Lord brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage.”  (13:14-15).  During the year, this material is read in the sedrah of Bo.
 
Second Portion
28:19-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
The selection describes the sacrificial offerings that were to be brought to the Temple for seven days during Pesach.  This ritual, with its bulls, rams and goats ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70. During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Pinchas.
 
Torah Readings for Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Day 2 Chol Hamoed
22:24-23:19 Shemot (Exodus)
 
This is the reading for the Second Intermediate Day.  It is extremely appropriate for Pesach for two reasons.  It begins with laws concerning the treatment of the less fortunate (and who was less fortunate than the slaves of Egypt) and ends with another recitation about the three Pilgrimage Festivals.  During the year this material is read in the sedrah of Mishpatim.
 
Second Portion
28:19-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
The selection describes the sacrificial offerings that were to be brought to the Temple for seven days during Pesach.  This ritual, with its bulls, rams and goats ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.  During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Pinchas.
 
Torah Readings for Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Day 3 Chol Hamoed
34:1-26 Shemot (Exodus)
 
This is the reading for the Third Intermediate Day.  It is extremely appropriate for Pesach for two reasons.  It begins with laws concerning the treatment of the less fortunate (and who was less fortunate than the slaves of Egypt) and ends with another recitation about the three Pilgrimage Festivals.  During the year this material is read in the sedrah of Mishpatim.
 
Second Portion
28:19-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
The selection describes the sacrificial offerings that were to be brought to the Temple for seven days during Pesach.  This ritual, with its bulls, rams and goats ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.  During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Pinchas.
  
Torah Readings for Thursday, April 9, 2015
Day 4 Chol Hamoed
9:1-14 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
This is the reading for the Fourth Intermediate Day.  This is the reading that describes the origin of Pesach Sheni or the Second Pesach.  (See below for further explanation).
 
Second Portion
28:19-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
The selection describes the sacrificial offerings that were to be brought to the Temple for seven days during Pesach.  This ritual, with its bulls, rams and goats ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.  During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Pinchas.
 
Torah Readings for Friday, April 10, 2015
Seventh Day of Pesach (Final Day for Reform - Recite Yizkor)
13:17-15:26 Shemot (Exodus)
 
This was chosen as the reading for the Seventh Day of Pesach because it describes the events at the Sea of Reeds.  According to tradition, this miracle occurred on the Seventh Day of Pesach.  As you know from our studies, this reading ends with Moshe’s Song at the Sea, which is also included the daily worship service.  During the year we read this material in the sedrah of Beshalach.
 
Maftir Portion
28:19-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
The selection describes the sacrificial offerings that were to be brought to the Temple for seven days during Pesach.  This ritual, with its bulls, rams and goats ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.  During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Pinchas.
 
Haftarah
22:1-51 Samuel II
 
This is the reading from the Prophets for the Seventh Day.  Second Samuel describes events in the life of King David.  The haftarah is a song of thanksgiving and triumph.  It celebrates the life of David.  The King is proud of his accomplishments and thanks God for his beneficence.  From a literary point of view, the Song of David was written at the end of his life since it comes in the final chapters of Second Samuel.  However, the language would indicate that it was written at an earlier time, possibly shortly after David had conquered Jerusalem and was at the height of his powers.  David was no fool.  Surely when he wrote, “The Lord has rewarded me according to my merit…For I have kept the ways of the Lord…and have not departed from His rules” the episode with Bathsheba and the rebellions by his sons could not have occurred.  To be fair to “David Melech” we must view him as one who was capable of seeing his own faults.  The connection between the sedrah and the haftarah are the songs - the Song of Moshe and the Song of David.  The hymn of Thanksgiving is on the lips of two of our greatest leaders.
 
Torah Readings for Saturday, April 11, 2015
Eighth Day of Pesach (Final Day for Orthodox & Conservative - Recite Yizkor)
15:19-16:17 Devarim (Deuteronomy)
 
This is the reading for the Eight Day of Pesach when it falls on a weekday.  The Torah portion “begins with a reminder that the firstborn of one’s herd belongs to God.”  This is connected to the events of Pesach when the firstborn of the Israelites were spared.  It is a fitting conclusion to the holiday observances, which began with the Fast of the Firstborn on the eve of Pesach.  During the year, we read this as part of the sedrah of Re’eh.
 
