Home > Rabbi Rudolph > Passover: The Holiday of Stringencies
April 9, 2015
Definitely the important sermon for these days of Yom Tov was given yesterday.
Had few ideas for today – liked one about being thankful for what we have not focused on what we lack – but what you will actually hear as this morning’s “sermon” came as accident while preparing my sedarim, amongst the many papers from past sedarim I led was a fun second day drasha from 5761 (14 years ago –time of great turmoil at Beth El and a year before Rabbi Harris selected) but still relevant I think especially to second day Pesach crowd (more observant and more exhausted) Must have been bashert. Added to it from other readings and hopefully somewhat appropriate.
A common theme of my chag sermons has been one of the more troublesome and irritating issues in Jewish religious life today. The issue is the continual move to the right that produces halachic decisions that keep raising the bar and raising the feelings of illegitimacy or “why bother” among growing numbers of Jews. I alluded to this problem in a siyyum teaching back in the day, arguing for the Talmudic principle “A decree should not be imposed upon the community unless the majority of the community can follow it.” The stringencies (chumras)(vs. kulas which are leniencies) that we are seeing more and more often fly in the face of that principle, to the detriment of the majority. Just look on your box of perfectly pareve pretzels and wonder why there is an OU D. That’s just one little chumra from 14 years ago, and they abound.
What I want to offer today is in most ways a satire on the chumra fever that is gripping the religious world. Some creative minds, courtesy of the Internet, have proposed some new Chumra’s(stringencies) for Pesach, the holiday of chumras, and they are a delight. A delight because they are not meant to be taken seriously, though there will be some who will want to. And, if nothing else, you will brush up on your halachic vocabulary. These imaginary chumras will be followed by a nice reflection on a key Pesach ritual and one final little Pesach story coming out of England.
And now to the Chumra’s, ones you have never thought of I am sure – unless you have an excellent memory. They “come from” Rabbi Yisroel Grundfliegel SHLITA”H, a totally fictitious Self-Described Halachik Authority and Successful Lower East Side Real Estate Developer. Here are his halachik issues and decisions:
This concludes our issues for Pesach, says R. Grundfliegel. Please look for upcoming halachah bulletin’s [he assures us] dealing with following issues:
Rabbi Yisroel Grundfliegel
Let me share some words from my colleague R. Diane Cohen (Colonia NJ), in remarks she made a few years back:
Every year, I swear I’ll never do it again. Every year, it gets more and more difficult.
It used to be, I was surrounded by small children, dogs and hamsters. There
was help, someone to bring the dishes in from the garage, someone to help take them out again. I worked late into the night and I was tired, but the context was family and somehow I was all right.
Then I left [ I believe she is divorced and the kids by now grown up] and everything changed overnight.
I left the kids and the dogs and the hamsters and the support. And [then] my mother left me. Inone summer, my history disappeared.
Or so I thought.
So I’m standing here on my stepstool, going through the motions again. Except unlike the old days, in the house in the suburbs, I carry in and carry out by myself. There are fewer dishes, and fewer people to feed.
And unlike the old days in the suburbs, I have beautiful etched glass stemware and silverplated tableware and ancient ceramic dishes that serve only four (and even then missing a tea cup) – all my mother’s legacy. There’s the little brown teapot with the handpainted flowers. And the honey pot. And the strawberry jar.
And I realize that my history isn’t gone at all.
So while I tape the paper over the hametzdik glasses and cups to hide them,
and wonder why I keep doing this, I reflect on the quiet pleasure I find each year when I unpack the glass compote set and the matching glasses – all the vestiges of my childhood when everything seemed, to me at least, so simple and so safe. These are all old friends. It’s wonderful to greet them every year. [slow]
Passover isn’t an event. It’s a process. It’s the unfolding of memories, the rediscovering of old friends.
The liberation of Passover, that happens over and over again each year, is
the liberation from the bondage of the pain that is wrapped around each memory. How easy it would be to put the dishes and glasses and stemware away, never look, never be reminded of the sweet times I remember. The walnuts and hazelnuts floating in Manischewitz concord grape, not during the seder but watching TV two days later. The taste of my mother’s sponge cake with Swee-Touch-Nee Tea. The gefilte fish and carrot slices, icy cold and freshly made the day before. And the warmth and security I took for granted.
I am free now to remember without too many tears. And the tears are from happiness as much as they are from sadness – for they are the tears of one blessed to have had those memories. I was lucky then and I am lucky now, to have the memories to unpack with my mother’s things every Passover.
So I will continue to pack them away and unpack them again, and rediscover these old friends, friends I would take for granted if they were with me every day of the year. And I will be grateful for the tears I shed when I see them each spring, for the freedom to choose to bring them out again, [ slow] for the freedom to choose my burdens, and for the freedom to love my burdens.
And now to conclude with a little story from England. Robert Winston was the son of a town mayor, his grandfather was a rabbi. He became a world-renowned gynecologist, TV personality and member of the British House of Lords. His mother once told a friend of a rabbi friend of mine that every year her aunts would come to them for Seder and make a thorough inspection of the house [looking for chometz]. Imagine the chutzpah, but they did it anyway. One year, on the day before Pesach, just before inspection time the bowl in the toilet cracked and water poured out everywhere, and they had to call in workmen to install a new one. And of course the aunts arrived in the middle of everything. They were absolutely amazed: “Ruth, they said to his Mom, do you mean to say that you change THAT for Pesach as well?!” To which she replied with a straight face, “Of course! Don’t you?”
Let me stop here. I never promised you a rose garden, or even a teeball field, just a light look at one of the issues in Jewish religious life today. While humor is good for a day like today where sleepiness during sermons is a problem, the issue is not really a laughing matter. The mitzvoth are to live by. As the zealots move the bar higher and higher, the chumra of the week as we call it, I fear that more and more numbers of our people who are motivated to be observant, but want to have a bit of a life too, will be shut out. Our movement stands in the best place of any to combat this issue. But we can maintain the moral high ground on halachah and be a force for sanity only as long as we ourselves take seriously the system of mitzvoth itself, and live by it. That’s our big challenge, and I know you are not the ones who need to hear this. But you are here, and you’ll tell your friends that I said so, and come next Pesach – I am certain there will be new chumras about which to pull out our hair, or at least scrape our braces. Amen
Rabbi Bill Rudolph
Congregation Beth El
Second Day Passover 5775