Parshat Chol HaMoed Pesach

Torah Reading for April 19, 2014

“Exodus 33:12-34:26”
By Cantor Samuel B. Radwine, Professor of Cantorial Studies


In recent years, more and more pre-Pesach conversations with friends and congregants have gone something like this: “We’re not doing seder on seder nights.  The family will come on the weekend when it is more convenient for everyone.” Increasingly so, it seems that the demands of contemporary life have taken precedent over the timely celebration of the festival of Pesach.  Often, it is a challenge for me to hide my visceral wince.

One acquaintance, who I would normally describe as fairly observant, ( kosher home, regular synagogue attendance) justified her decision to move their family seder, with somewhat poignant resignation.  She recounts her decision: “My son is away at college and in a relationship with a non-Jew.  He wants to bring her to seder but they feel that they are only able to come on the weekend.  I feel that this is my best shot at presenting our Jewish family in its best light and having a chance at Jewish grandchildren.”

Ironically enough, our tradition presents us with a Torah reading on the very weekend that these “alternatively scheduled” Passover seders are taking place.  In Exodus 34:18, we read, “You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread—eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you—at the set time of the month of Aviv, for in the month of Aviv you went forth from Egypt.”  This is a restatement of the obligations of the Festivals that were originally given earlier.  Furthermore, this statement is preceded by a strict admonition against false and “inauthentic” worship.

I am struck with an overall sense of discomfort with the admonition.  Preceding Pesach , it is a common practice to wish someone, “chag sameach v’kasher—may you have a happy holiday and one that is ritually fitting!”  Clearly, “ritually fitting” is a value that stems from Torah itself.  The text is very clear as to our obligation to stick to “authentic” worship.  This obligation remains to this day.  I know many whose observance of kashrut during Pesach far exceeds any observance during the rest of the year.  Sadly, I’m left with a feeling that somehow, one who doesn’t observe Pesach at the most fitting and proper ritual level is somehow shamed for being “less than…”  Therefore, we cannot expect to bring our community to the beauty and richness of Jewish life through statements of shame.

Often, the level of observance of a family is based in part on what they experience in the home of their parents.  That observance was based, in turn, on the preceding generations.  “This is how my mother or father did it,” is often the only rationale that a Jew can give for why they observe in the way that they do.  Ultimately, we must ask ourselves–how is the world that we live in different from that of our parents or preceding generations?  How is the place we live different?  What is the reality of our lives?  Is Jewish life the same for us as it was for them?

Perhaps we can find some resolution in what can possibly be considered the most important statement in the Haggadah.  B’chol dor vador, chayav adam lirot et atsmo k’ilu hu yatzah mi-Mitzrayim—In every generation, each person should consider himself  as if s/he personally came out of Egypt.”  For me, the key phrase is “b’chol dor vador.”  Each of us must understand the nature of the redemption from Egypt and act accordingly to the circumstances of our generation.  The challenge for us as Jewish leaders is to help our communities find that meaning.  It matters what we do on Pesach and how we celebrate.  We must constantly find ways, without shaming, to help each and every Jew observe a true and fitting festival, that is appropriate in their generation, not only on Pesach, but for the rest of the year as well.

A zis’n Pesach!