Maftir Portion
28:19-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
 
The selection describes the sacrificial offerings that were to be brought to the Temple for seven days during Pesach.  This ritual, with its bulls, rams and goats ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.  During the year, we read this material in the sedrah of Pinchas.
 
Haftarah
10:32-12:6 Isaiah
 
This is the reading from the Prophets for the Eighth Day.  The portion alludes to the defeat of the Assyrians in 701 B.C.E., which was supposed to have occurred on Pesach.  Once again we also see the prophetic vision of the final redemption although described in different imagery from that which we read in Ezekiel.  This haftarah includes some of the most famous images of the Messianic era ever written including “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and a leopard will lie down with a kid…with a young child to lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).  Just as Pesach celebrates the first redemption of the Jews, Isaiah summons up a vision of the final redemption for all mankind.
 
Other Comments, Customs and Ceremonies
Most of you are acquainted with the Seder and its rituals so we will not take time to review them here.  Here are a few items, some of which are tied to the worship service, which you might find of interest.  I have viewed the holiday from a traditional point of view.  For example, Reformed Jews observe Pesach for seven days while Conservative and Orthodox Jews observe it for eight days.
 
Shabbat Ha-Gadol
The Shabbat preceding Pesach is called Shabbat Ha-Gadol or the Great Sabbath.  There are several possible reasons why this particular Shabbat is so named.  First is its proximity to Pesach.  Second, according to Shemot, this would have been the time during which the Israelites were selecting the lambs that would be part of the first Pesach observance.  Third, in the special Haftarah (Malachi 3:3-24) that is read on Shabbat Ha-Gadol reference is made to that “great day” when the prophet Elijah will re-appear. 
 
According to tradition, Elijah is the prophet who will announce the coming of the Messiah.  We find this theme repeated at the Seder with the Cup of Elijah and the singing of Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) when we open the door in anticipation of his appearance.  There is no special Torah reading for Shabbat Ha-Gadol.  In earlier times, it was customary for the Rabbis to devote their sermons on Shabbat Ha-Gadol to the rules of Pesach to ensure proper observance of this major festival.  
 
On Shabbat Ha-Gadol (Nisan, 4950) in 1190 the Jews of York, England, were attacked by a mob including crusaders heading for the Holy Land.  They gave the Jews the choice of converting or death.  Most of the Jews chose death, which meant murder-suicide pacts.  A few Jews did surrender to the mob, but they were murdered any way.
 
Haggadah
The Haggadah (from the Hebrew word meaning narration or recital) is the term describing the text used during the Seder.  Parts of the text and ritual in the Haggadah date from Biblical times and the days before the destruction of the Second Temple.  Depending on the source you consult the first Haggadah appeared some time during the second and third centuries of the Common Era.  The first printed Haggadot (plural of Haggadah) appeared in Spain at the end of the 15th century and in Italy at the start of the 16th century.  In other words, the Haggadah was one of the first Jewish books reproduced on newly invented printing press.  Today there are a myriad of Haggadot available including those representing the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform movements.  In Israel, many kibbutzim have published their own unique Haggadot.  Many Haggadot have detailed notes that provide study opportunities and in depth explanation of various rituals.  The Haggadah produced by Artscroll is one example of this type.  In the last couple of years, Transliterated Linear Haggadot have made their appearance.  In this version the page is divided into three columns with a line of Hebrew, a line of transliteration and a line of English side by side.  This makes it possible for all the participants to participate in the Seder regardless of their linguistic skills.  Over the centuries, the Haggadah has been elaborately illustrated and many people collect them for as art as well as for study and worship.
 
