Pesach 5782 On The Seder As A Living Experience

Pesach 5782 On The Seder As A Living Experience

On seder night, we embark on a holy commemorative journey through the Haggadah as we move spiritually and temporally from degradation to praise. We do not merely recount by rote our journey out of Mitzrayim, out of the narrowness to a wide expanse, but we engage in holy reenactment of the experience.

In Mishnah Pesachim 10:5, it is taught that in every generation, every single one of us is obligated to see ourselves as though we, too, went out of Egypt. We aren’t only recounting the origin story of our ancestors, passed down generation after generation. We are part of the holy collectivity. We are active participants, not passive observers.

The Telling that we ritually experience on Pesach is not only about remembering our people’s foundational story. Indeed, this story is so central that we are asked to recall it every day of our lives. Jewish liturgy makes mention of it in the morning and the evening. Each holiday is referred to as a Zecher—a remembrance—of the exodus. Those who wrap tefillin bind these sacred words to their bodies. It is so central that we access it using as many sensory vehicles as are available to us.

Truly, Pesach is such a momentous event in spiritual terms that it is our duty to be actively shaping this experience for ourselves in every generation.

We move from the narrow place to one of wide expanse, a place devoid of G-d consciousness to one suffused with it. We move from a sense of degradation to praise, of owning our own narrative, no longer allowing others to define or shape it for us. We think about what represents mitzrayim in our own lives. What are those things that we cannot seem to free ourselves from? What would it mean for us to find a sense of liberation and possibility after years, perhaps, of feeling weighted down by story, by fear, by expectation that is far greater than we are as individuals yet impacts us so intimately?

In every generation, we are each obligated to perceive ourselves as if we, too, left Egypt. The promises G-d makes to our ancestors, which we recount on seder night apply to us as much as they did to those who came before. Our physical and social locations as a people have undergone tremendously radical shifts over the generations and continue to do so in our own day.

Pesach has carried our people through trials and tribulations, through times of great joy and ecstasy. Our calendar, with its emphasis on the spiral of time, encourages us to return, again and again, to the essential theological truth. We, too, were there, a part of the story. We participated in the awesomeness that was the exodus and as such, we are enjoined to bring its power into our lives. We do so in an embodied way so that it does not become a rote, stultified experience. Ideally, we bring this power with us into how we show up in the world around us.

We know that this leave taking is multifaceted, as relevant to us on the personal level as it is on the collective. So how do we actualize this beautiful idea from the Mishnah on a personal level? Maybe we choose one thing this Pesach we yearn to break free from. Maybe we set modest goals for ourselves. My anxiety might not vanish overnight, perhaps, or perhaps this one gnarly habit I have will remain with me. Yet, I can set an intention to embody the liberative possibility of choosing to live or act or show up in a unique way.

I can spiritually imagine and embody a future rich with the possibility of reemergence and rebirth by recalling that I, too, left Egypt, and so did we all. Our sederim are not meant to be rote, tired exercises in reciting lines that may not have meaning for us. They are, instead, about embodying the theological radicalism of our tradition. We move from degradation to praise, from narrowness to expanse in every generation, in large ways and in small ways. May it be so.

Shabbat HaChodesh 5782

I wish to dedicate this dvar Torah to the memory of Sheryl Grossman. Her love of Torah and her steadfast, unapologetic commitment to justice for people with disabilities will remain with me always. She taught me that one could both be a lover of Torah and a fighter for justice for those most marginalized. Her legacy will continue. One of her oft-repeated sayings will never leave me. “My mouth is my biggest organ and I’m not afraid to use it.” May Sheryl’s memory always be for a blessing, amein v’amein.


This Shabbat has the dual distinction of being both Rosh Chodesh and the first of the month of Nisan, as well as Shabbat HaChodesh, the Shabbat on which the 12th chapter of the Book of Exodus is read. This chapter establishes Nisan as the first of the months of the year and describes the preparations the children of Israel made to leave Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim is understood in Jewish tradition as both a literal and metaphorical place. The Exodus narrative is so central to Jewish collective memory that we recall it every single day, multiple times a day. We recall our ancestors’ journey out of the Land of Egypt as a transformative moment in our becoming as a people. Simultaneous to this, Mitzrayim, which is derived from the Hebrew word meaning narrowness or narrow place is understood to be a spiritual location. When we journey out of the narrow place and are answered or met with a wide expanse, as we sing joyfully in Psalm 118, we experience liberation in multiple realms.

