Bob Schwartz

Tag: Passover

Passover Posts Past: The Greatest Hits

Each year this blog includes different Passover posts. Each year at Passover many readers find their way back to these past posts. For those who haven’t been in these parts much, following are a few throwbacks.

Moses on Krypton, Superman in Egypt

In the Siegel and Shuster version, there is no infant floated off in a basket to avoid his death, and no Egyptian princess to find and adopt him. Instead, the Kryptonian infant Kal-el (a version of the Hebrew phrase Kol El, “the voice of God” or “all of God”) is rocketed off in a space capsule to avoid the planet’s destruction. The capsule crashes on Earth, and he is found and adopted by the Midwestern couple, Ma and Pa Kent.

The biblical infant is raised as an Egyptian and given the Egyptian name Moses; Kal-el is raised as an earthling and given the Midwestern name Clark Kent. The time will come for both of them, Moses and Clark Kent, to reclaim their true identities in order to tap into great power, to become super-men….

Matzo: Dealing with Eating the Bread of Affliction

Don’t try to make sandwiches. At the seder, the tradition is to eat a tiny sandwich of horseradish and haroset (a sweet paste representing the mortar of the building the Jews slaved on) between two pieces of matzo. The great sage Hillel supposedly created this sandwich, and his name is attached to it. Even this tiny sandwich throws matzo crumbs all over the place. A full-size matzo sandwich is not a good idea. No matter how wise Hillel was….

American Freedom Seder 2017: Where There’s a Pharaoh There’s a Wilderness

It’s possible you believe there are some special struggles going on right now in America. Which would make it a good time to gather with like-minded friends and family, brothers and sisters, and as a community share a meal and recall that the struggle is never easy or short (and might include some flat, dry bread), but that there is a better nation at the end of the journey. One hopeful, undiscouraged step at a time….

Refugees and the Bread of Affliction

Passover begins this evening. As part of the festival, many Jews will be eating the flat dry bread of matzo at seder tonight; some will eat it for the next eight days. Matzo is known as the bread of affliction, commemorating the hardship of slavery and the hardship of the flight to freedom. As we break bread—flat or otherwise—we might also remember the plight of millions of refugees around the world….

Passover and Freud

What does Freud want? He might not want people attending a Passover seder, offering prayers to a God who isn’t there. But things are not that simple.

Sigmund Freud was a Jew by birth, an atheist by belief. He abstracted and analyzed religion as a powerful manifestation of powerful forces at work. But near the end of his career, he considered whether there was something in God that was more than a mere reflection of psychic need and dynamics.

In his final book, Moses and Monotheism, he suggests that while there is no God, the positing of one had forced the Jews—and all who followed on that spiritual path—to think and act differently. The gift of the idea of God was the imperative to transcend instinct and old ways, to make new and positive sense of the insensible, and to act accordingly….

Passover: Let’s Get Lost

Passover
Americans are lost
Jews are lost
Jews are used to being lost

Wake up wandering in the wilderness
Wanting guidance assurances
That it will be all right
Promises will be kept
A land will be found

No assurances
No promises
No land
No turning back

Tell the story
Then like the afikomen
Broken and lost
Let’s get lost

Passover 2020: With stay-at-home seders, Elijah will be making many more wine stops

The tradition of Elijah at the seder is common in many Jewish communities. The practice of pouring a fifth cup of wine and opening the door for Elijah has a complex history. The theme is the prophet as a harbinger of redemption. The scholarship on this is voluminous, and it is generally concluded that the practice is not ancient, only coming into use after the Crusades.

Setting aside the fascinating history of the cup of Elijah, this much is clear: at Passover 2020, Elijah will be visiting a lot more seders. Instead of big groups, single family seders—many of them virtually connected—will be pouring that extra cup for Elijah to drink. Not to mention all the other extra cups that will be poured and drunk on this Passover, different than all other Passovers.

