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Last Day of Pesach 5779 — 04/27/2019

Last Day of Pesach 5779 — 04/27/2019

Acharon shel Pesach

This Shabbat is the last day of Pesach outside of the Land of Israel. In the Land of Israel, where Pesach is celebrated only for the Biblically mandated 7 days, Friday is the last day of Pesach and this Shabbat will be Shabbat Acharei Mot. We will not be back in sync until August 3rd, when we read the last (double) portion of Sefer Bamidbar, viz. Matot-Masei and in Eretz Yisrael they just read Masei. Everyone reads Devarim (the first parashah of Sefer Devarim) on August 10th, which is Tisha B’Av (the fast is observed on Sunday, August 11th). Parashat Devarim is always read the Shabbat before (or of) Tisha B’Av. It is called Shabbat Chazon after the first word of the Haftarah, which describes the vision (chazon) of Isaiah (1:1-27) where he laments the destruction of the Temple. But that is a discussion for another day.

R. Goldin does not have chapters on the holidays, so I will use R. Jonathan Sacks’ recent book, Ceremony and Celebration, although I will barely scratch the surface of what he has to say. Needless to say, don’t blame anything on R. Sacks or R. Goldin!

Each of the “Five Megillot” is associated with a particular holy day – Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) with Pesach, Ruth with Shavuot, Eichah (Lamentations) with Tisha B’Av, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) with Sukkot and Esther with Purim. Shir haShirim is a love story – it is, at times, so frankly erotic that it was almost excluded from the canon, until the great R. Akiva came and proclaimed that if the rest of Tanach was holy, Shir haShirim was the Holy of Holies. Rashi’s commentary on it is wholly allegorical – he sees the entire book as a parable of Gd’s love affair with the Jewish people, and their response to Gd. Why is it associated with Pesach?

R. Sacks explains:

Love creates. Love reveals. Love redeems. Love is the connection between Gd and us. That is the faith of Judaism, and if we do not understand this we will not understand it at all. We will, for example, fail to realize that the demands Gd makes of His people through the prophets are expressions of love, that what Einstein called Judaism’s “almost fanatical love of justice” is about love no less than justice, that the Torah is Gd’s marriage contract with the Jewish people, and the mitzvot are all invitations to love: I seek You with all my heart; do not let me stray from Your commands (Ps 119:10)

R. Sacks goes on to describe the prophecy of Hosea, and to connect it to the Exodus:

The story Hosea has to tell is extraordinary. Gd appears to him and tells him to marry a prostitute, a woman who will bear him children but will be unfaithful to him. Gd wants the prophet to know what it feels like to love and to be betrayed. The prophet, uncertain perhaps about whether the children are in fact his, is to call the “Unloved” and “Not my people.”
   He will then discover the power and persistence of love. He will wait until his wife is abandoned by all her lovers, and he will take her back, despite her betrayal. He will love her children, whatever his doubts about their parentage. He will change their names to “My people” and “Beloved.” He will, in other words, know from his own experience what Gd feels about the Israelites. It is an astonishing and daring narrative, suggesting as it does that Gd cannot, will not, cease to love His people. He has been hurt by them, wounded by their faithlessness, but His love is inextinguishable. Hosea then hears Gd say this:
   I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. (Hos 2:16-17)
   This is a retelling of the Exodus as a love story. In Hosea’s vision, it has become something other and more than the liberation of a people from slavery. Israel left Egypt like a bride leaving the place where she has lived to accompany her new husband, Gd, on a journey to the new home they will build together.

Love is that which unites. It is Gd’s love for Israel that keeps us bound to Him, in orbit around Gd no matter how elliptical that orbit might be. Our own love for Gd, like everything else that is not Gd, is imperfect. That imperfection is what keeps us in orbit around Gd, rather than spiraling in like a spent satellite, to have our individual existence burnt up in the fire of Gd’s infinite Being. But, to restate the question we raised last week, why is there individuality to begin with? R. Sacks continues:

Why would an infinite Gd create a finite universe? … Gd transcends nature. Why then would He create nature? Why make a creature as troublesome as Homo sapiens, the one being capable of defying His Will?
The Torah does not give an explicit answer, but one is implicit. Gd loves. Love seeks otherness. Love is emotion turned outward. Love seeks to give, to share, to create. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg translated the repeated phrase in Genesis I not as “Gd saw that it was good” but as “Gd saw because He is good.” Goodness creates goodness. Love creates life. Gd sought to bestow the gift of being on beings other than Himself. We exist and the universe exists because Gd loves.

I love this explanation. It explains, from our perspective, how we even exist. And we must take this perspective, because if we don’t exist, who is asking the question? But what about Gd’s perspective, to the extent that we can grasp or know that perspective? A wise man once noted that “all love is directed to the self.” On the human level, we love something or someone because it expands us. From Gd’s perspective, the statement is almost tautological – there is nothing but Gd; what “other” is there to which He can direct His love. But Gd, loving Himself, takes on the roles of Lover and Beloved – the dance, the call and response, between the Lover and Beloved is then an internal dynamic within Gd. Shir haShirim is then the Holy of Holies because it is a model of the internal dynamics within Gd by which creation appears. Gd the Lover and Gd the Beloved are never apart, never separate from one another; Gd’s love is never unrequited. The Exodus story of departure and return is just a projection of Gd’s perfection on our imperfect plane.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Pesach VIII

As we approach the concluding day of Pesach (Passover), we read about the splitting of the Red Sea”. Water often symbolizes Consciousness; in this case we have a progression: Leaving Egypt (Mitzraim: Restrictions), our ancestors entered Midbar (Wilderness, Transcendent) and now they are crossing Yam Suf (usually called in English, the Red Sea, but perhaps better translated as “Sea of Reeds”), symbolizing the liveliness within the Transcendent that serves as a link between Midbar (Transcendent) and Canaan (Synchronicity, the Promised Land). The need to split the sea indicates that the link is clogged and since the clog is at a very deep level, within the Transcendent, it requires a power at a still deeper level to unclog it. In fact, it requires Gd, who is beyond all levels—all levels exist in Gd; all levels are Expressions of Gd.

In our lives the message is clear: to free ourselves of the suffering that comes from living a life completely within limits, within restrictions, we need to experience their unlimited source, the Transcendent. To do this we need to find within ourselves a quality of leadership and dedication, a Moses, that is connected to Wholeness, to Gd.
Although many of us have a flash of this leadership, this connection, for most of us some outside guidance is needed to make the flashes a full, consistent deepening experience.

Our religion can do this. But for our religion to be an actual working religion, not just sounds and theory, we need a guide, someone who has traversed our religion’s range and experienced fulfillment, teshuvah, return to Gd, return to One.

Not so many such people seem to be around and finding them is not so easy so we do our best to find people who are wiser than we are who can guide us to make progress in finding more wisdom within ourselves and finding people who are somewhat wiser than that. Then, if we are fortunate, deserving someone appears who can guide us all the way. Perhaps that someone is intuition within ourselves, perhaps someone outside, perhaps a combination.

Step by step, we learn to become more attuned to life, to Gd’s Will, to transcend limitations and to unclog the link between the Transcendence and the Full Experience of One, the Synchronicity that is Canaan, the Promised Land. This Synchronicity dissolves the stress and suffering in the limits of daily life, reveals the Transcendent within them, and enables us to live our daily life as diverse and synchronized experiences of Fulfillment—as life in the Promised Land.

Our Beth Shalom congregation shows many signs of Love and Joy, of Fulfillment. for which we are all quite grateful and do our best to grow still more and to share with each other and with everybody as we progress.

Thank You, Gd!

Baruch HaShem