Fast of the First Born
The Fast of the First Born usually takes place on the 14th of Nisan which is the day before Passover.  In other words, it ends with the start of the first Seder.  It is the only fast which is neither an atonement for sin nor a fast of petition.  It commemorates the last of the ten plagues (Exodus12:29).  It serves as a reminder of the death of the Egyptian firstborn and miraculous sparing of the lives of the Israelite firstborn.  For this reason, the only people required to fast are firstborn males and the fathers of firstborn who have not reached the age of Bar Mitzvah.  Those who are supposed to fast may avoid the obligation by participating in a “siyyum” - the study of the concluding passage of a Talmud tractate.  Those who participate in a “siyyum” must celebrate the event by eating and drinking.  Traditionally, the Shacharit or Morning Service on the 14th of Nisan is always followed by a short Talmud study session.  Based on anecdotal information, we can conclude that attendance at that service is higher than usual - nothing like the desire to eat to draw a crowd.
 
Chol Ha-Moed
Chol may be translated as “weekday, secular or profane.”  Ha-Moed is translated as “the festival.”  Some translated the term to mean “The Profane Days of the Festival.”  Others use the term Half-Holiday.  Chol Hamoed refers to the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkoth.  As you can see from the shortened Torah readings, some of the rituals are less stringent.  In addition, people are allowed to do a variety of work that is prohibited on the first and last days of the festivals.  This may be one of the reasons that the days are called Profane or Secular.  Interestingly, Ashekanzim wear tefillin on Chol Ha-Moed.  Sephardim and Chasidim do not.
 
The Calendar
In the Torah reading, the Pesach starts in the month of Abib.  We call this the month of Nisan.  The name change probably occurred as a result of our contact with the Babylonians.  Also, the holiday observances described in the various readings mentioned above also vary.  The repetition of the core observances should indicate the importance of these events.  The variations may be a product of point of view.  In other words, the description in Shemot fits with the actual Exodus and our first contact with the holiday coming out of Egypt.  Whereas the description in Vayikra would be consistent with the view of a people who had built the Mishkan or who lived in a settled society which would be more accepting of elaborate rituals.
 
Genius of Judaism
Pesach is an excellent example of the “genius of Judaism.”  If we had clung to the literal description of the holiday, it would have disappeared with the destruction of the Temple.  Instead, our sages created the Seder and the other ceremonials that capture the essence of the holiday and provide us with a connection to our past and a roadmap to the future.  As you read the Haggadah this year, hopefully you will see how much of it is filled with references to events in the Torah, if not outright quotes from the text.  This is especially true of the section called Maggid or Recitation.  It is the fifth section of the Seder coming just after Yachatz, when the middle matzah is broken and hidden as the Afikomen.  It is the longest part of the Haggadah.  Those of you who were part of the Cedar Rapids Torah Study Group will still recognize the many tales and references that come straight from the TaNaCh.
 
Chametz
“Any product of types of grain - wheat, rye barley oats and spelt - becomes Chametz (or Leaven) if the grain has been in contact with water for eighteen minutes without being handled before baking.”  For Ashkenazic Jews, this list of prohibited foods also includes “rice and legumes (including peas, beans, corn, maize, lentils, millet and mustard), which expand when cooked.”  Sephardic Jews are not bound by this expanded list.  Observant Jews look for markings indicating that prepared items are “Kasher le Pesach” or Kosher for Passover, to ensure that they do not contain any Chametz.  Just as we remove the Chametz from our homes each year, the Sages tell us to remove the Chametz from our hearts and souls.  Pesach is a time of renewal as well as rejoicing.  We do not have to wait for Yom Kippur to cleanse ourselves and start again on our journey.
 
Matzah
“It is unleavened bread, baked under supervision by a Jewish baker.  The ingredients are water and flour…”  Since you only have eighteen minutes, the mixture is “quickly kneaded, flattened for rapid baking and stamped out in round or square sections and baked at a high temperature.”  Most Matzah is made by machine, but it is still possible to buy hand-made Matzah.  Matzah is variously known as Unleavened Bread, the Bread of Affliction or Poor Bread.  One of my favorite terms for Matzah is “The Bread over which people speak” because the term conjures up the conversation and inter-play that are a vital part of the Seder.
 
