Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Torah Portion:  Pesach — 1st day

April 20, 2019  |  15/Nissan/5779

Brainstorming with Baars
The Seder to Set you Free
by Rabbi Stephen Baars
Each Jewish holiday is a lesson in life.
On Sukkot, we learn about joy in life. On Rosh Hashana, it’s goals. Yom Kippur is about learning from our mistakes. Passover is all about freedom.
It’s the type of freedom that has given the Jewish people it s power to survive and to thrive. It’s not a freedom of the body as much as a freedom of the spirit. And this same freedom is available at Passover to help you achieve whatever you want. A person with true freedom knows no bounds. They are free to change themselves and change the world!
Passover is a “virtual reality experience” in freedom — and the Haggadah is our guidebook. The Seder reenacts the transformation of leaving Egypt, from slavery to freedom. Through this reenactment, we can achieve for ourselves what the Jewish people achieved 3,500 year ago. That freedom brought about the greatest and longest standing empire in the world’s history. Not an empire of space but an empire of thought — Jewish thought. The story of Passover is the story of the beginnings of the Jewish people, a people that set out to form a new world order with a new morality and new concepts of life.
The old world was a pagan one, where war and violence were not only ways of life but often national pastimes. The world the Jews ushered in includes ideas with which we are all familiar — equal rights, universal education, social responsibility, and peace for mankind.  Passover is a mind holiday. Slavery takes many forms; not all shackles are made of iron. We have to become free — not from a physical oppressor, but from a spiritual, mental one. It’s ideas that enslave us. Pressures, self-imposed limits — all these are in our mind.
Once slavery becomes a way of life, the slave may even become unaware of his own servitude. That’s why the Haggadah encourages us to ask questions to exercise our mind. So as you encounter questions throughout the Haggadah, take them seriously. Try to answer them, and encourage others to ask more questions.
You just don’t know which question you are going to ask (or be asked) that will set you free.
Give each of the guests some candies before the Seder starts, so that they can toss at whoever asks a good question. This is a particularly effective way of keeping children interested.
The key is that the Seder should be relevant, not dry and boring. Read ahead, familiarize yourself with the text and look for interesting questions to discuss during the Seder. Circle those points you want to read out during the Seder and write in your own comments.
Discuss the ideas in a deep and meaningful way. Don’t just rush through the text in order to get to the meal. One good way to start your Seder is by asking everyone to recollect their childhood experiences of what their Seder was like. The Seder is so meaningful that the experience you had as a child, even though at the time may have been boring to you, becomes a nostalgic memory, like a conversation with a
loved one.
That’s because it was, and is. It’s a conversation with your inner self. If you are thinking at the Seder, then the Haggadah seminar is sure to show you how to let yourself be truly free.

Between the Lines
by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg
Why is this Exile Different?
One of the most famous elements of the Passover Seder is the “Ma Nishtana” paragraph, more commonly known as “The Four Questions.” After asking, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” the paragraph continues by listing four differences:
On all other nights we eat bread or matzah, but tonight we eat only matzah.
On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight we eat only marror (bitter herbs).
On all other nights we don’t dip our food even once, but tonight we dip it twice.
On all other nights we sit or recline at the table, but tonight we all recline.
It is generally assumed that the “Avadim Hayinu” (“We were slaves”) paragraph that follows the Four Questions is an explanation for the puzzling differences that have just been mentioned.
The commentator Ol’lot Ephraim offers a different approach to understanding the Four Questions. He notes that the Torah often uses the words “night” and “day,” beyond their literal meanings, to hint to the concepts of exile and redemption. Based on this remark, we can understand the beginning of the Four Questions as actually asking, “Why is this exile different from all other exiles?”
We already know two elements that distinguish our current Jewish exile (now 2,000 years) from previous ones. First, it is much longer than any other exile we have experienced, and we also don’t know when it will end. (Previous generations in exile had prophets who could foresee when redemption would come.) Why is this exile so much longer than previous exiles, and why were we not informed of its end?

Elements of Exile
According to the Ol’lot Ephraim, the Four Questions are actually Four Answers to this single question regarding the exile. Each part addresses a different element of the Jewish people’s current situation:
Matzah, which contains only the simplest of ingredients (flour and water), represents unity. Leavened bread (chametz) contains many more ingredients. This represents many different opinions, which can lead to dissent and fragmentation. In all other exiles, we ate both matza and chametz; sometimes we were more unified, and sometimes we were less. Tonight, in this exile, the situation is different. We have so much fragmentation that we need to eat only matzah! We are so filled with chametz that we must eat matzah in order to counteract all the disunity around us.
Maror represents the pursuit of money and materialism. In all other exiles, people ate many different kinds of vegetables, meaning that they were able to get by with the bare necessities. Tonight, in this exile, we eat only maror, representing the bitterness of people who spend their lives chasing after material wealth. The Sages in Pirkei Avot say, “Who is rich? The one who is happy with his portion.” This exile is especially bitter because we are perpetually dissatisfied with what we have.
Dipping represents physical pleasures and passions. Previous generations were not as thoroughly directed by their passions as we are in this exile. In previous exiles, people didn’t dip their food even once. Tonight, in this exile, we dip it twice! We are steeped in a culture that glorifies the pursuit of pleasure.
Reclining represents pride and haughtiness. Previous generations either sat or reclined; at times, people were arrogant and other times people were humble. Tonight, in this exile, we all recline. We are so proud of our possessions and accomplishments, that we don’t even feel we are in exile.
Based on this approach, the “Avadim Hayinu” paragraph does not answer the Four Questions. Rather, it simply fulfills the Talmud’s requirement that the recounting of the Exodus story “begin by mentioning the Jewish people’s lowly state, and end with an outpouring of praise.”
May we all be blessed this Passover to climb the spiritual ladder of success that is outlined in the 15 stages of the Seder.
May we rid ourselves of disputes, materialism, passions and pride.
May we let go of all the spiritual impurity we have experienced during this long exile, and celebrate redemption by purging ourselves of the “Egypt” that has taken root within us.
Family Parsha
Use Your Abilities
by Rabbi Nesanel Yoel Safran
Different things are expected from different people. In this week’s parsha, we learn that God wants us to always try to do our best according to our abilities. Nothing more — and nothing less.
“Life’s a Picnic” 

