Why is matzah flat?
The shortest, most technical answer is that the Israelites left in a hurry and the dough didn't have time to rise. Well, amidst the haste of cleaning for Passover and cooking for seder, the same is true of this Friday email.
Yet as I was rushing to get my seder plate set, I realized, Dayenu, it is time to wish you all a Happy Passover. And to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who gives so much time and love to sustain and grow our community. It is an honor to serve you all and to be building a community through which we have the opportunity to experience interdependence, joy and liberation. In this world, it is truly sacred. And a special thank you to everyone who took a risk and reached out to attend and host community members for seders.
Rabbi Ron Aigen, z"l, writes in the Wellsprings of Freedom Haggadah, "Gratitude, as we learn from Dayyenu, is a practice that instills an inner freedom. When we learn to say "we have enough," when we take a moment to be satisfied with what we already have, we are released from the oppressive demands of needing the next thing" (85).
As the evening approaches, I wish you all a moment to sit back and inhale deeply; To express deep gratitude; And to feel the liberation that is possible when we say to ourselves and to each other, Dayenu.
Shabbat Shalom and a Zisn Pesach, towards a sweet Passover!
Rabbi Ari Lev
Last shabbat I shared some about the seders that I have led in prisons. As we enter Shabbat HaGadol, the great shabbat preceding Passover, I wanted to zoom in and share one specific moment from one specific seder at that same facility.
I remember it was a cold early spring day and we had been reclining on a blanket. The makings of a seder picnic were laid before us. We had shared 4 cups of juice and dipped strands of parsley in salt water. When sang a few familiar songs, Dayenu and Who Knows One. I remember that there really wasn't a proper meal. But we did manage to have a hunt for the Afikomen. I doubt any of the men were full. But it had been a very tasty and joyful break from business as usual.
Then the guard called, our time had unexpectedly (which was usual) come to an end. Quickly we began packing up the seder left overs. As we did this, some of the men asked if they could take stuff back to their rooms - they crammed packets of salt and hard boiled eggs into their jumpsuit pockets. They scooped haroseth into their mouths and gulped down grape juice. And then just as I was going to pack up the remaining bunch of parsley, Zo (one of my regular students) stopped me and asked if he could have it. "Sure," I said, almost skeptical. And as I handed it to him, I could feel it was as though I had handed him gold. Fresh, green and leafy. He looked at me and said, "This is medicine." This was perhaps the only fresh green vegetable he would eat. It was raw and alive and full of flavor.
As a child I looked forward to dipping karpas (parsley) in salt-water. It was refreshing. But as an adult I came to think that there were better vegetables. I started boiling potatoes and slicing carrots, all of which can be used in place of karpas because they require the same blessing over fruit of the earth. But then I had this exchange with Zo. And he called me to a greater awareness for food that is alive; for parsely's connection to rebirth and its healing powers. This has forever transformed my relationship to karpas.
To quote the Love and Justice Haggadah:
"Long before the struggle upward begins,
there is tremor in the seed.
roots reach down and grab hold.
The seed swells, and tender shoots push up
This is karpas: spring awakening growth.
A force so tough
it can break stone."
On the heals of this Shabbat HaGadol, as we begin cleaning for Passover and seder planning, as Spring emerges and the snow melts off the daffodils, may we open to the the power of karpas, to help us break free and move toward the light. May otherwise mundane herbs become symbols of the great freedom that we long for.
Rabbi Ari Lev
Last year, at Let My People Sing! I shared very personally about my own struggles with singing and the sound of my own voice. In preparation this year, I have been reflecting on our collective struggles with prayer and song. More specifically, I have been asking myself, Why Sing? Why, Let my People Sing!?
A few weeks ago I got an email from a KT member. She expressed that while she has been coming to KT services relatively regularly, by which she means about once a month, yet she still finds the service largely inaccessible. I know there are dozens of us who currently or have felt in the past something of this sentiment. Myself included. The melodies aren’t familiar, the language is foreign, the transliteration isn’t consistent, the choreography is unexpected. Never mind the fact that if we did know the Hebrew, it would at times be spiritually incongruous with our own belief systems. The entire experience of going to synagogue for services has the potential to be utterly alienating. And so much of that is rooted in a practice dependent on singing and chanting words from a book or memorized after years of practice.
So why sing? Why not sit in silence, which has the potentially to be equally uncomfortably but appears at least more universally accessible? Why not make art or study a text or do yoga? Why not dance? All of which are established expressions of religious experience. Why is song one of our primary modes of spiritual expression?
Tomorrow morning I will be sharing reflections on these questions, as well as their connection to the book of Leviticus, the new Moon of Nissan and the holiday of Passover at Let My People Sing! I hope to see many of you throughout the weekend.
Wishing you all a shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.