The command given to the children of Israel to establish the calendar, and particularly the month of Nisan as the beginning of the liturgical year may be surprising to those who think of the Jewish year as beginning with Rosh Hashanah. Judaism in fact has four new years. Rosh Hashanah, the 1st, and 2nd of Tishrei marks the calendrical new year. Nisan marks the new year for kings and for festivals. Liturgically, Pesach is the first holiday of the new year. I often like to think of the preparations for Pesach as spiritually paralleling the month of Elul and the cleansing that leads us to the Yamim Noraim.

Pesach is often thought of as a stressful period, focused on seder planning, food shopping and removal of chametz or leaven from our homes and other spaces. These tangible stressors can make it hard to set one’s heart and mind towards Pesach and its themes of justice, freedom, and liberation. It’s a deep irony that the preparation often leaves no energy for the deep celebration that this time calls us to do.

Many of us may also be grappling with difficult interpersonal dynamics this time of year. These are heightened in this liminal period. The pandemic is ongoing. Some of us joyfully anticipate our first in person sederim since 2019. Others of us may be feeling increasingly isolated and left behind, feeling like the world has moved on without us because we cannot yet be in person with others without tremendous risk to ourselves and our loved ones. We may feel like we don’t matter, are unimportant, are acceptable losses.

As we read this pivotal Torah portion, we may notice that the Pesach sacrifice was offered by every family. One can imagine the anticipation and anxiety. The bags are packed and metaphorically piled at the door, ready to go on a moment’s notice. And indeed, we left with such great haste that we didn’t have time for our dough to rise, hence why we eat matzah. Every household made an offering. Not just those with large families and circles of friends. Every single person was an integral part of this collective experience. The Torah even states that if a single household is too small for a sacrifice on its own, they should join together with neighboring households.

The rabbis, who crafted the Haggadah with great precision stipulated that recounting the story of the Exodus from Mitzrayim was so central that everyone is meant to take part, whether they are by themselves, or with just a few others, or in a larger group. The ways we observe communally can bring with them much joy, strength and blessing. They can also leave many feeling isolated, outside of the experience. Let us remember that praiseworthy is the one who recounts the story of the Exodus out of Mitzrayim in all the ways that we do so. May this Pesach be a liberating one for all.

Changing Ourselves To Change The World

This essay first appeared in Chaver Up! 49 Rabbis Explore What It Means To Be an Ally Through a Modern Jewish Lens, edited by Rabbi
Sharon Kleinbaum and Rabbi Mike Moskowitz.


One of the central motifs in the Pesach seder is our journey from degradation to praise, from narrowness to expansiveness, from slavery to freedom. We are now b’midbar, in the wilderness, making our way to Sinai, to covenant and to radical collectivity. We were all at Sinai, every Jewish soul past, present and future, beyond the limitations of time and space to receive Torah. We heard the aleph in anochi—I—all together and separately in a way we could understand. This is why, as we learn repeatedly in rabbinic tradition, the Torah has seventy faces, infinite interpretive possibilities. G-d desires all of us to receive Torah, to be met by Torah and to be in relationship with these sacred instructions, all the while knowing that our relationships with that instruction—Torah in its broadest definition—are as varied as we are.

This sounds quite lofty and abstract—being met by The Devine? Radical relationship? How are we, how am I, supposed to live that out if I am someone who has been cast aside, wounded by that Torah that I am told is a Torat Chayyim—a life-giving Torah? In a world in which the examples of religious leaders misusing, abusing, and weaponizing Torah against those who are marginalized is legion and unfortunately always growing or so it seems, thinking about allyship as a spiritual practice rings hollow. Knowing just how profound alienation from religious community is for folks who have been and are now marginalized and knowing my own human limitations, how do I live out this aspirational practice authentically?


