Second Day Pesach
- Hag Sameach
- Every day, at daily minyan, we have been studying Mishna together. Ever since last Hanukah, we have studied Massechet Pesachin, the section of the Mishna that deals with Pesach. We finished it just last Friday morning, just in time to be used as the focus of our Siyyun Bechor, the text we finish so we can celebrate its completion and allow the first born men and women in our community to not have to fast the day before Pesach.
- Massechet Pesachin is organized in a chronological sequence. The first chapter deals with the search for Hametz on the 13th day of Nisan and then, it talks about the Paschal sacrifice, what has to be done, when it has to be done and how it is to be done for the next eight chapters. We don’t sacrifice a Paschal lamb or goat anymore. We stopped sacrifices when the second Temple was destroyed over 2000 years ago. But, for our ancestors, this Paschal sacrifice was the centerpiece of the ritual for Pesach; without it, one could not sit down to a Seder.
- In spite of the fact that Judaism no longer sacrifices any animals, we have spent the last four weeks, as we concluded the book of Shemot and began the book of Vayikra, reading about how the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary our ancestors built in the wilderness was constructed and how sacrifices were to be performed there. Two weeks from now, when we get back to our weekly Torah reading, we will read about how the priests were installed, the sacrifices they performed and the deadly consequences of their making a mistake. Sacrifices may be gone from Jewish worship but they are not forgotten. We may have replaced them with the words of prayer but their lessons still echo in Jewish life. We need no further evidence of this than the shank bone and roasted egg that were on our Seder plates last night.
- My friend and colleague in San Francisco, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, recently pointed out an interesting lesson from Torah in relationship to the korbanot/sacrifices. When the Mishkan is finished and assembled at the end of sefer Shemot, the cloud of God’s glory fills the holy of holies and is so thick that Moses is unable to enter the tent. The tent is so full of God that there is no room for Moses!
- But the first thing that God does at the beginning of sefer Vayikra, is to call to Moses so he will come and listen to God’s words. How is it possible now for Moses to enter the tent if it is filled with the glory of God? Jewish mystics explain that the only way Moses can enter the tent is if God performs “tzimtzum” a contraction, making space for Moses by contracting God contracting the divine self. Perhaps this is why the word “Vayikra” which gives the book of Leviticus its name, is spelled with a small aleph at the end. The letter is contracted in size just as God contracted to call Moses forward.
- Jewish Mysticism takes this understanding of tzimtzum even further. We all know that God is everywhere, but if God is everywhere, how can there be room for everything else? If God’s presence fills the universe, where is there room for the universe? Rabbi Isaac Luria in the 16th century first taught the concept of tzimtzum as a way of understanding how the world is possible. God contracts/tzimtzum the divine self, creating the void in which the world is created. Just as in the case of Moses, God contracts in order to make room for the rest of us. It is a sign of how much God loves us that God performed tzimtzum so that we could have the room we need to exist.
- I remember Sedarim with my family when I was a child. My grandfather always led the service, sitting at the head of the table on a throne of pillows. Under those pillows he stashed the Afikomen and we children had to sneak up on him and steal it out from under him. We used the Maxwell House Haggada because it was given away free and we never skipped a word.
- I was already in college when my grandfather died. I had always assumed that my father would take up leading the Seder when Grandpa could no longer lead. I was surprised and a bit shocked when my father, knowing that already I was thinking about Rabbinical School, turned to me to lead the family Seder. I wanted to do it just like my grandfather did it. My little nephew was trying to steal the Afikomen from under my pillow and was not trying too hard. I kept telling him to try harder. My brother took him in the next room, dressed him up like a bandit with a toy pistol and the next thing I knew, he had stolen the Afikomen at gunpoint!
- A few years later I attended my first Seder outside my family. It opened my eyes to the realm of possibilities that the Seder offered. I learned new tunes, new questions to ask, and new readings to add. For the first time I used a different Haggada. Soon the things I had learned at other tables came home to our family Sedarim as well. This was NOT my grandfather’s Seder. It was mine.
- This is how tzimtzum played out in my family. The memory of my grandfather had to contract so that there would be room for me to create a new family Seder for a new generation of the Konigsburg family. New Haggadot came to our table and we stopped having the Seder at the dining room table, moving it to the living room where we could sit in comfort and discuss the meaning of slavery and freedom.
- Four years ago we went to Ramah Darom where my Rabbi daughter spends Pesach with professors from JTS. I have to tell you, Michelle loved not having to cook and while there was a large public Seder in the next room, we held our own Seder with one of Ashira’s professors. It was a wonderful discussion, on all levels of scholarship, and at the end of the night we didn’t even have to wash any dishes. Ashria looked at me to see if I approved of the way she was doing the Seder. Remembering the days when I started, I gave her the room she needed to make her Seder her own.
- Pesach is not a “shul” holiday. It is a holiday of families. So many of our members are away this week, celebrating Seder with their families and so many other families are here celebrating Seder together with their grandparents. Generations join with each other and family traditions are born. But something else happens at the same time. Just as God had to contract to make humanity possible so to do we have to perform tzimtzum in our lives as well.
- Rabbi Creditor writes:”I think of my precious children. If I wasn’t ready to do tzimtzum, to contract myself enough to give them the room to make their own decisions – decisions that I might not make nor approve of – I shouldn’t have had a child. If we aren’t ready to do tzimtzum and thereby provide “space” for for our partners to act and think independently from us we aren’t prepared to be a couple. All healthy relationships include tzimtzum and are infused with the obligation to grant others the right to inhabit their own place. “
- But Rabbi Creditor goes on and sees even a bigger picture. He writes, “tzimtzum is the heart of a mindful, relational practice. When I recognize the power of someone close to self-determine, my life changes. I become freer. A quest for God requires honest and open self reflection and the recognition that God’s image is just as surely in the face of another as it is in mine is key. Did I give up some control over my life by becoming a father or a life-partner? Absolutely. Am I willing to continue working on my own tzimtzum? With all my heart.”
- I still can imitate, to this day the way my grandfather sang the Kiddush. But I will never be him. I have my own way to sing Kiddush, and sometimes, I have Michelle or my children recite it, just to hear how they might do it differently. When I pull myself out of the way, I have found I have learned new lessons from my family and can see how my teachings have found new life in their lives. As we sit together with our families this Pesach, whether last night at the Seder or today for lunch after this service. We need to remember that each member of our family is not required to be just like us or to do things exactly the way we would do them. We need to contract so they can have the space they need to grow and so they can find new love for us in their hearts.
- We should never tell anyone, “Hey, you are doing that wrong.” We should instead do a little tzimtzum and give them the space to try something different. It will help our children and family find their own way in the world and it will help us grow wiser too. Every generation has to find their own way to tell the story of the Exodus. And we are given the gift each year, to hear it in new ways from new hearts.
May your Pesach be a holiday of love, learning and respect. As we make way for the next generation, may our tzimtzum also be a lesson, one that our children will cherish forever.