Hallel
“Six psalms (113-118), collectively known as Hallel (Hymns of Praise) are said immediately following the Amidah” in the Morning or Shacharit Service.”  The full Hallel is said on the first two days of the holiday.  On the last six days of the holiday, the first verses of Psalm 115 and all of Psalm 116 are omitted from the Hallel.  One of the reasons given for this has to do with the feeling of sadness connected with drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds.  Hallel is also recited during the Seder although without the introductory blessing.  It is divided into two parts.  Psalms 113 and 114 are recited in a section before we eat.  The rest is recited after we eat, specifically following opening of the door for the prophet Elijah.
 
Musaf Service
On Pesach, there is a Musaf or Additional Service following the Torah Service.  This is a reminder of the Musaf or Additional Sacrifice that was brought to the Temple on special occasions including Shabbat and the festivals.
 
Prayer For Tal or Dew
During the Musaf Service on the First Day of Pesach, the Prayer for Tal or Dew is recited.  Pesach marked the end of the rainy seasons.  So the ancient Israelites asked God to provide the moisture they would need for the coming months in the form of dew.
 
Gibraltar Jews
Many Ashkenazic Jews recited their Seder in two languages - Hebrew and Yiddish.  The Jews of Gibraltar whose community dates back to the 14th century have a similar custom with a slightly different twist.  On the first night they recite the Haggadah in Hebrew.  On the second night, they recited the Haggadah in Ladino.  Ladino is the Sephardic equivalent of Yiddish.
 
Yizkor
Yizkor or the Memorial Service is recited at some point prior to the Musaf Service on the last day of Pesach.  The recitation of Yizkor on the festivals is tied to the description of the festival offering in Devarim 16:17, “They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed...”  According to Rabbi Donin, this reference about not appearing empty handed is tied to the pledge of charity that is part of the Yizkor Service.
 
Shir Ha-Shirim
Shir Ha-Shirim or the Song of Songs is traditionally read on Pesach.  The Scroll is part of the third portion of the TaNaCh (Bible) called Ketuvim or Writings.  King Solomon supposedly wrote it.  It has a two-fold connection with Pesach.  First, it is poem about springtime.  Secondly, it is a hymn to love that replicates the love that God has for the Israelites.  Ashkenazim read it on the Intermediate Sabbath just before the Torah reading.  Sephardim read it before the Mincha Service on the Intermediate Sabbath.  Outside of Israel, Shir Ha-Shirim is read on the eighth day of the holiday.  In the land of Israel, where the holiday lasts seven days, it is read on the seventh day of the holiday.  Last but not least, there are those who read it as part of late night vigils.
 
The Four Sons
Of all of the Four Sons, the one who seems to draw the most interest is the Rasha, the Wicked Son.  There is the standard explanation about him that he is Wicked because he cuts himself off from the community.  There is another explanation about that says he is Wicked because he is really advocating continuing the ways of Egypt and engaging in idol worship.  The one thing that all the sons have in common is that they all ask questions.  So the Rasha cannot be labeled as Evil because he asks questions.  A benign explanation is that he asked his question in the wrong manner.  Instead of asking in the manner of the disputes between Hillel and Shammai, men who were trying to find answers for the sake of truth, he asked in the manner of Korach or Jeroboam, men who were asking question to undermine the House of Israel.  A less benign explanation is that this is the product of Sages who had become intolerant of questions, viewing them all as a challenge to their authority.  After all, one view of the Wise Son is that he is wise because all he wants to is absorb that which has been compiled by others.  Since this is a topic that has fascinated people for centuries, do not expect this to be anything more than a stimulus to further discussion.
 
The Fifth Son
The Four Sons are a famous part of the Haggadah.  The so-called Fifth Son is worse off even than the Wicked Son.  At least the Wicked Son comes to the Seder.  The Fifth Son represents the absent Jews, the ones who have drifted away or feel estranged from their people.  As Jews it is our duty to search them out and make them feel welcome.
 
Pesach Sheni
The term means Second Pesach.  It falls one month after the regular Pesach on the fourteenth of the Jewish month of Iyar.  Moshe established it so that those who were ritually unclean and therefore forbidden from taking part in the Pesach sacrifice could still celebrate the holiday.
 