According to the Bible story, Elijah, like Moses before him, fled to the wilderness. Pursued by Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah wanted to give up. Instead, he found water and food to sustain him, ending up at the very same mountain where Moses stood:

And He said, “Go and stand on the mountain before the LORD, and, look, the LORD is about to pass over, with a great and strong wind tearing apart mountains and smashing rocks before the LORD. Not in the wind is the LORD. And after the wind an earthquake. Not in the earthquake is the LORD. And after the earthquake—fire. Not in the fire is the LORD. And after the fire, a sound of minute stillness.” (1 Kings 19:10-12, Robert Alter translation)

Wilderness, food, wine, a sound of minute stillness. Happy Passover.

Pandemic Passover and Easter: Faith without form

Our religious traditions, from their beginnings, have been about form. Practices, beliefs, texts, communities. These are all forms that are required, recommended, unifying.

It is unavoidable to see an identity between the traditions and forms. That is, the point of the traditions seems to be the forms themselves.

There is a Zen thought that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. We point because the finger shows us which way to go and where something may be found. But the finger is not the way or the thing. The form is not the way or the thing.

There is unique value in gathering around the Passover table, following the order (seder) of together retelling a central story. There is unique value in gathering in church on Easter Sunday and retelling another central story.

The Passover seder is important but not essential. The Easter service is important but not essential. These are forms, the finger pointing at the moon.

What exactly is the moon of Passover and the moon of Easter? To be transformed and to transform the world and all the people in it. If you need examples of that, just look at the central stories of the two holidays and the teachings that surround them. You and the world start off one way and, by the time you are done wandering, you and the world are better. The dark places are a little bit lighter.

How do you get there? You take part in a seder, in person or virtually, or maybe you don’t. You attend a church service, in person or virtually, or maybe you don’t. You wander in a wilderness and find yourself and something new. You die and are reborn spiritually. The seder and the service are forms, valuable but not necessary. You can wander and arrive without them.

Apart but not alone, happy Passover and happy Easter.

Passover: Let’s Get Lost

Well we know where we’re going
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowing
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out
We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Taking that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride
Talking Heads, Road to Nowhere


Let’s Get Lost

Passover
Americans are lost
Jews are lost
Jews are used to being lost

Wake up wandering in the wilderness
Wanting guidance assurances
That it will be all right
Promises will be kept
A land will be found

No assurances
No promises
No land
No turning back

Tell the story
Then like the afikomen
Broken and lost
Let’s get lost

©


Living under an American Pharaoh: What’s a Jew to do?

It’s almost Passover, so Pharaoh is our minds. Also on our minds because we are living under an American Pharaoh—or at least a wannabe Pharaoh.

Don’t let him fool you. Just because his chief henchman is Jewish, or his son-in-law is Jewish, or some of his rich donors are Jewish, or because he says and does things that make it seem that he understands and cares about Jews and Israel (he doesn’t), he is nothing less than a Pharaoh.

So where does that leave American Jews, particularly at Passover?

It is actually not that surprising that some Jews have joined the Pharaoh’s cause. There are dramatic moments in the exodus story where Jews are willing to throw away freedom and principle for a golden calf and the comfort of the Pharaoh’s harsh protection.

And Aaron said to them, “Take off the golden rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” And all the people took off the golden rings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he took them from their hand and he fashioned it in a mold and made it into a molten calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” And Aaron saw, and he built an altar before it, and Aaron called out and said, “Tomorrow is a festival to the LORD.” And they rose early on the next day, and they offered up burnt offerings and brought forward communion sacrifices, and the people came back from eating and drinking and they rose up to play.
Exodus 32:2-6

So where does that leave the Jews who do not believe in Pharaoh? We can stay and argue with those who support Pharaoh, though that has so far proven pointless. We can escape to the wilderness in search of a Promised Land of freedom and light, although by many conventions America is already the Promised Land of freedom and light.

Or we can all be tiny Moses, telling fellow Jews at Passover that worshiping Pharaoh and a golden calf and unprincipled conduct is ungodly and unholy. We cannot wait for God to intervene because God leaves it up to us. Let us not disappoint.

Baseball Crush

Note: I wake up today to find that it is between two Easters, the last day of Passover, and more than a week since Major League Baseball season began. Yet I still haven’t posted about baseball, as I do each year. Here it is.

