Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

What the Rabbis are Saying this Passover (Shabbat Hagadol Night – 4/8/17)

Rabbi Neil SchumanObviously, the biggest news of this past week was America’s attack on Syria.

Although it’s hard to assess what kind of benefit the missile strikes will have upon the innocents in Syria or American-Russian affairs going forward, nonetheless, the move has support from some rabbinic figures.

Israel’s former chief rabbi, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau compared the atrocities in Syria to the killing of Jews in World War II and suggested that Israel should intervene to stop the bloodshed in the neighboring country. (JERUSALEM-AP)

“This is certainly a ‘Shoah’ of the Syrian people and it did not start today, it has been six years since a ‘Shoah’ landed on them,” Lau said, using the Hebrew word for Holocaust, in an interview with Army Radio.

While he claimed not to be familiar with the political ramifications about intervening in Syria, he quoted from the Bible to not “stand idly by your brother’s blood.” “This isn’t just referring to someone like you that shares your worldview or nationalism. It includes all people created in the image of God.”

Likewise here in America, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, rabbi of one of the largest orthodox synagogues in the country, spoke about acting on behalf of the Syrians. He recounted a teaching he heard from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Our enslavement in Egypt taught the Jew ethical sensitivity, what it truly means to be a Jew. It sought to transform the Jew into a rachaman, one possessing a heightened form of ethical sensitivity and responsiveness.”

Wohlberg says, the most practical method of teaching compassion, sensitivity, and concern for others, is by recalling one’s own experience of pain and oppression. Whenever the Torah wishes to impress upon us the mitzvah of having compassion and sympathy for the oppressed in society, it reminds us of our similar helplessness and lowly status during our bondage in Egypt. Thirty six times the Torah entreats us to be kind to the stranger, because “Ki gerim hayitem b’eretz mitzrayim – You were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Therefore: “V’atem yedatem et nefesh ha’ger – Having experienced estrangement, oppression, and discrimination, you are expected more so than one who hasn’t, to empathize and sympathize with the needy.”

Therefore, as we recline at our Seders these Tonight and Tomorrow night, we should spill some wine, not just for the slaughtered Egyptians but also for those innocents in Syria suffering from a cruel government. Likewise we should take whatever political steps we can to ensure sure that another “holocaust” does not persist in our presence.

On a lighter note, the other themes I’ve seen from rabbis lately is the imperative to enliven our Seder; we need to do more than just read and discuss the words.

This could be done in many ways: I utilized two methods this week. One was role playing the episodes in the Exodus story. I divided the Kita Gimel students into three groups and they had to act out different scenarios:

1. God telling Moses to free the people and his subsequent arrival in Egypt.
2. The Jews slaughtering the Pascal lamb and sitting in their homes as the angel of Death passed over them.
3. The Jews being pursued by Pharaoh and his 600 chariots and Nachshon leading them into the sea with the water finally splitting before them.

Secondly, you could also look for Passover Plays and hand out the parts. Here’s a segment of a funny one I found on the internet, it’s a bit sacrilegious, but worth it (the author gives permission to reprint): “Just try it, G_d!”: A Not-So-Serious Passover Play for the Classroom or the Dining Room by S. Mitchell

CHARACTERS: Slave Narrator, G_d (as a voice offstage), Moses, Aaron,Burning Bush, Pharoah

SLAVE NARRATOR: In Egypt we Hebrews had a difficult life.
All day we worked under the whips of the taskmasters, making bricks and stacking them into giant pyramids, using nothing but our bare hands and a mixture of apples, raisins and nuts to bind the bricks together. We ate nothing but horseradish and drank only salt water.The only joy we had came from squeezing our fresh loaves of bread,which were soft and thick and light and fluffy as clouds. We had nothing to hope for. But little did we know that one of us, an escaped Hebrew who lived as a stranger in a foreign land of Midan,would soon return to us as our savior.

MOSES: Here sheep! Here sheep, sheep! Hey, come back!
Don’t make me chase you– (Suddenly surprised at the sight of a burning bush.) Oh, my gosh!


MOSES: That little bush is on fire! (He dowses it.)

BURNING BUSH: Thank you!

MOSES: But why aren’t you burned, little bush?

BURNING BUSH (pointing up to the sky): Ask Him!

G_D: Moses!

BURNING BUSH (whispering) : Don’t answer!

MOSES: Here I am.

G_D: Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place you stand on is holy ground.

Moses removes his shoes.

BURNING BUSH: Whew! Stinky!

G_D: Moses!

MOSES: Here I am!

G_D: Put your shoes back on, please.

MOSES: Who are you?

G_D: I am the G_d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And Reuben, Simeon,
Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher–

BURNING BUSH: Please, somebody stop Him!

MOSES: What do you want from me?

G_D: I have heard the cry of the Hebrew slaves and I’ve come to rescue them,
to lead them out of that land into a good land flowing with milk and honey,
the country of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Websites,
Hippies, Trekkies, Yuppies, Muppets, Skittles, Ewoks–

BURNING BUSH: Get to the point.

G_D: Actually, you are going to do it.

MOSES: Do what?

BURNING BUSH: I told you not to answer!

G_D: You, Moses, will lead the Hebrews out of that land into a good land flowing
with milk and honey, the country of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites–

MOSES: Who am I that I should lead the Israelites to freedom?
What will they say when I tell them, “The G_d of your fathers has sent me to
lead you”?
If they ask, “What is His name?”, what do I tell them?

G_D: Tell them, “I am who I am.”

BURNING BUSH: He should tell them Popeye sent him?

G_D: They’ll believe you, Moses. Then go to the Pharoah and ask him to let
you go on a three day’s journey into the desert to offer sacrifices.
If he says yes, which he won’t, you’ll go and you won’t come back.

MOSES: Good plan. Do you think Pharoah will buy it?

G_D: No.

MOSES: What’s Plan B?

G_D: Pharoah won’t let your people go unless he is forced.
So I will stretch out my hand and smite Egypt by doing all sorts of
wondrous deeds there. Lots of people and animals will die.

BURNING BUSH: Couldn’t you just make Pharoah say yes the first time?

G_D: I cannot. But perhaps Moses can convince him.

MOSES: How will I convince him? What if he doesn’t believe me?
I need some proof of your wondrous power.

G_D: Do you know any card tricks?


G_D: The nickel in the ear trick?


G_D: The rabbit from a hat?


G_D: Saw the lady in half?


G_D: Don’t worry. You’ll think of something.

BURNING BUSH: Get your brother to do it. He’s a fast talker.

G_D: Now go!….

So as you recline at your Seders, make it fun, enjoyable and real for the family with interesting activities, but also remember our servitude and see the need to help others suffering from what we also suffered.

Chag Sameach!

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