Mitzrayim and Freedom
The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim.  It is has the same root as the Hebrew word for narrow or confined.  In Egypt our lives were narrow and we were confined.  Only with the Exodus did we escape physical confinement.  According to tradition, it was the giving of the Torah that offered us the permanent path out of narrowness and spiritual confinement.  From a Jewish perspective, Pesach is a reminder of the freedom that we all have to reach beyond ourselves and attain the heights that we delude ourselves into thinking are beyond our grasp.  The Haggadah tells us, “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he went out from Egypt as is written, ‘for the sake of this, the Lord acted for me when I went out from Egypt.’”  In other words, if we are to fully appreciate Pesach, we must move our lives forward from the narrow confines of a life without Torah to the fullness of existence that we find at Sinai.
 
Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers)
It is a custom among some people to begin reading Pirke Avot each Shabbat starting with first Shabbat after Pesach until the last Shabbat just before Rosh Hashanah.  Pirke Avot or Sayings of the Fathers is one of sixty-three tractates of the Mishna.  While most of the Mishna is concerned with legal matters, Pirke Avot is concerned with morality.  Its six chapters are filled with pithy moral sayings from rabbis who lived from approximately 300 B.C.E. to 200 C.E.  The custom is to read one chapter each Shabbat and then begin again.  There are a couple of times when you double up so that the reading comes out evenly.  Shabbat is a time for study and people read this on their own, not during services.  This cycle exists because during Spring and Summer, there is more daylight so Shabbat lasts longer which means people have more time to study.  It is so short that some prayer books contain the entire tractate.  You can also buy it in book form.  For the technologically oriented folks, go to Google and type in Pirke Avot.  You will find a deluge of websites.
 
Omer
We start counting the Omer on the second night of Pesach.  We count for 49 days.  The fiftieth day is Shavuot - The Feast of Weeks.  In case you missed it, 49 days is the same as seven weeks.  While the term omer is a term of measurement, Counting the Omer refers to the measure of barley that was brought to the Temple daily as a sacrifice during the harvest (Vayikra 23:11).
 
Syrian Seder
The next time you bemoan the difficulty connected with preparing for Pesach and having a Seder consider the fate Gid'on Magen  and Pini Nahmani.  They were the two-man crew of the Phantom jet taken prisoner by the Syrians after they were shot down on April 2, 1970.  Eighteen days later, Nahmani and some of the other POW’s including a youngster name Boaz observed Pesach.  “In the morning,” they “gave the cell a thorough scrubbing, something the concrete floor had never had.”  The prisoner “drew a Seder plate on a piece of cardboard, with a Magen David in the middle, and a different item at each of the star’s points.  In the afternoon,” the “managed to give” themselves “baths in ice-cold water, and then” they “put on their cleanest clothes.”  The center pieces of the Seder were “two Haggadot and some Matzah crumbs sent by the Chief Rabbi of Zurich.”  “In the most heavily-guarded prison of any enemy state, three Israeli prisoners” recited the story of the Exodus and sang the songs “of the ancient holiday of liberty.”  The only person disturbed by the celebration was Nur al-din Atassi, the former President of Syria who was in the next cell.  Atassi had thrown the Israelis in to jail declaring that “the Israeli pilots would grow old in a Syrian prison.”  Now he was there fellow prisoner, thanks to President Assad and he was forced to listen to these Jews chant from their Haggadah including the part about Laban, the evil Syrian.
 
Let All Who Are Hungry Come And Eat
Normally we connect Passover with food including the famous invitation recited at the start of the Seder.  Pesach, 1946 was a different matter.  Eleven hundred Jews trying to get from Spezia to Palestine had been interred in Italy.  The group had been convinced to stop their hunger strike by the leaders of the Jewish Agency who were worried about their health.  The Jews of Eretz-Israel took up the fast for them.  The third day of the fast coincided with the first Seder.  The chief rabbis presided over a Seder where each attendee was to eat a piece of Matzah no bigger than olive.  Instead of cups of wine, they drank cups of teas as they chanted from the Haggadah.  The hunger strike paid off.  The refugees were released on the first day of Pesach and allowed to continue to Palestine.  Once in a while, gaining the freedom of Passover means being hungry and not eating.
 
