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)!
There’s a goofy Purim song from the Talmud that Jews like to sing around this time, “Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simchah! When the month of Adar arrives we increase in the things that bring us joy." What can Purim teach us about increasing the joy in our lives?
Here are the four main mitzvot of Purim:
1.Megillah - To hear the public chanting of the scroll of Esther, the story of Purim. We bond with each other as we dress up in character and re-experience the fear of annihilation in exile. Together we shout down the evil bully “Haman” (booooo!)
2.Shalach Manot –The story ends happily for the Jews who “enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor.” Mordechai decrees that every year on Purim, Jews are to make and deliver portions of ready to eat meals and treats to each other to increase this joy.
3.Matanot L’evyonim – Mordechai also decreed that we give gifts to the poor so that they can share equally in the joy of Purim. And we can experience the joy of giving.
4.Purim Seudah – We reenact the fast of Esther the day before Purim and then feast on Purim afternoon. We do this to reenact the climax of the story, when Esther tells the king that she is Jewish and Haman is plotting to kill her people. It took much eating and drinking for Esther to successfully turn Haman’s evil plan on its head. Purim feasting, singing and drinking to excess with fellow Jews is a serious mitzvah. Only after having fulfilled the first three mitzvoth of Purim, are we feeling fulfilled enough to experience the highest level of simcha/joy.
If you are feeling stuck in the bitter end of winter, join us at Torat Yisrael to increase the true simcha/joy in your life and invite your friends and family to join you to increase the joy further. Saturday night we will chant megillah over wine and a sumptuous festive meal. Come in costume to increase your ability to “shake your sillies out.” Then you can grab the mic and do some karaoke to entertain and amuse your fellow congregants (I call first dibs on Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”!). On Sunday morning, all are invited to come and hear portions of the megillah with the Cohen school kids. At the carnival there will be shalach manot making, opportunities for giving to the poor (please bring food or clothing items to donate). This year we decided to honor Leonard Sholes of blessed memory who so loved having visitors bring shalach manot to him on Purim. His love for this mitzvah inspired us to call it the annual “Leonard J. Sholes Shalach Manot Project.”
On Purim “the Jews enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor” as we say in the Havdalah service at the end of Shabbat “kein tihyeh lanu,” “So may it be for us too…”
Purim Same’ach – May our joy begin to increase starting today!
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.