In junior high school, age 12 or so, the great elation, the walking on a cloud, is having a crush on someone. There is school, there is family, there is the rest of life, but above all there is just that one. The only thing better, the only cloud higher, is actually getting together with that crush. Of course, worst of all is discovering that the crush is unrequited, the crush as crash, but that is not the hopeful stuff of spring.

Except for those romantic crushes, the most intoxicated I felt was the start of baseball season. During free periods, I would go to the library, where with my other baseball-loving friends, I would sit at a table and pore over the papers, inhaling the baseball pages. Scores, standings, player statistics. Another crush.

In the years since, my interest in baseball has shifted, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. But it has never, ever gone away. Each spring I still stock up on books that cover what happened last season and what, according to the expanding corps of scientific analysts, will happen this season.

I’ve written before about why baseball matters, but no matter what explanation you concoct or read, the truth is that it is ultimately inexplicable. You get it or you don’t. It just is. Like that crush on that girl in seventh grade. It’s big and forever, and it’s just gotta be.

Music for the Holidays: Redemption Song by Bob Marley

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Bob Marley, Redemption Song

Passover. Easter. The 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Bob Marley. Redemption Song.

Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty
We forward in this generation
Triumphantly

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look?
Some say it’s just a part of it
We’ve got to fulfill the Book

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs
Redemption songs

Books for Passover and Easter

Passover

If you are celebrating Passover or just interested in it, you are familiar with the Haggadah—the book used as a roadmap for the seder meal and rituals that take place on the first couple of evenings of Passover.

There are widely adopted traditions for the seder that include the retelling of the Exodus story and the eating of symbolic foods. But the exact content and form of the seder have long been flexible, and this variety is reflected in different Haggadot. There are hundreds of versions.

For the Passover observant and the P-curious, I recommend a deeper dive than the typical Haggadah—a set of books from Jewish Lights entitled My People’s Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries – Volume 1 and Volume 2.

From the editors:

In two volumes, this empowering resource for the spiritual revival of our times enables us to find deeper meaning in one of Judaism’s most beloved traditions, the Passover Seder. Rich Haggadah commentary adds layer upon layer of new insight to the age-old celebration of the journey from slavery to freedom—and makes its power accessible to all.

This diverse and exciting Passover resource features the traditional Haggadah Hebrew text with a new translation designed to let you know exactly what the Haggadah says. Introductory essays help you understand the historical roots of Passover, the development of the Haggadah, and how to make sense out of texts and customs that evolved from ancient times.

Framed with beautifully designed Talmud-style pages, My People’s Passover Haggadah features commentaries by scholars from all denominations of Judaism. You are treated to insights by experts in such fields as the Haggadah’s history; its biblical roots; its confrontation with modernity; and its relationship to rabbinic midrash and Jewish law, feminism, Chasidism, theology, and kabbalah.

No other resource provides such a wide-ranging exploration of the Haggadah, a reservoir of inspiration and information for creating meaningful Seders every year.

These are a bit bulky for the seder table itself. But they are the sort of books you would read if you wanted to understand why people are sitting at the seder table in the first place and why the traditions are so broad and sometimes so misunderstood. If Passover is just going through the motions, any seder and any Haggadah will do. If Passover is one piece of a much bigger picture to be investigated, these enlightening commentaries are what you need.

Easter

Close to each other. Very close. Passover begins tonight on Friday March 30. Easter is this Sunday April 1.

The calendar isn’t all that’s close. The Jewish story and the Christian story, in general and in the context of these particular holidays, are essentially and inextricably linked. The nature of those stories and those connections is the source of faith, enlightenment, misunderstanding, mistrust, even hatred and violence. Among Jews and Christians.

Any big moment on the Jewish and Christian calendars (and these holidays qualify) is an opportunity not just for ritual celebration but for study. How well do we—Jews, Christians, others—understand the texts and traditions outside the comfortable conventions of our belief and practice? Not just understanding that will confirm our faiths, allowing us to nod our heads and pat ourselves on our collective backs, but new and even startling understanding that might shake us and even make us uncomfortable. Everything we know about Judaism or Christianity, about the Bible, about history, may not be wrong, but maybe we could benefit from another open and learned perspective.