Rebecca spread out the bright, red-checkered tablecloth on the ground and plunked down the cooler full of fresh made sandwiches and other goodies. She and her brother, Gary, had decided to take advantage of the beautiful early spring afternoon by going on a picnic in the woods behind their house.
“What’ll it be — cheese or peanut butter and jelly?” Rebecca asked.  Gary didn’t say anything. He just sat there rubbing his hand through the grass distractedly.
“Hellloo! Anybody home in there?”  “Huh?” Gary sputtered.  “I’m asking you what kind of sandwich you want.”  “Oh sorry, Becky. Doesn’t make a difference, whatever kind is fine.”
“Hey, what’s with you? Whenever we go on picnics, you usually dive into the cooler before I can even put it down, and today you’re Mr. Gloom and Doom,” she said as she set out the sandwiches and drinks, carefully checking the tablecloth for ants first.
Gary sighed. “Well I’m mad about the math mid-term test I brought home today.”
Rebecca shook her head. “You, the family brain, mad about a test? What happened? Did you only get a 99 instead of a 100 or something? Hey, these ants are everywhere, but at least they like my sandwiches.”
“Very funny,” Gary said. “No, what’s bothering me is that yesterday when Davy brought home his test from school, Mom and Dad made such a big thing out of it. Dad even said he was going to buy him a present. Now I bring home a test with the exact same grade — B+ — and all they said to me was ‘very nice,’ and acted like it was no big deal. It’s not fair!”
Rebecca crossed her arms and shook her head. “Come on Gary! How can you compare your test to Davy’s?”
“Why not?”  “Because Davy studied like crazy for that test. I even got up in the middle of the night once last week to get a drink and saw Davy still sitting at his desk with his math book! Between you and me, Gary, did you even take your math book out of you book bag once to study for that test?”  “Of course I did!” Gary protested.
“Really?” Becky said while giving him one of her x-ray vision stares.
“Okay, I admit it was on the bus ride to school on the day of the test, but still…”
The girl laughed, “So what do you expect? Let’s face it, nobody in the family is the math whiz you are. Davy worked really hard to get his grade, and you just coasted by. Of course Mom and Dad are going to make a bigger deal about his accomplishment.” She handed him a cup. “You want some ice-tea?”
“No thank you, I’m not thirsty. And by the way, you’re not being fair either. Is it my problem if the test was easier for me than it was for Davy? A B+ is a B+, and if we got the same grade, we deserve the same credit.” Gary suddenly stopped talking and his eyes grew wide. “Hey Becky, take a look at that ant!” he said pointing excitedly.  “I’ve seen more than enough today already, thank you.”  “No really, look. That one over there is dragging a whole blade of grass behind him. It must be ten times his size!”
Rebecca shrugged, plucked up a piece of grass from the ground and waved it in front of Gary’s face. “So what? I can also pick up a blade of grass. Why aren’t you getting goo-goo eyed over me?”  “Are you serious? That ant is tiny. For him, lifting a piece of grass is a big deal. For you it’s nothing.”
“But a blade of grass is a blade of grass. Is it my problem that I’m bigger than the ant?” Rebecca smiled and threw the piece of grass at her brother like a spear.
Gary quickly ducked to the side and laughed. “Okay, okay … I get your point. Davy should get more credit for working so hard to pass his test.”
“Great! Now if you don’t mind, can we please eat our sandwiches before these ants drag them away too?”
Discussion Questions 
Ages 3 – 5  How did Gary feel at first about the test he brought home?
Ages 6 – 9  Who should feel better: someone who succeeds at something without trying, or someone who tries his best but fails? Why?

Ages 10 and up  How can we know whether or not we are fulfilling our potential?

*  *  *
“I would rather think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to come together and make sense.”  — Rabbi Harold Kushner

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Sam picked up his wife Becky and their new baby from hospital and brought them home. It was not long before Becky suggested that Sam try his hand at changing a diaper.
“I’m busy,” he said. “I promise I’ll do the next one.”
The next time soon came around so Becky asked him again.
Sam looked at Becky and said, innocently, “I didn’t mean the next diaper, I meant the next baby.”

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