Alphabetical Pesach
In a world of transliteration and translation we sometime forget that Pesach is actually composed of three Hebrew letters - Peh or Feh; Samech; Chet.  My brother David who is a scholar on so many subjects shared the following refreshingly original comments based on this alphabet.
 
The name of the holiday provides a reminder of the essence of the holiday, not just that the word itself – Pesach - which means “skipping over.”  The peh or feh reminds us of “fdoot” which is “redemption.  The samech reminds us of much, depending upon your take on the holiday.  There is saval, which is the root for suffering, but it also gives us the words “sveeloot” which is passivity and “savlanoot” which is patience.  Finally, we have the chet, which reminds us of herut, freedom.  Hopefully David’s little linguistic gem will trigger a new round of conversation at your Seder and give added incentive to make matzah “The Bread over which people speak.”
 
Sermon Subjects
This is a busy sermon season for the clergy.  From Shabbat Hagadol through the Eighth day of Pesach Rabbis have to come up with no less than six masterpieces (seven if you include the Blessing of the Sun.)  As challenging as this might be in ordinary years, it is doubly so this year as we continue to deal with the after effects of the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression.  How much should the message from the pulpit mix the Exodus with Economics?  How much do you mix Moses with the Money Meltdown?  One source of guidance might come from the sermons delivered on one of the first Passovers following the Crash of 1929 that started the repeatedly referenced Great Depression.  At that time, some Rabbis seemed to have taken a conventional path with Dr. Jacob Katz of Montifore Synagogue focusing on the importance of the Seder and Dr. Joseph Saravchek reminding the congregants at the Jewish Centre of University Heights about the need for improvement of Jewish education in America especially at the more advanced level.  But as the New York Times reported many, “Passover sermons emphasized present day economic conditions and the suffering induced by widespread unemployment.”  Sermons mixed holiday motifs and symbolism with deteriorating economic and social conditions.  Using the Ten Plagues as his point of departure Rabbi Rosenblum of Temple Israel “declared that the unsettled economic condition of the world was the greatest plague of our era and that the leaders of government and business were responsible for the chaos and misery.  Capitalism seems to be a Pharaoh…If Pharaoh listens he will not suffer ten plagues.  If he does not, the very first plague will yet come to pass.  It will be a revolution and blood.”
 
At Temple Rodeph Shalom, Rabbi Newman “said that Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom, commemorated the release of the Israelites not only from political bondage but economic enslavement as well.”  Rabbi Samuel Schulman broadened the scope a bit by pointing out the “power of religion to free or enslave man and emphasizing that real freedom required economic freedom which would allow for just and equal opportunity for every individual to use his powers in accordance with his ability and to receive just rewards.”  (Sounds a bit like Marx and Moses meeting on New York’s fashionable east side.)  But it was left to Rabbi Jonah Wise preaching at New York’s Central Synagogue to pull all elements of religion including Christianity together with the great crisis facing the nation.  “Men are trained by loyalties to country, church and self to refuse to share life with foreigners, non-conformists and competitors.  We shall never have security and morality until we learn to live at peace.  We are making occasional breaches in the Chinese wall of creeds, tariffs and prejudices.  Passover and Easter are supposed to be feasts of freedom and salvation.  They are farces in the face of humanity starved in the presence of plenty and condemned to hatreds in fact while applauding love in theory.”
 
One cannot help but wonder if these rabbis would have spoken in a different manner if they had known that they were delivering sermons in what would turn out to be only the beginning of a decade marked by economic privation and suffering.  Would they have preached in a manner more consistent with the Rabbinic dictum about measuring the words spoken in the house of mourning while the deceased still awaits burial?  If they had known that their congregants were entering an extended period of economic exile, would they have preached a message more in keeping with the words of Isaiah connected with days following the First Exile?  Would they have uttered Nachamu, Nachamu Ami, Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye, my people?  Would they and their 21st century counterparts be better off if they reminded people at this moment of economic darkness that just as the ancient Israelites endured the darkness of bondage and emerged into the light of freedom, so we too will emerge from our nightmare of “economic bondage?”  Should not the Seder be a respite and a joyful delight?  Should we not be reminded that when we say “let all who are hungry come and eat” that we must all share with each other?   For a moment at least, would it not be better to use Pesach as a time to re-commit ourselves to the ultimate redemption which is one of the deeper messages of this wonderful Spring time holiday?
 