The second edition of the The Jewish Annotated New Testament was published last year; any and every Jew or Christian should read at least a little of it. So should everyone else who wants to know something about the foundations of this consequential moment in scripture, history and religion. Believers and nonbelievers may think they know what they’re dealing with. Many don’t.

The editors explain:

It is almost two millennia since the earliest texts incorporated into the New Testament were composed. For the most part, these centuries have seen a painful relationship between Jews and Christians. Although Jewish perceptions of Christians and Christian perceptions of Jews have improved markedly in recent decades, Jews and Christians still misunderstand many of each other’s texts and traditions. The landmark publication of this book is a witness to that improvement; ideally, it will serve to increase our knowledge of both our common histories and the reasons why we came to separate…

The Jewish Annotated New Testament represents the first time a gathering of Jewish scholars wrote a complete commentary on the New Testament. It reached a wide Jewish and Christian audience, and in doing so it has begun to increase both Jewish literacy of the New Testament and Christian awareness of the New Testament’s Jewish context. It has become widely used in colleges, universities and seminaries, as well as in Jewish, Christian, and joint Jewish-Christian study groups. Many Christian clergy and religious educators from different Christian denominations and church settings have told us that they have integrated the insights of this book into their preaching and devotion. Because of this volume, we have been told numerous times, sermons have been corrected, anti-Jewish teaching and preaching have been avoided, and Christians in churches and classrooms and Bible studies have learned more about Jesus and his followers. Jewish readers have told us how the volume has encouraged them to read the New Testament for the first time, to begin to consider the complex relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and how better to understand both their Christian neighbors and their own Jewish history….

For Christian readers The Jewish Annotated New Testament offers a window into the first-century world of Judaism from which the New Testament springs. There are explanations of Jewish concepts such as food laws and rabbinic argumentation. It also provides a much-needed corrective to many centuries of Christian misunderstandings of the Jewish religion.

For Jewish readers, this volume provides the chance to encounter the New Testament–a text of vast importance in Western European and American culture–with no religious agenda and with guidance from Jewish experts in theology, history, and Jewish and Christian thought. It also explains Christian practices, such as the Eucharist.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition is an essential volume that places the New Testament writings in a context that will enlighten readers of any faith or none.

 

Past Passover Posts

Passover has crept up on me. This year it begins on the evening of Friday, March 30.

I usually write and publish at least one post a year for the holiday, and if the Moses muse visits, I still may. Just in case, though, here are links to some past Passover posts.

Moses on Krypton, Superman in Egypt

Passover and Freud

Four Freedoms Passover

A Heschel Haggadah

Matzo: Dealing with Eating the Bread of Affliction

American Freedom Seder 2017: Where There’s a Pharaoh There’s a Wilderness

Heschel for Passover

Refugees and the Bread of Affliction

The Mountain and the Cross

The Mountain and the Cross

How is the view
From up there?

Can you see
How you got there?
Others look
At every act you took
Word you spoke
Song you sang
Pull them apart
Put them together
A journey
That never seems to end.

For you it ends here
For a time
On the mountain and the cross.

A privileged child
A prince
A prodigy
A champion of the people
An enemy
A wise man
A miracle worker embarrassing mere magicians
A leader
A rebel
How did that rebellion go
How is it now?

One mistake after another
Has cost you everything
Won you something
But what in the end
Did it all mean?

(Jesus wonders
If he might have lived longer
Not one hundred twenty
But more than thirty three.
Moses has no complaint
About the number
And would not trade places
Sitting on a mountain
Not hanging from a cross
But regrets having to survey
An unreachable destination.)

You were just infants
Too young to remember
How it began.
Leave it to others
To imagine that past
And future.
You have no choice
But to let them see and speak for you
As you saw and spoke for others.
Now your eyes and mouth are closed
In dark silence from a height.

© Bob Schwartz 2017