8th Day Pesaḥ - 2016 - 5776

Post date: Apr 28, 2016 3:21:54 PM


This Shabbat marks the last day of Pesaḥ. After the weeks of building up, the long sedarim, and afflicting ourselves with matzah for eight days, we finally reach the end of this Ḥag (pilgrimage holiday). The Torah readings this week come from Bamidbar and Devarim (Numbers and Deuteronomy), talking about the feast of Pesaḥ and how it is to be celebrated. This reading also includes the commandment to count the Omer – shiva shavu’ot tisper lach – seven weeks shall you count. And, with this commandment, we move seamlessly into the next season of Ḥag – the buildup to Shavu’ot. First, though, we have a final thought from the Torah on the celebration of z’man chayru’tay’nu, the time of our freedom.

Every one of us is commanded to participate in the celebration of Pesaḥ – “your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite that is within your gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are in the midst of thee,” (Deuteronomy 16:11). How is this possible? Certainly not everyone can afford a Passover offering and a feast, as Devarim commands in previous p’sukim (verses). Even more so, the Torah tells us that all the Israelite men have to go to “makom asher yiv’char” – a place that God will choose – and they must not arrive “reykam” – empty. So, every single Israelite and all who are nearby must find a way to observe the Passover sacrifice and feast, and all the males must go wherever God says and not arrive empty-handed. This is certainly a tall order from a people who were largely subsistence farming and herding sheep.

But verse 17 gives us the guidance for how we must approach this command. “Ish, k’matnat yado, k’virkat adonai elokecha asher natan lach” – translated by Mechon Mamre as: "every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which he has given you." Literally, the phrase “ish, k’matnat yado” translates to “a man, according to the gift of his hand.” Rashi’s simple comment on this passage is that a person with a large family and many economic resources should bring many burnt offerings and many peace offerings. This passuk, though, is much more than a simple accounting for how many lambs a rich family should bring. This passuk speaks to a foundational idea throughout the holiday of Pesaḥ.

Pesaḥ, at its core, requires us to understand and honor the situation and life circumstances of those who are other.

The Haggadah commands that “in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself (lirot et atzmo) as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt.” The Haggadah further requires us to lessen our joy in order to make tangible the suffering of the Egyptians during the plagues. Here, in Devarim, the holiday of Pesaḥ commands us to know and to honor what each individual can contribute to a community’s celebration.

The Rabbis further explain how critical it is to truly understand the experience of another. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, also known as the Chiddushei HaRim, commented that the ninth plague of darkness was not just the pitch blackness, or even the sandstorm, as it is often thought to be. Rather, Rav Alter states that “the greater darkness is when a man does not see his neighbor and does not sympathize with his pain.” When one cannot see and understand the plight of another human being – that is the greatest darkness we can encounter. If we are not able to honor and respect each individual for who they are, their place in the world, and what they can contribute, we find ourselves in the midst of a plague.

While many Jewish holidays call on us to help others – give tzedakah, give matanot l’evyonim – Pesaḥ does not. Rather, what we are commanded to do on Pesaḥ is to remember yitzi’at mitzrayim (leaving Egypt) as though we ourselves had experienced it. Literally, we are commanded to take the perspective of another and see the world through their eyes. Similarly, the parsha this week requires us to not only see the perspective of another, but to honor what that person is able to do. We may not believe it to be significant – perhaps we are the rich family of whom Rashi speaks. To us, one lamb is nothing – an insult, even, to say that this is the entirety of our Pesaḥ korban (sacrifice/contribution). However, to some families, one lamb is all they have saved for the full year leading to Pesaḥ, just to have something – anything – to bring to the Beit Ha’Mikdash (Holy Temple).

Two important lessons come from this: acceptance of others and acceptance of ourselves.

It may be easier for those of us who live comfortably to understand and respect the contributions of those of us who live with very few means. But there are times and situations where we all fall into the judgmental mindset of thinking that our own contribution is more significant, that our personal sacrifice is greater, or that others don’t really get it. Perhaps it is our profession that we studied long and hard to enter, perhaps our relationship that we have fought for through the worst of circumstances, our physical health that we maintain with a strict diet and rigorous exercise, or our children whom we poured our heart and soul into in order to see them succeed.

These things allow us to feel great pride, and rightly so. However, there are times when we, needing to feel our sacrifices are worthwhile, look down on others who have a different career, have fallen out of a relationship, who struggle to maintain good health, or whose children are on different paths from our own. When we feel that judgment enter our minds, we must stop and remember that each person brings what they are able. And if that is all God asks, who are we to ask for more?

Conversely, some of us judge ourselves far more harshly than we judge others. We see our own contributions, perhaps even see ourselves, as not enough or not worthy. We might see our child struggling and perhaps accuse ourselves for failing them. We torture ourselves for all those things we have not been able to accomplish. These feelings can be difficult, to the point of being debilitating. But here, the words “ish k’matnat yado” should comfort us, can give us strength. Our contribution is not some absolute number, not a count of lambs. We give according to our circumstances, and that is good enough for God. And if that is good enough for God, surely we can also accept ourselves for who we are.

The laws of Pesaḥ teach us that in order to maintain our own freedom, we must see the world from the perspective of others. In that way, they not only ask us to respect the dignity of others, but they also encourage us to look inward and to treat ourselves with compassion.

Shabbat shalom and Ḥag Kasher v'Sameaḥ,

Yvonne Asher, Samuel Asher