Passover Jewish Jeopardy
(If things grow dull at the Seder, and you get desperate for entertainment start with the answers and see who can come up with the question.)
1.      1934 - When did Maxwell House coffee begin distributing Haggadot?
2.      Fermented Grains - What forms of fermented food are prohibited during Pesach?
3.      The Wife - Who asks the Four Questions if only a husband and wife are present for the Seder?
4.      Kitniyot - What is the name for legumes and grains from which bread can be made and are therefore not eaten by Ashkenazic Jews?
5.      18 - What is the maximum number of minutes that one has to bake a mixture of flour and water before it is assumed to have become leavened and is therefore not Kosher for Pesach?
6.      Spain, 1482 - Where and when was the first independent printed Haggadah issued?
7.      Song of Songs - Which book of the Bible mentions Pharaoh’s Chariot in its first chapter?  (Hint, it is read in the synagogue on Pesach.)
8.      China - What kind of dishes cannot be kashered for Pesach because they are too porous and absorbent for removal of Chametz?
9.      Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - What battle against the Nazis began on Pesach?
10.   April 19, 1943- When did the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begin?
11.   Mila 18 - What was the address of the headquarters for Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto?
12.   Mordecai Anielewicz and Isaac Zuckerman - Who were two of the commanders of the Freedom Fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising?
 
Passover Jewish Jeopardy II
If you find your Seder getting a little boring, you might want to follow The Four Questions with The Four Answers and play Jewish Jeopardy.
 
1. The answer is “Passover. “  The question is, “What do the cities of Warsaw, Hamilton and Tel Aviv have in common?  Everybody knows that the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began Erev Passover, 1943.  On the same Passover Eve when the Jews were fighting for their survival in Warsaw, representatives of the British and American government were meeting for a conference in Hamilton, on the island of Bermuda to discuss what could be done to help the Jewish refugees who had escaped from Hitler’s clutches as well as those who were trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe where their extermination was all but assured.  The conferees concluded that nothing could really be done to help them and they went home.  As to Tel Aviv, on the 6th day of Passover in 1909, 66 Jewish families gathered on a five acre sand dune outside of Jaffa that they had purchased in 1908 and drew lots to decide where they could build their homes.  Within a year, they would have laid out several of the main thoroughfares, built dozens of houses and installed a water system.
 
2. The answer is “Passover”.  The question is “What do the Civil War, World War II and World War I have in common?”  The Civil War marked the first time in our history that large numbers of Jewish soldiers were away from home for Passover.   When it came to observing the holiday, they relied on their own ingenuity.  Passover, 1862, found 21 Jewish soldiers serving with the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Regiment conducting a Seder at their camp at Fayette in western Virginia.  They got Matzah and Haggadot from Cincinnati.  They were able to get meat and eggs from local sources.  They substituted a locally grown “bitter weed” for horseradish since none was available.  They also could not find the ingredients for Charoset, so they put a brick on the table figuring that looking at it while reciting the service would suffice to remind them of the Bricks their ancestors used as slaves.  By World War II, the military took an active part in helping Jewish troops observe Passover.  For Passover, 1944, the U.S. military helped the Jewish Welfare Board distribute 400,000 boxes Matzah, 7,000 gallons of wine and 190,000 Haggadot to those serving “in every war sector as well as England, North Africa and Australia.”  Holiday supplies were even parachuted to troops serving in the upper reaches of the Rockies and dogsleds were used to get Passover goodies to those serving in outposts in Alaska.”  As to World War I, the United States Congress declared war on Germany on the eve of Pesach.  Among the Jews sitting to their last Seder as civilians was Irving Berlin, the composer of White Christmas, who put on an Army uniform at the age of 30.  The American Jewish community and the military had already figured out to help servicemen observe Passover as can be seen from the Seder held at Manhattan’s Tuxedo Hall in 1914 for 450 Jewish sailors and marines stationed aboard the Battleships Texas, North Dakota, Washington, Ohio Wyoming and Louisiana.
 
