Happy Passover! 2nd night Seder is at Torat again and spots are filling up fast. It will indeed be different from all other nights. According to our count, Kesef the goat is due to give birth the week of Pesach. This is the holiday when each Israelite family selected a young goat or lamb and tied it on a leash to the bedpost to live in their home for five days. Then the head of household ritually slaughtered and roasted the animal whole over an open fire. On seder night, each member of the family ate the Pesach meat wrapped in flatbread with bitter field greens. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, so we cannot perform this ritual today. Instead we will sing Chad Gadya (One Little Goat) while snuggling and bottle-feeding two little baby goats. Six weeks later (G!dwilling) we will wean them and have plenty of milk for the dairy festival of Shavuot.
Were the Temple to be rebuilt, I cannot say that I would be ready to perform this mitzvah any time soon. Recently, I witnessed a kosher slaughter at the Boston Jewish Food Conference. It was a backyard hen (just like one of mine), and it was performed by the Executive Director of the Rabbinical Council of New England, Rabbi Zalman Krems. He was an incredibly bright and compassionate man. He checked the sharpness of the knife and the health of the bird so carefully beforehand. Another shochet pulled her wings behind her back and tipped her beak back. Rabbi Krems said the blessing, “asher kideshanu… al haSchitah” and we chanted back “Amen.” One swift back and forth movement over the trachya and esophagus and the animal’s life was taken. I did the mitzvah of covering the blood with dirt by hand and I said the blessing “asher kidshanu… kisui dam b’afar.” Everyone chanted back “Amen.”
The moment that the hen’s life was taken was difficult to witness, but it did not feel violent. It felt more like a mysterious sacred ritual. I helped them pluck feathers and watched them remove the organs, wash and salt the meat. I was both nauseous and hungry at the same time. It was so mysterious and yet so familiar, how life is taken and given to us every time we eat. Yet Passover is meant to feel different from all other nights. That night, every home becomes a holy Temple and every family member a priest serving in the Temple. We rekindle Jewish life anew on that night. We do it the way we always have done it, by eating special foods together, re-telling the story of how we survived, and how we are all thankful to still be alive today.
A Zissin (Sweet) Pesach to your and your mishpacha (family)!
Rabbi Aaron Philmus
Rabbi Aaron brings a traditional style and approach of prayer to the conservative synagogue. He has a background in ecology and Jewish education and teaches Torah through agriculture and wilderness skills, and plays guitar as a way to bring music to the synagogue. He’s a naturalist who believes that everything stems from nature, and he understands the plight of others who are less fortunate, and how to use the land to enrich ourselves.