What is the single most important thing we can have at our Passover table?My father would argue that it is my late Bubbe’s Wine Cake. When I was little, I might have said that it was the maror to go on top of the gefilte fish. A gardener might focus on the karpas, with its greenery and symbols of spring. My rabbinic colleagues might say it is the Matzah.
The Torah portion this week is called Lech lecha, which, loosely translated, means get going! God commands Abram to leave his birthplace and go to a new land that God will show him. In the first three verses of this portion, (Genesis 12:1-3) the word bracha, meaning blessing, appears five times.
Beresheet begins our Torah-reading cycle anew. Once again, we turn the scroll over and read our people’s origin story; a mythological history that speaks to the wonder our ancestors saw when they looked at the ever-changing world around them. This parshah tells the story of how God created the world, and everything in it, through the power of God’s speech. The Torah then tells the early stories of humanity; of Adam and Eve, Cain and his brother Abel, and introduces us to Noah, whose actions will help renew Creation in next week’s reading.
Passover is on the way. Time to put away the hametz and get set for the “yumminess” provided by matzah. It’s not good enough to just avoid purchasing leavened goods; rather we must actively seek out any remnants of these items in the house and dispose of them. Or at the very least, loan them out. We engage our broomsticks and search for and sweep up those leftover crumbs. Just as important, we need to identify the metaphorical hametz that provides excuses for our inaction. This too ought to be a planned precise procedure. We know deep down in our hearts that in emerging from the winter months, we should gear ourselves up for renewal. Passover is a perfectly suited opportunity to inspire us to serve as advocates for a compassionate globe.
[On February 14th] the town of Parkland, Florida made the news because of a school shooting that left 17 people dead—most of them teenagers. There are now about 5 such shootings each month in America. Since 20 first graders were killed in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, there have been some 239 school shootings, taking 138 innocent lives, injuring and traumatising countless more. That is, since I’ve been with you here in Sydney, 240 school shootings have taken place in America, and many more at large public venues, like music concerts and night clubs.
The congregation where I grew up was the oldest congregation in the State of Illinois – yet steeped in 1960’s style social justice activism. I learned then that commandments to help the poor and the stranger were expressive of Judaism’s age-old, unchanging commitment to the most vulnerable members of society.
Parashat Yitro contains one of the most dramatic scenes of the entire Torah, and possibly the pivotal moment of all of Jewish History – it is the Torah portion which relates our primary encounter with the divine. The paradigmatic moment of revelation retold in this parasha serves as the classic example of what it means to have God’s will revealed to us on the collective level.