Monday, April 14, 2014

Torah Readings for Pesach Passover Tuesday, April 15, 2014 through Tuesday, April 22, 2014

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 Tuesday, April 15, 2014
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.

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 they 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.

In the evening count the Omer for the first time.

Torah Readings for Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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.

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 Thursday, April 17, 2014
Day 1 Chol Hamoed
13:1-6 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 Friday, April 18, 2014
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 Saturday, April 19, 2014

Shabbat Chol Hamoed
33:12-34:26 Shemot (Exodus)

This reading “concludes with verses that emphasize Israel’s duty to remain loyal to God.”  Israel owes both its existence and freedom to God.  The reading stresses the importance of Pesach and its ritual observances.  It recalls our release from bondage and our spiritual as well as physical rebirth.  The material covers the period following the episode of the Golden Calf.  It includes Moshe’s attempt to see God face to face and the giving of the second set of tablets.  It is after this encounter that Moshe’s face takes on the strange glow that will force him to wear a veil.  During the year, we read the material covered here as part of the sedrah of Ki Tavo.

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.

37:1-14 Ezekiel

Often referred to as the “Vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones” the reading from the Prophets relates to the holiday and not to the text of the Torah.  At the risk of interjecting my own views, this is one of the greatest of all Jewish writings.  The words are powerful.  The Hebrew term “Ben Adam” or in the classical translations, “Son of Man,” carries majesty all its own, especially when the Lord asks, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3).  The imagery is clear and moving.  Pesach marks our first redemption.  Ezekiel’s prophecy is a vision of our final redemption.

Torah Readings for Sunday, April 20, 2014
Day 3 Chol Hamoed
9:1-14 Bamidbar (Numbers)

This is the reading for the Third 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 Monday, April 21, 2014
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.

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 Tuesday, April 22, 2014
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.

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 anyway.

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 sometime 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 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 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.

“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.

“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.

“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 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 Katuvim 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 a question.  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 questions 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.  It’s 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.

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 into jail declaring that “the Israeli pilots would grow old in a Syrian prison.”  Now he was their fellow prisoner, thanks to the 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.

Sermon Subjects
This is a busy sermon season for the clergy.  From Shabbat Ha-Gadol 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 how 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 supplied 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, 2014; Mitchell A. Levin

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Torah Readings for Saturday, April 12, 2014 Shabbat HaGadol Shabbat HaGadol

Torah Readings for Saturday, April 12, 2014
Shabbat HaGadol

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.

Acharay Mot (After the death)
16:1-18:30 Vayikra (Leviticus)

The sedrah takes its name from a reference to the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu that we read about in chapter 10 of Vayikra (Leviticus).  “The Lord spoke to Moshe after the death (“Acharay Mot”) of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord.”  This explication will follow the scheme of Etz Hayim in which each of the three chapters that make up Acharay Mot is seen as dealing with a separate issue.

Chapter 16 - Yom Kippur
The sedrah describes the elaborate rituals surrounding Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The rituals begin with the Kohein making atonement for his own sins and for those of his household.  This is followed by the ceremony of the goats where one goat is selected for God and the other for Azazel or Scapegoat.  The chapter ends with what the editors of Stone Chumash call the “Eternal Commandment of Yom Kippur.”

Chapter 17 - Holiness Code
This marks the start of what some call the Holiness Code.  It will run through chapter 26 of Vayikra, which is the last chapter of the third book of the Torah.  As can be seen from the wording of 17:2, the rules that follow apply to the whole House of Israel, not just to Aaron and the Priestly Class.  This chapter contains a series of commandments (see Themes below) concerning proper ritual behavior outside of the Tabernacle.  Once again, we see strong emphasis on the prohibition against consuming blood.

Chapter 18 - Definition and Protection of the Family
This chapter contains a rather lengthy list of prohibited sexual relations (see Themes below).  Why does God prohibit these incestuous relationships?  Why does God prohibit sodomy and bestiality?  Why does He order us to avoid the practices related to Molech?  This is part of God’s plan to make us separate from other nations.  He tells us in 18:3 that we are not to be like the Egyptians among whom we have lived.  Nor are we to be like the inhabitants of Canaan, the land to which we are going.  As He says in 18:4, we are His people, which mean we follow His laws. We may not like the laws.  We may not understand the laws.  But at least this time we know the reason for the laws.