My teacher, Rabbi David Jaffe in his book Changing the World from the Inside Out challenges us to encounter the self through deeply-rooted Jewish spiritual and ethical practice as a means of building a resilient inner core, which anchors us in a profoundly uncertain and destabilizing world. We cannot change the world, Rabbi Jaffe claims, if we aren’t working on internal change.

Too often, allyship becomes performative—a title we ascribe to ourselves and not a posture of profound humility we earn over time through authentic partnership, radical listening and embracing the notion, which is anathema in a Western cultural context utterly obsessed with knowledge gathering and action that we in fact don’t know everything. We have so much to learn from others we too often ignore because, though we may not admit this to ourselves, we fall into the trap of assuming that our educational attainments, or class, or our race, or our ability status allows us to have an objective view on what others need, those who are “less fortunate”. They don’t have all of the information they need to make impactful decisions for their lives and communities. Radical listening and accepting just how little we know allows us to turn this notion on its head. We are aware that we hold a piece of the tapestry of the human experience. We also know that ours is not the finishing piece of the puzzle. So much Torah has yet to be revealed to us. Or, perhaps, G-d is desperately trying to make known to us through encounters and events in our lives that Torah which we refuse to uncover because it shakes us, challenges us, asks us to let go of biases we may desperately wish we didn’t hold because we are good people after all. I believe that we have unfortunately ascribed a moral judgement to the inevitability of holding unconscious negative bias. We have all grown up in cultural contexts that had imbedded within them ideas about people of all sorts. Messaging that we receive is so subconscious that it takes years of conscious unlearning and relearning to rewire our neural pathways. Spiritual practice is not about the destination. Though we are heading towards a mountaintop moment, ours is a spirituality rooted in the sanctification of the everyday. As we unlearn, we re-learn. None of us is free of unconscious negative bias. Our task as spiritual practitioners are to deepen our inner awareness so that we show up with the most authenticity we can in our external reality.

I fear that we have become so focused on wokeness, on knowing the right language, reading the right books, hearing the right speakers that we are neglecting the reality that we are constantly a work in progress. G-d is infinite, we are finite. If we don’t allow ourselves to learn not merely to learn but also to put our learning into action, we will forever be caught in the self-defeating trap of fearing doing the wrong thing so much that we become frozen, unable to act at all.

With gentleness and compassion, Rabbi Jaffe invites us to explore our growing edges through Mussar and the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. A particularly impactful piece of his work for me is his teachings about bitachon—trust. There is no doubt that bitachon is a tough bridge to cross. Social change and good allyship is about action, about using my voice, my resources to stand alongside communities who are too often silenced. Isn’t bitachon a passive act? In fact, bitachon is precisely the opposite. Trusting that I hold what is mine to hold and that I am able to be in radical collaborative relationship with others allows me to remember, always, that I am part of that which is greater than myself. Allyship is not about the ego or escapism. Rather, it is about doing my own work through daily cheshbon hanefesh—soul accounting or another spiritual discipline so that I can show up most humbly in my external work. If my internal reality is consumed by a ceaseless need for self-gratification, I am stuck in an avdut consciousness. I have not made that journey as we are invited to during the seder from narrowness to expansiveness. I know both from personal experience and from the experiences of others that those who are not working on themselves but are seeking some external validation through allyship are some of the greatest impediments to meaningful social transformation. Human beings are not revolution objects, not canvases on which we thrust our baggage. If I am to be an ally in the deepest sense, I must never forget that I, being created in the Image of G-d am radically meeting another being created in G-d’s image, as inherently beloved as I am. Giving myself space to grow, to try something and not succeed, to learn from my mistakes allows the spiritual practice of allyship to be made that much more manifest. As the Psalmist teaches in Psalms 16:8, I keep the Divine before me, always. It is not upon me, as we learn in Perkei Avot to complete the work, but I am neither free to desist from it. Just as Shabbat is a container for the world as it should be, allowing us to taste a moment of redemption each week, so, too, is allyship a sacred container, allowing us to radically encounter the other and the self, remembering, always, that we are all interconnected one with another.