Learning from God to Anticipate the Reactions of Others

Learning from God to Anticipate the Reactions of Others

Apr 2, 2021 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Pesah

Why do we eat matzah on Passover? According to the instructions that God conveyed to Israel prior to the Exodus we eat matzah because we are commanded: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread (matzot)” (Exod. 12:15). However, according to Exod. 12:39, where the narrative of the events is related, we eat matzah because the Israelites, having been driven out of Egypt, were unable to linger to allow time for the dough to rise: “And they baked unleavened cakes (matzot) . . . because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry.” If so, why does the Torah present the mitzvah (the command) before the Exodus has actually taken place? 

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A Holiday of Contradictory Emotions

A Holiday of Contradictory Emotions

Mar 26, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

Preparing to celebrate our second Pesah under the grip of a global pandemic, our hearts are filled with both sadness and hope. No one has been untouched by COVID-19. We’re grieving a loved one, friend, or neighbor whose life was cut short. We’re experiencing its social and economic toll—overtaxed first responders, teachers, and food providers; overwhelming social isolation; devastating financial insecurity—all exacerbated by underlying inequities. Thankfully, millions have received the vaccine, though many have yet to receive it, and new variants temper our expectations.

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JTS Seder Supplement for the COVID-19 Pandemic

JTS Seder Supplement for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Apr 6, 2020 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Collected Resources | Pesah

Selected thoughts on the Haggadah in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

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Passover in the Time of Coronavirus

Passover in the Time of Coronavirus

Apr 3, 2020 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

What a difference a year makes—or a week, or a day. Last year at this time, reflecting on a period of rising anti-Semitism in America and Europe, I wrote that “discussion at your seder table will be different from all Passovers past.” This year, many of those discussions will happen virtually, and attendance at physical seder tables will likely be limited to close family or friends. Many people may be sitting at the seder table alone. The plague is upon us, striking every part of the world without regard to national border or religion. The holiday will not be the same, because we are not the same.

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Matzah’s Majestic Meaning

Matzah’s Majestic Meaning

Apr 8, 2020 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Pesah

I don’t know why we ask the first of the four seder questions—“On all other nights we eat both hametz and matzah but on this night only matzah.” The Ha lahma anya paragraph that immediately precedes the questions already answers it. The opening words, “this is the bread of affliction (lahma anya in the Aramaic) that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt,” suggest that the Israelite slaves in Egypt, who presumably had no time to bake bread, ate matzah. And that is why we eat matzah on Passover. So why ask the first question?

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Fear and Faith at the Exodus

Fear and Faith at the Exodus

Apr 25, 2019 By Lilly Kaufman | Commentary | Pesah

As they cross the Sea of Reeds and see the advancing Egyptian army behind them, the Israelites feel terror and cry out to God for help in Exodus 14:10. But in the next two verses they reject God’s wondrous efforts to bring them out of Egypt. The people ask for help and then reject it. Do they want God’s help or not? 

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A Spiritual Caution for This Season

A Spiritual Caution for This Season

Apr 19, 2019 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Pesah

The Shulhan Arukh—the 16th-century law code that serves as the essential scaffolding for the Jewish legal system—introduces its discussion of the holiday of Passover with the Talmudic prescription:

We ask and inquire about the laws of Passover 30 days before the beginning of the Passover holiday. (OH 429:1, BT Pesahim 6a)

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1530-1572) immediately comments on this law:

It is a custom to buy wheat and distribute it to the poor for the needs of Passover.

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Passover after Pittsburgh

Passover after Pittsburgh

Apr 12, 2019 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Whether you are a twenty-something, a Millennial, a Boomer, or a member of the Greatest Generation; whether you are attending your first Passover seder this year or the latest in a long line of sedarim, chances are good that the discussion at your seder table will be different from all Passovers past. The Jewish community of North America has markedly changed since last Passover, shaken to its core by the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and a significant spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States as well as in Europe that seem part of a larger outburst of racism and prejudice. 

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Cantillation for Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth

Cantillation for Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth

Oct 23, 2018 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Prayer Recordings | Pesah | Shavuot | Sukkot

Recordings by Cantor Sarah Levine (CS ’17).

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Freedom through Torah

Freedom through Torah

Apr 5, 2018 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Pesah

“The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing, incised upon the tablets” (Exod. 32:17). Do not read, “incised,” (harut), rather [read] “freedom” (herut)—for no person is truly free except the one who labors in Torah. (Mishnah Avot 6:2)

Freedom in biblical and rabbinic Judaism is a highly complex idea. Consider the mishnah above. At first glance one might think the law, the Ten Commandments carved on the two tablets, would be limiting, constraining human freedom. Counterintuitively, the Sages argue that true freedom only comes from an engagement with Torah! How might “laboring in Torah” and living a life according to the demands of the Torah induce freedom?

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