184.         The commandment that priests should enter the inner sanctuary only when it is necessary for them to do so (16:2-3).
185.         The specification of the Temple rituals to be performed by the High Priest on Yom Kippur (16:3ff.).
186.         The prohibition against offering a sacrifice outside the sanctuary (17:3-4).
187.         The commandment to cover the blood of a permissible wild animal or fowl after it has been slaughtered (17:13).
188.         The general prohibition against incest (18:6).
189.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s father (18:7).
190.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s mother (18:7).
191.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with your father’s wife, even if she is not your mother (18:8).
192.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s full or half-sister.
193.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with granddaughters born of one’s son (18:10).
194.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with granddaughters born of one’s daughter (18:10).
195.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a daughter (18:6).
196.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a half-sister (18:11).
197.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a paternal aunt (18:12-13).
198.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a maternal aunt (18:12-13).
199.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with an uncle (18:14).
200.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with an aunt through marriage.
201.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a daughter-in-law (18:15).
202.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with sister-in-law (18:16).
203.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a woman and her daughter (18:17).
204.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a woman and her paternal granddaughter (18:17).
205.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a woman and her maternal granddaughter (18:17).
206.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with two sisters while both are alive and if the man is married to one of them (18:18).
207.         The prohibition against having sexual relations with a woman during her menstrual period (18:19).
208.         The prohibition against sacrificing one’s child to the idol known as Moloch (18:21).
209.         Prohibition of male homosexuality (18:22).
210.         Prohibition of male bestiality (18:23).
211.         Prohibition of female bestiality (18:23).
From Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Yom Kippur
Obviously, our concept of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement has grown and developed since the words of Vayikra 16:1-34 were written.  We will discuss the holiday in greater detail again next fall when we celebrate it.  However, the core of Yom Kippur is found in this sedrah.  Yom Kippur is to be observed for all times on the tenth day of the seventh month.  It is to be a day of complete rest and complete self-denial.  It is an annual Day of Atonement for sins that have been committed.  Aaron’s need to offer sacrifices of atonement for himself and his household probably provide the origin of the confessional apology offered by the Rabbi and Cantor before they begin the Kol Nidre Service on Yom Kippur.

Acharay Mot
Why begin the sedrah with a reminder of the death of Aaron’s two sons?  There can be several reasons.  One is that God wants to impress upon Aaron the importance of following the rituals exactly as outlined.  Failure to do so could lead Aaron to the same fate as his sons.  Another may be that God wanted to remind Aaron to make sure that he had a way back from the spiritual ecstasy that he would experience during the Yom Kippur rituals.  According to some commentators, the sons perished because they sought to reach God at a level of spiritual ecstasy without any thought of maintaining contact with the world of man - the world in which they had responsibilities as Kohanim.  While the Jew may reach toward God, he is not to forget the work that he is to do in the world, which is to help make it a Godly or holy place.

Acharay Mot II
According to Rabbi Jonathan Blass, Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, were slain because they represented an old style of Israelite religious practice and they were incapable of adjusting to the new regime.  Prior to the giving of the law, people were free to sacrifice in any place of their choosing; or in modern parlance wherever and whenever the spirit moved them.  Under the law, the people were to bring sacrifices to the Mishkan.  Sacrifices were now a part of a social and moral system that acknowledged the supremacy of the Lord and His ways.  In other words, Nadab and Abihu were stressing the “spontaneous aspect of worship, preferring it to a fixed routing of Tabernacle service dictated from above.”  The problem with sacrifices brought based on human impulse is that they are just that, the product of human impulse.  In other words, they individual is the central figure, not God.  In addition to which, religious observance based on human impulse relies on a level of emotionalism that is not sustainable.

“And if anyone of the house of Israel…partakes of any blood, I will set My face against the person who partakes of the blood” (17:10).  This is not the first or the last time that we are commanded not to consume blood.  Kosher meat does not contain blood.  After being properly slaughtered the meat is salted and soaked to ensure that it the blood is removed.  Beef or calves liver must be broiled if it is to be considered kosher.

Sexual Orientation
“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence” (18:22).  This prohibition concerning homosexual behavior was later enlarged to include lesbian relations.  According to some this prohibition really was part of Torah’s anti-idolatry stance.  Homosexual practices were tied to certain idolatrous cults and one of the themes of the Torah is that whatever idolaters do, we do the opposite or at least refrain from doing ourselves.  Both Reform and Conservative Judaism welcome all Jews regardless of sexual orientation.

“You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt…or of the land of Canaan…nor shall you follow their laws.  My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow my laws…” (18:3-4).  Assimilation is the great challenge for the Jew.  These verses have provided several different interpretations.  There are those commentators who take them literally and say that God was only talking about Egypt and Canaan.  There are those who view the mention of these two nations as a metaphor.  To them these words are a clarion call to avoid any contact with learning that is not Jewish.  And then there is the middle ground, which allows us to learn from the civilizations in which we live so long as those teachings do not compromise our Judaism.  There are those who would say that American Jews in the middle of the twentieth century went too far in their zeal to become Americanized.  Recently we have seen reaching out for more tradition or the updating of those traditions to ensure that our lives are rich as both Americans and as Jews.

The Land of Israel
“For all those abhorrent things were done by the people who were in the land before you, and they became defiled.  So let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you” (18:27-28).  This sedrah reminds of the uniqueness of the Promised Land.  Nations outside of the land of Canaan sinned in the same manner, as did the Canaanites.  But those people were not exiled.  What may be tolerable in other places will not be allowed in what is supposed to be a Holy Land.  According to some interpreters of these verses, the ultimate punishment is not death, but exile from the land.  To be in exile from the land is thought to be a form of exile from God.

