A POST-PASSOVER MESSAGE – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
First of all, let’s be clear. Up-pun my word, this is not about Past Overposted messages. This is about Passover messages we should post, and not ignore. Don’t pass overthem. Maybe we missed them amid the holiday excitement, but now we can take time to check them out.
One message is contained in the calendar. Everywhere outside of Israel, Jewish tradition calls for Yom tov sheynee shel galuyot — a “Second day of Festival in the exile,” so we have two Seder nights, two Holiday services on the first two days, and two more on the last two days, including Yizkor – memorial prayers — on the 8thday. Thus, for all of us who live in other countries, Passover is observed for 8 days.
This year, observant Jews in Israel face a strange situation. With the first and eighth days coinciding with Shabat, the 7thday of Pesach is on Friday, which means that after sundown Jewish law permits khametz – leavened food – to be eaten. So, after crunching that matzoh all week, Jews in Israel could enjoy a beautiful fresh khallah. Just one problem: where would they find it? Being observant, they would have to keep the house free of khametz until sundown Friday. Could they then start to put away the Passover dishes and pots, bring out the ones for khametzand start baking khallah? Of course not – it’s Shabat! Israelis tell me that the dilemma is recognized. The Shabat coincidence does not happen every year, of course. So in a year like this, when it does happen, observant Israelis will join with us in the diaspora and eat matzoh on the 8thday.
Another feature of the season is a process of counting the days, 50 of them in all, beginning on the second day of Passover and continuing until Shavuot, the next festival. Quite a bit later in the Torah comes the commandment: “Count for yourselves, from the day after the Sabbath, the day when you bring the Omer to be waived, seven complete weeks. Until the day after the seventh week, you will count 50 days.”
The “sabbath” referred to here is the First Day of Passover, whether it falls on Shabat, as it does this year, or any other day of the week. And the Omer was a sheaf of grain from the year’s first barley harvest. The High Priest waved it as a thanksgiving offering. It took the newly free slaves just seven weeks to travel from the east coast of the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. On the day after they arrived, the 50thday, they received the Torah. The resulting holiday is called Shavuot – literally “weeks” – to recall their travel time. The Talmud identifies it as Atzeret– “concluding festival” – and its biblical description is Yom haBikkurim – “the day of First Fruits.” Our prayers give Shavuot a more powerful name: Zman matan Torateynu – “the time of giving our Law.” Passover celebrates our physical freedom. Cross the Red Sea and Goodbye Egypt. That was step one. Free at last! Step two, 50 days later, was arriving at Sinai and receiving the Torah, our sacred Constitution. That made us a nation.
Of our Three Festivals – Shalosh regalim — Passover is undoubtedly the most widely observed. All the family takes part, all the communities join and compete and dramatize this happy season. Succot doesn’t come close to Passover’s popularity, being overshadowed by the High Holidays that immediately precede it. But it has its colorful attraction, in the little holy shack that recalls our ancestors’ historic travels en route to Canaan. And with the added celebration of Simhat Torah, it provides a joyful start for the new year. Sadly neglected is Shavuot, shortest of the festivals – just one or two days, not the full week of Passover or the 9-day event of Succot plus Simhat Torah. And it is a serious occasion – no special drinks, no humor – a time to pledge allegiance. Reform and Conservative American congregations hold Confirmation ceremonies on Shavuot, which gives those young people going through the ritual an opportunity to honor the Jewish education they received. For them and their families, it is a religious Graduation Day. Unfortunately, the majority of our population tends to ignore Shavuot. So here is an opportunity for a creative mind or two to bring our national attention to our pioneer national event. “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Assembly of Jacob,” we learn. As we count the days leading up to that great event, each day just might contain a new idea, a human contact, a step forward toward implementing a Shavuot message we can all share. As we count the days, let’s look for ways to make our days count.