3. The answer is “Passover.”  The question is “What do Mickey O’Brien and Charles “Silver Dollar” Smith have in common?”  Mickey O’Brien was a “small boy with red hair” who spoke with a thick Irish brogue living in New York.  In 1907, as Passover approached Mickey presented a ticket at a Jewish run distribution center good for a list of supplies including Matzah and Matzah flour.  When told that the supplies were distributed to those of “the Hebraic faith” he replied, “Me name is Mickey O’Brien but sure me mother needs the matzoth.  We’re most starving and if it’ll do any good, I’ll be an Irish Hebrew.”  O’Brien got the food.  During the 19th century and well into the 20th century, so-called Uptown Jews collected funds to help support their less fortunate co-religionists who had recently come to the United States.  At Passover time, there were several organizations that provided thousands of pounds of food to make it possible for people to observe Passover and to have meals after the holiday.  Often, destitute non-Jews would show up at these distribution centers.  When asked why the Jews gave them food, one society matron replied that hunger knew no religious boundaries.  This was merely giving life to the words of the Haggadah “This is the bread of affliction.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.”   Silver Dollar Smith was a 19th century New York saloon keeper and a minor member of the infamous Tammany Hall political machine.  Every year at Passover time, he would pass out unlimited supplies of Matzah at his saloon on Essex Street.  Smith died in 1899 and the poor Jews of the Lower East Side were afraid that this was the end of the largess.  They were pleasantly surprised to discover in April of 1900 that Smith’s henchmen were continuing the practice of their late benefactor when it came to the distribution of Passover supplies.  As to Smith, his name wasn’t really Smith.  He was a Jew whose birth name was either Charles Finkelstein or Charles Solomon.  The Silver Dollar came from the fact that several of these coins were embedded in the counter of the Essex street saloon.  Matzah has been called many things including Unleavened Bread and the Bread over Which People Talk.  It took a minor New York politician to make it the Bread with which one bought votes.
 
4. The answer is “Passover”.  The question is what do Maxwell House Coffee and Coca Cola have in common?  According to the legend Maxwell House noticed that its sale would decline each year for a week during March or April.  This was attributed to the fact that most Jews did not eat beans during Passover so they did not consume a drink made from the coffee bean.  Joseph Jacobs Advertising Agency met with a rabbi who, after much consideration, issued a ruling that the coffee bean was not a bean but a berry.  This meant that coffee could be consumed during Passover.  In 1934, to solidify its hold on the newly won Jewish Passover coffee consumers, Maxwell House issued the first edition of the now famous Maxwell House Haggadah.   With over fifty million printed over the years, it is the most popular Haggadah ever created.  It is also the longest running consumer food promotion in American history.  As to Coke, at Passover time, Coke is indeed the real thing. For decades KP Coke had been a staple in many homes as can be seen from the Haggadot Coke produced in the 1930’s.  However, during the 1980’s Coke started using high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar.  Since Jews do not consume products made with corn, it looked like a decades old relationship was about to come an end.  But a few bottlers in markets with large number of Jews got permission to return to Coke’s roots at Passover time and use real sugar.  Ironically, if you want the real versions of “The Real Thing,” you have to buy the specially marked Kosher for Passover Yellow capped bottles of Coke.
 
If you enjoyed “The Four Answers,” great!  It is just like anything else connected with Passover; come back next Spring and we’ll do it again.
 
This is not a formal academic paper so excuse the lack of footnotes.  At the same time, I do not want to be thought a plagiarist.  Besides the four Chumashim that I regularly rely on, my sources have included:  The Artscroll Haggadah, A Guide to Jewish Prayer by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, To Pray As A Jew by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance by Leo Trepp, Living Judaism by Rabbi Wayne Dosick, This Is the Torah by Alfred J. Kolatch, Torah Studies by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, The Holocaust by Nora Levin, The New Jewish Quiz Book by Barbara Shapiro, Rabbi Pinchas Ciment who gave me a chance to study and my father Joseph B Levin who gave me the Seder, which became my road to study.
 
Copyright; April, 2015; Mitchell A. Levin