Quick Quiz
1.                What is the origin of the English Term “scapegoat?”  In Leviticus 16:22, the Torah describes the goat on which all the sins of the Israelites were placed.  The scapegoat is the innocent individual on whom unfair blame is placed for myriad of individual or social ills.
2.                What two offenses carried the punishment of being “cut off from one’s people?”  According to Leviticus 17:8-10, sacrificing at a place other than the Mishkan and the eating of blood would be punished in the manner.  Note that being cut off from the house of Israel, what we call excommunication or ostracism, was seen as a severe punishment - a form of spiritual and social death that could be more painful than capital punishment.
3.                What reason does God give for driving out the current inhabitants of the Promised Land?  According to Leviticus 18:24, the Canaanites would lose possession of their land because of their sexual excesses.
(Questions inspired by Nelson’s Amazing Bible Trivia)

Penitence and Purchased Priests
This week’s reading reminds us that for our ancestors, the sacrifices performed on Yom Kippur by the High Priest were the key to person and national penitence.  Unfortunately, history tells that starting sometime in the latter part of the second century BCE and certainly during the first century BCE the position of High Priest became a “political football.”  The position was no longer filled by those with an unbroken connection to Aaron and Pinchas as described in the Torah.  In fact, things got so bad during the latter days of the Hasmoneans that war and bribery were part of the selection process.  So, the question must arise, how valid were the sacrifices offered on Yom Kippur in gaining expiation for our sins?  The cautionary note is that the people were betrayed by their leaders - their Jewish leaders.  Hence, the premium that we will see placed on the characteristics of leaders in the Book of Deuteronomy and the warnings to avoid following “false prophets” and others who would use their position to lead the people astray.

Haftarah for Shabbat Ha-Gadol
3:4-24 - 3:23 Malachi

The Man:  We really do not know much about this prophet at all.  Malachi is probably not his name.  Rather it is Hebrew for “my messenger.”  It may be a pseudonym stemming from the third Hebrew word in the first sentence of the third chapter where we find the words of God, “Behold, I send My messenger (Malachi) and he shall clear the way before Me.”  Along with Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi is one of the three post-exilic prophets.  In fact Malachi is the last of all of the prophets.  He is thought to have lived sometime between 500 B.C.E and 450 B.C.E.  By this time the Second Temple had been completed but the Jewish homeland was merely a province of the Persian Empire called Judea.  Malachi preached at a time when spirituality and morality were at a low ebb.  The reality of the reconstruction of the Temple had not lived up to the expectations of redemption and a great reawakening.  In fact, from a historic and spiritual point of view, Malachi actually was setting the stage for the reforms instituted by Ezra and Nehemiah.  According to traditional commentators, after Malachi God did not “select” individuals commanding them to speak in his name.  Going forward, leaders such as the Scribes and Rabbis would speak and teach in the name of God based on the literary traditions of the Jewish people.

Malachi represents a return to the beginning of the prophetic messages.  Some of the early, non-literary prophets were concerned about the ritual of sacrifice.  They saw the sacrifices as a key ingredient in man’s communication with God.  The Literary Prophets - Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, for example - shifted the emphasis to social justice and prayer.  With the opening verses of Malachi, we see a return to the message of the importance of the sacrificial system and properly performed rituals such as tithing.  Could it be that in the last words of Prophecy we are being reminded that ritual and social justice are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually inclusive; that to effect a healing of the universe we must nurture Judaism that relies on both aspects of the divine commandments?

The Message:  The reading is short, dense and difficult to summarize briefly in writing,  It is a mixture of reminders of past glory, “Surely the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of yore and in the years of old;” admonitions for the present, “Be mindful of the Teaching of My servant Moses;” and a vision of the future, Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord.  He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.

Theme-link:  This time the connection is not with the sedrah but with the calendar.  The prophetic reading for the Sabbath ends with a description of Elijah as the herald of the coming of the final redemption.  This is consistent with the message of the Seder with the opening of the door for Elijah.  Pesach is the holiday of the first redemption, but it came to be seen as the herald of the final redemption in the end of days.  Note the highlighted section above and compare the passage of the Lord through the land of Egypt with his passage through the land in the end of days.  Instead of a daub of blood on the door, love, as exemplified by the reconciliation of parents and children will be the protection from the Lord’s wrath.  Last but not least, Malachi calls upon the people to remember to bring the agricultural tithe to the Temple because it was given to the poor to help them celebrate the holiday of Pesach.  In modern times, Jews increase their contributions so that the less fortunate will have the money for matzo and other items necessary for observing Pesach.

Shabbat Hagadol Pogrom
In the spring of 1190, the Jews of England were subject to a series of attacks by murderous anti-Semitic mobs.  The worst attack took place at York on Shabbat Hagadol where a mob filled with the fervor of preparing for the Third Crusade attacked the Jews.  They sought shelter in Clifford’s Tower.  But the crusading Christians were not to be deterred.  The next day, the Jews were given the choice of converting or being murdered.  Their leader, Rabbi Yom Tov of Joigny, advised the Jews to commit suicide rather than submit.  The Rabbi was a man of his word as he took his own life after killing his family.  Most of the Jews followed Yom Tov’s example.  The Christians murdered the Jews who did surrender and then burned the tower that was filled with the body of the Jews who had died for Kiddush Hashem.

Copyright; April, 2014; Mitchell A. Levin