Special reading for the 8th day of Pesach – Deuteronomy 15.19 – 16.17 and Numbers 28:19 -25
“In the Place where the Lord shall choose”
By Gregory D. Metzger, AJRCA Third Year Rabbinical Student
I love Passover! It is by far my favorite holiday.
“You shall eat it before the Lord, your G-d, year by year, in the place the Lord chooses-you and your household” – Deuteronomy 15:20
Where is the place that G-d chooses?
I grew up in a Jewish family. We did not spend lot of time in synagogue, nor did we speak a lot of Hebrew. Yet I was always aware that we were Jewish and that Judaism meant something. Passover was the one holiday that we observed “religiously”. And it was at my Grandparents’ table that I first learned about being Jewish. For me, this table was “in the place the Lord chooses. . .”
At the Seder, my Grandfather taught me about Torah and the history of the Jews. He taught with words from the Haggadah and shared insights into the meaning of all the symbols and readings. My Grandmother taught with deeds. For her “All who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Pesach”, was a sacred and joyous commandment. She would always go out of her way to find “strangers” and bring them home for a meal. My mother would talk with passion about all the people in the world who were currently enslaved and what we needed to do to liberate them. My father would talk with great sadness about the Warsaw Ghetto and the absence of G-d’s hand in the moment of need. We always had a large table and discussions ran long and often became heated. In the end, we ate drank wine and sang songs.
“You shall eat it within your cities, the unclean and the clean together . . .” Deuteronomy 15:22
Where is the place that G-d chooses?
This year, I love Passover. Again, I am blessed to attend Seders at California Jails and Prisons. Pesach is a particularly meaningful holiday for Jewish inmates. They teach me about “the place that G-d chooses”. They share insights into “Mitzrayim”. They know that they are not slaves or captives of the State, but of their own making:
“Yet, amazingly, prison became a doorway that helped me escape that narrow place – Mitzrayim, Egypt – in my life” – D.M. (inmate).
“I choose happiness. I experience freedom each day. I have a good life even in prison.” – L.J. (inmate)
“No. There are no chains to bind my mind or my voice. Nothing to keep me from climbing the mountain that will heal me. It is there that Torah teaches me love, kindness, foregeviness and wisdom” – E.H. (inmate)
Inmates teach that this awareness, found in the Torah, the Haggadah and the traditions of Judaism brings about freedom from an inner slavery. In Prisons and Jails, we always have a large table; discussions run long and often became heated. In the end, we eat, drink juice and sing songs.
“Seven days you shall celebrate the Festival to the Lord, your G-d, in the place which the Lord shall choose, because the Lord, your G-d, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.” – Deuteronomy 16:15
We know the place that G-d chooses. It is in the place where and when we choose to let G-d in.
“Where is G-d to be found? In the place where He is given entry” – Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.
Wherever you choose to observe Passover, whenever you choose to celebrate freedom, May you be blessed to have a large table, May you be blessed to have great discussions that run long and become heated. And, in the end, may you be blessed to eat, drink and sing songs. May you be blessed to be the Place where the Lord shall choose.
All who are hungry, all who are in need, let them come to The Place, let them celebrate Pesach!