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“On This Passover, Cling to This,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

April 19, 2024 | 11 Nisan 5784

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.

You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Rabbi Yohanan in Pirkei Avot, the ethical teachings from the rabbis of the Talmud, instructed his disciples: Go forth and see which is the just way a person should cling to. So they wandered and wondered and returned with their response. One of the answers speaks specifically to a theme for Passover. Rabbi Shimon responded that the just path is seeing the consequences of one’s actions. In Hebrew, the literal translation would be “the one who sees that which will be born.” — הָרוֹאֶה אֶת הַנּוֹלָד

Some might call this foresight, but I prefer to understand what Rabbi Shimon said as empathy.

Empathy is to consider how someone else might feel or react. It is looking beyond the moment to consider what will or could transpire as a result of the actions or experiences another is having. It is not declaring that we might know how another senses a situation but rather to look closely at their reactions, their emotions, and any cue they may offer.

When we say at our seder that every generation is obligated to see themselves as if they went forth from Egypt — בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים — we are attempting to place ourselves in the shoes/sandals of the ancients to understand better the feelings, emotions, and trauma of moving from degradation to dignity. Though the Bible demands from us to remember that we were slaves and to recount the feelings of slavery, in our Passover seder, we speak of the action of going forth out of Egypt.

It is not just a matter of sitting in the sorrow of slavery but rather enacting our sense of empathy to move out of bondage into freedom not for ourselves but for others.

This coming week, we will gather around our seder tables. We will retell and ponder ancient questions applicable to our own lives and the world swirling around us. Our tradition invites us to take the human value of empathy and offer it to one another. Let us not allow ourselves to be shackled by our own perspective but rather consider what can be born through welcoming one another’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

Our stories grow stronger and so does our understanding of one another when we listen and respond empathetically, when we seek to be curious of each other and have the foresight to know that others have feelings even if they are different from our own. Learning to be empathetic teaches us the value of appreciation of another and feeling deeply for them.

This is the way we practice kindness and compassion on this just path we cling to on this holiday of Passover together.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah!

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!

Rabbi Elaine Zecher