by Rabbi Kliel Rose
(EJNews) – On Passover, we gather together around our Seder tables, enjoying the company of our fellow Seder participants, delicious foods, familiar melodies, readings and learning new ideas through meaningful conversation. As we celebrate this sacred time, let us not lose sight of one of the most critical aspects of this revered holiday.
During the Seder experience we are guided by the Haggadah, the creative and highly venerated prayer booklet we depend on to allow us to get through the entirety of the Seder. Regardless of our preferred version of the Haggadah (because there is a wide array of Haggadot now available to us that we can utilize) when we arrive at the Maggid many of us will recite in Aramaic these potent yet, difficult words to fully comprehend:
“Ha lakhma anya, di akhalu avhatana, b’ara d’mitzrayim. Kol dichfin yetei v’yeichol, kol ditzrich yeitei v’yifsach. Hashata hacha, l’shanah haba’ah b’arah d’yisrael. Hashata avdei, l’shanah haba’ah b’nei chorin.”
“This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are needy come and celebrate Passover. Now we are here; next year may we be in the Land of Israel. Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.”
Of all the words in this most poignant statement we read Kol dichfin yeitei v’yeichol — “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”
That is an unbelievably weighty statement to make. What exactly is our intention when we read this proclamation out loud at our Seder tables?
Rabbi Joshua Feigelson, an American Open-Orthodox rabbi writes: “The power of story and symbol can illuminate those things we prefer, consciously or unconsciously, to keep in the dark. It leads to empathy.”
If empathy is the goal, how do we really implement that into the experience we have at this sanctified moment of Passover? What’s more, do we really mean that anyone who is hungry, at that very immediate time, is invited to join us? Furthermore, if we take this statement literally at what personal cost are we willing to go to ensure that all who are hungry are fed and supported?
As Rabbi Feigelson suggests, “Let all who are hungry come and eat, has come to be understood as referring to people who are spiritually hungry, just as those who are oppressed within Mitzrayim (Egypt) become people who are confined within the narrow straits (meitzarim) of lack of authenticity”.
I appreciate Rabbi Feigelson’s attempt to spiritualize this idea but I think the thrust of this statement is highly practical in nature. How can a holiday of freedom be celebrated if there are still some in our community who are not free?
If we see this as compelling imperative that fundamentally requires a little discomfort on the part of those who are financially more equipped how can we best honour the meaning behind the concept of “let all who are hungry come and eat”?
It is possible that there may be a number of practical ways we can truly make this possible. I want to suggest just one way. Here I do not want to advocate for closing a blind eye to poverty or closing ourselves off conveniently to those individuals who are impoverished. However, allow me to be fair and pragmatic –there are potentially serious concerns and significant consequences of inviting strangers that we are not familiar with into our homes. Accordingly, instead of removing ourselves from the obligation implicit in this evocative verse we might want to consider fulfilling this part of the Seder experience by supporting the communal Seders which are substantially being sponsored by the Jewish Family Services here in our city.
Every year, Beth Israel and Beth Shalom host communal S’darim (each congregation hosts a Seder on a separate day). By and large many of the people who join us are those who are supported by the kindness of Edmonton’s Jewish Family Services. (JFS) encourages folks with limited financial resources to attend, though certainly not all in attendance fit in this category.
Even if we personally cannot make it to any of these Seders, each one of us in some small measure can help underwrite part of this expense so that more people can attend a Seder.
As we sit at our Seder tables enjoying the company of our loved ones, let us also hope for a time when all who are hungry will eat as free people. Not taking any kind of action in the direction of enabling those who are less fortunate is an offense to this central theme of Passover.
On behalf of my family I would like to wish our entire Jewish community a Chag Kasher V’Sameach, a Kosher (literally and spiritually) and joyous Passover.
Rabbi Kliel Rose is the Rabbi at Beth Shalom Synagogue in Edmonton.