Posts tagged " Passover "

4 Sons = 1 Man (or Woman)

May 5th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

As part of the Passover Seder (program) we speak of four sons, each of whom is found in Scripture.  They are described as the wise son, the evil son, the simple son, and the son who doesn’t know how to ask.  Each one’s questions, or lack of them, needs to elicit an individually crafted response from parents. My father explains at each seder that these aren’t four distinct people sitting around some family’s Seder; rather these are characteristics that make up each of us.  We all have a bit of each type of child in us, and different people have different percentages of each of the four sons in their makeup.  Why is this important to us now?

Within many families, regardless of whether the parents initiate this or not, the children see themselves in defined and labeled ways.  “I’m the studious one. She’s the funny one.  He’s the responsible one.  She’s the creative one.” Maybe also with negative terms: “I’m the lazy one.  He’s the rebellious one.  She’s the messy one.”  The Jewish approach is to reject such labels.  There aren’t four different sons;  each human being has aspects of all types!  Sometimes I study, sometimes I laze around.  Sometimes I act responsibly and sometimes I make messes.  The Torah viewpoint is nuanced, and we have different specific responses given to each of the four sons because at different times we all need one or another of those answers.  Sometimes we need a metaphorical punch in the teeth and sometimes we need someone else to take the lead and guide us through an issue we don’t even recognize as problematic on our own.  Each of us and each of our children are individuals made up of many components and qualities. We can recognize and celebrate our nuances instead of defining and confining ourselves or others into narrow boxes. 

I’d like to suggest that Passover and other holidays are a good time to look at our children and at ourselves with this viewpoint in mind.  Often on these special occasions we spend time with our extended families. When adult siblings get together, sometimes a funny thing happens.  We may find ourselves playing out narrow roles that we assigned ourselves and our siblings years ago.  It can be so frustrating to feel that you’re a mature adult who’s grown out of her childhood roles, and then you go back to your childhood home and find yourself reacting to each other the same way you did 10 years ago!  Yes, you may have seen yourself or been seen as a certain way back then, but now we can put on the lenses of the Passover Haggadah to appreciate that we aren’t one way or another.  Labels don’t fit people!  We are nuanced composites of many different attributes, that shine or glare in different ways at different times.

When we can appreciate the four sons in each of us and the four sons in each of our children and extended family members, we can let go of our old rigid confining ideas, and truly move into the freedom of Passover.

What do you eat at a Passover feast?

April 23rd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 8 comments

As a chef, I have a question pertaining to the traditional Passover meal. The traditional Seder dinner typically includes gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket or roast chicken, potato kugel and carrot and prune tzimmes. Now, we know that none of these foods originated in ancient Israel – they’re from a later period in Jewish history during the diaspora and after the destruction of the Temple.

But my question is, what would have been a traditional Passover meal in ancient Israel? What would have been the traditional Passover meal for people living at the time of King Solomon or the Prophet Isaiah? What would have been the traditional Passover meal for people living in the time of Herod’s Temple?

Thank you,

Joshua F.

Dear Joshua,

Are you trying to start an international incident? A religious war? The foods you cite—gefilte fish, potato kugel, carrot and prune tzimmes and the other foods you mention are traditional foods only for Jews whose ancestors lived in eastern Europe. But, we Jews have been around for a long time and we have lived everywhere from China to Morocco, from Johannesburg to Gibraltar. Some of these communities lasted for a short time, others for thousands of years. Jews were expelled from Egypt, Libya and other Islamic countries during the second half of the twentieth century but a few still live in Iran and many other countries that would surprise you. A traditional Syrian or Yemenite Passover meal would have none of the foods you mentioned.

Even the ceremonial foods that are required as part of the Passover Seder will look different in different communities. For example, a vegetable from the ground is needed, but our own family uses potatoes while other families use leeks. The matzah itself, the centerpiece of the meal, looks quite different if baked by those from Arab countries vs. European ones.

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The Ups and Downs of Freedom

April 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

During the administration of George W. Bush, I was privileged to be appointed to a presidential commission. I received a document that included something akin to the words, “power to execute the duties of this office.” Lopping off a few words, I tried to explain to my children that now, in the manner of the Lord High Executioner in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado, I had been granted the power to execute. What a difference a few words can make!

Passover, which we look forward to celebrating in a few days, is often misconstrued as a holiday celebrating freedom. Not quite. It is a holiday celebrating the overthrowing of human tyranny and slavery while accepting God’s dominion over our lives and our own responsibility to properly use the freedom we have. The first part of the equation only exists in conjunction with the second part.

In that way, Passover not only  commemorates something that happened long ago, but it is an annual opportunity to rise above our own Egypts, those circumstances that block the path to our own Divine destiny.  Egyptian slavery is the ultimate model of any oppressive force that obstructs our attempts to reach the purpose God has planned for us. Each detail of the Exodus provides us with a route to overcoming the limitations and constrictions in our own lives.

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Yet We Live

April 12th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 11 comments

As human beings, we struggle to know ourselves; no matter how close we are to someone it is impossible to completely know another person. This is particularly true for our parents.

When my friend, Naomi*, was sitting shiva (the Jewish week of mourning) for her mother, she discovered some flabbergasting news. Naomi’s father was her mother’s second husband. Not only had she been previously married, but she and her first husband had two children. That husband and those children were murdered by the Nazis.

Naomi had known that her mother was in a concentration camp, though her mother never spoke of those years. She knew that her parents met in a DP camp; she knew that she and her older siblings, named for slaughtered grandparents, were born after her parents reached America’s blessed shores. But she never imagined that her mother’s life had included a previous young family. This information explained so much. She now could see her mother’s hyper-vigilance combined with a certain emotional gruffness not as personality quirks but as the tortured expression of inestimable pain.

