Rabbi's Reflections - The Lessons Of Your Seder Table

  • March 01, 2013

    A few weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a lunch at Temple Emanuel with Mark Hetfield. (A special thank you to Helen and Frank Risch.) Mark is the President and CEO of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that has been in existence since 1881. For the past 132 years HIAS has assisted more than four and a half million people worldwide! Ready to assist refugees and immigrants of all backgrounds, HIAS has touched most every Jewish family worldwide—from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. When no one else would offer assistance HIAS was present, making sense out of the nightmare that defined one harrowing refugee experience after another.  Thirty-six times in the Torah (twice “chai”) we are reminded “ki gerim heyitem b’eretz mitzrayim” — “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” “V’atem yidatem et hanefesh ha’ger” — "Never shall you forget the plight of the stranger, for you who were oppressed and discriminated shall always remember to empathize and sympathize with the needy."   Are Jews supposed to be liberals or conservatives? Everyone seems to have an answer to this question. One thing is abundantly clear—to be a “good” Jew is to live with a sense of compassion. To be a good Democrat or Republican is to hear the plea of those in need. To close our ears to the needs of those around us and hide behind the cloak of a political party is to be dishonest to our Jewish roots.  The Passover Seder table arguably presents our greatest opportunity to impart values. Seated around us are generations of our families, our closest friends, acquaintances, and business associates. At what other time do we have the attention of each other, seated at our dinner tables and waiting to receive a lesson? It is an extraordinary opportunity. . .take advantage of it!

    The late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik used to say, “The enslavement in Egypt taught the Jew ethical sensitivity, what it truly means to be a Jew. It sought to transform the Jew into a ‘rachaman,’ one possessing a heightened form of ethical sensitivity and responsiveness.”  There isn’t a person at our table too young or too old to hear these teachings. From our Hesed Committee at the shul, to Jewish Family Services in our Jewish community, to the countless extraordinary deeds of loving kindness that are done every day in Israel, to the good offices of the United Way, our world is filled with so many good people; and yet we need more. We need leaders. Use your time at the seder this year to inspire. The core values associated with the seder identify some of the most important virtues a human being can aspire to. Let us begin to turn the tide on this vicious political world in which we often find ourselves. To be compassionate and empathetic is not limited to outspoken Democrats or Republicans. It is not limited to the Jewish people. It is our responsibility to be teachers of these values, to be models of these virtues, and to demonstrate to others that we can no longer afford to accept the callousness of so many who refuse to remember the past—too many of our families were the beneficiaries of immigrant aid all over the world to forget the lesson that touched each and every one of us.  May your Pesach table serve as a source of inspiration, inspiring those at your table to carry the lessons of your table with them. May the sensitivity and empathy expressed on every page of the Haggadah be translated by each and every one of us into real life lessons for today.

    Wende, Danielle, Jordana, and Adina join me in extending our warmest regards to you and your family for a meaningful and joyous Pesach—Hag Kasher v'Sameah.

    Rabbi Stefan J. Weinberg