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Each Generation We Must See Ourselves

April 4th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 comments

We are in the midst of Passover and I am delighted to be sharing the festival with so many children and grandchildren.  At the same time, that means that my computer and I haven’t seen a great deal of each other this week. My head is full of menus and cooking timetables, leaving little room for pondering current world affairs. One main focus of Passover, however, is realizing that without continually keeping an eye on the past, present and future, humans are prone to mess up. With this in mind, I’d like to share a Musing from April, 2012 that is no less relevant today.

 

“In each generation every person must view themselves as if they left Egypt.” A few nights ago, Jews around the world recited a sentence expressing this thought at the Passover Seder. Shortly before the holiday started, my son, Ari, saw one aspect of this idea come to life.

I think most of us picture ourselves on the right side of history. Had we lived in different times and places surely we would have stood with the abolitionists rather than the slave-owners; would have joined the Resistance rather than the Nazi Party; and would have opposed Stalin rather than embracing him. We more easily picture ourselves following Moses through the sea rather than ignoring him and the God he represented.  But the majority of Jews did not leave Egypt. Eighty percent chose loyalty to Pharaoh and the status quo.  Bad choice.

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Problem or Progress?

March 29th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

Do you wear a watch? The answer to that question may depend on your age. You could say that watches are the new handkerchiefs.

I rarely iron. Nonetheless, when I was a young girl my mother taught me to do so and the first items entrusted to my care were my father’s handkerchiefs. I remember taking great satisfaction in watching a wrinkled piece of fabric turn into a tidy, pressed and folded square. Yet, the box of handkerchiefs my grandmother gave me when I was a young teen lay  unopened in my closet for decades.

While disposable facial tissues are described in an account of 17th century Japan, in the United States Kleenex were introduced after World War I, slowly replacing handkerchiefs over the course of decades. While some very environmentally conscious individuals are urging a return to the cotton square, most Americans never think twice at the idea of grabbing a tissue from a readily available box.

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Matzoh, Money and Marriage

March 27th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

Here’s an unusual thought experiment: Imagine meeting a twenty-year-old man who is suffering from near total amnesia. He explains to you that he knows how to read and write, drive a car and live healthily, but has no idea at all of what he ought to be doing to prepare for successfully living the rest of his life.  What are you going to tell him?

Upon some reflection, I think I’d say to him, “There are two really important things that are vital for happy living and neither is intuitive, so I am delighted that you asked me.”

The two are money and marriage.  Nothing at all is taught about either one at GIC’s (Government Indoctrination Camps formerly known as public schools.)  Not surprisingly, the result is a huge number of twenty-year-old men who have never given a realistic moment’s thought to earning a living.  Public education’s indifference to marriage has also resulted in a significantly diminishing percentage of young men marrying.  If nobody teaches young males how money works and why marriage is important, how could they possibly know? 

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Recite, Repeat, Rejuvenate

April 14th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Very early in the Passover Seder we ask a question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” followed by four examples of unusual behavior. This section is often inaccurately called “The Four Questions.” From there, we annually follow the same program, reading, singing and/or chanting the same words, eating the same foods and doing the same actions as our ancestors. Yet, if that is all that you do, there is every chance that your Seder can become an uninspiring chore. It may foster warm family feeling, but do little for one’s relationship with God.

The test of a truly successful Seder, is one that indeed is exactly like every previous one in its details, but that is breathtakingly groundbreaking in terms of the discussion, questions, debate and insights. What a wonderful model for any family, group or country that wants to survive and thrive over the long term. If you break away from the core requirements, you lose your connection to the past,  becoming something new rather than a continuation of your past. If you cling so narrowly to the past that you can’t explore new avenues and see things with fresh eyes, you become a fossil.

May we all have the wisdom to know when to cling tenaciously to the past and when to fearlessly forge the future.

 

From Stress to Salvation: A Passover Story

April 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

To the dismay of my parents and the bewilderment of my wife Susan’s parents, some years back we sailed our family from Los Angeles to Honolulu on our small sailboat. We spent nearly a year in preparation. Susan planned the meals for the entire voyage and wrote down where each item of food was stored, while I strengthened the vessel and polished my celestial navigation skills. We departed on the fourth of July and by mid-month we were about a thousand miles from the West Coast and the same distance from Hawaii.

That night, as usual, I measured our water supply and in an exhausted state from too many hours on watch mistakenly determined that we had only one more day’s water left. In a terrible panic, all I could think about was how would I keep my family alive till we reached Hawaii. In my mind that became the only problem.

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Is There Food in Your Purse?

April 4th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

As the rabbi of a large congregation, my father attended many weddings and bar-mitzvahs.  My mother usually accompanied him and on rare occasions I got to go as well.  I always assumed that when this happened, I was being rewarded for good behavior.  It wasn’t until years later that my mother confided that the times when I was taken along were when the babysitter positively refused to have me at home.

While attending one particular bar-mitzvah with my parents when I was about ten years-old, I clearly remember spotting a woman surreptitiously sweeping some cookies off the table and into her rather capacious purse.  I instantly realized that she was harboring a fugitive to whom she needed to get food.  My fevered mind needed to know whether her fugitive was a criminal or a hero.  Clearly the only way to find out more was to place her under my diligent surveillance for the rest of the afternoon.  I observed her sneaking some fish and fruit into her bag.  Sooner or later, I would surely catch her leaving  the hall and by following her I would determine the identity of the person she was hiding.

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