SHABBAT HAGADOL 5775
“Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, we do not add even one flavor. But this on this night, this Passover—8 flavors!” This year, Ben & Jerry’s is offering 8 different flavors of Kosher for Passover ice cream—including its new special for Passover flavor, Haroset! And, if you’re a vegetarian, you can even serve it at the Seder. Unfortunately, it’s not clear whether it will be available in America this year or only in Israel.
Today is Shabbat Hagadol, the “Great Sabbath,” the Shabbos before Passover. It comes to remind us that time is running short and we need to make sure we’re ready. There are so many details—the invitations, the cleaning, the kashering, the shopping, reviewing the Haggadah. While we’re busy with these details, I’d like to take a moment to consider why we call this holiday Pesach, or Passover, and why that’s so important.
The Haggadah asks: Pesach shehayu avoteynu ochlim…al shum ma? “The Passover offering which our fathers ate…what was the reason for it?” Why do we call it Pesach? Al shum shepasach Hakadosh Baruch Hu al batey avoteynu b’mitzrayim. “Because the Holy One Blessed Be He pasach, ‘passed’ over the houses of our forefathers in Egypt” when He slew their 1st born.
The question many ask is: How did Gd know not to strike the Jewish homes? Because He commanded us (Ex. 12:7-13): “They [the Israelites] shall take some of its blood [of the Passover sacrifice] and place it on the 2 doorposts and on the lintel of the houses...When I see the blood I shall pass over you so that there shall not be a plague of destruction upon you when I strike in the land of Egypt.”.
The big question is: Did Gd need a sign on the door in order to know which homes were inhabited by Jews and which were not? The suggestion is that perhaps Gd didn’t need any special demarcation, but you know, with it being such a busy night and all, perhaps the Malach Hamavet (Angel of Death) needed that extra marker while making his sweep through the neighborhood.
But let's be real about this. This is not some scene out of a Hollywood movie where the wrong guy is taken out at the wrong time. Surely the real Angel of Death doesn’t use painted street addresses to locate his mark. So what’s with the placing of the sacrificial blood on the door? And for that matter, why the door? Why not the window, the stoop or, if the Angel of Death is coming from heaven, the rooftop?
Let’s take a moment here to analyze the concept—the symbolism—of a door. A door creates privacy in addition to providing shelter and protection. A door is what separates the public person from the private person—the external self from the internal self. In the privacy of one’s home all facades and inhibitions tend to fall away, allowing the best—and sometimes the worst—of a person to come to the surface.
Some people can be very patient on the outside—all smiles and cheerful when in public—and yet, when they come home, it’s moody-broody time—no patience for the kids, no tolerance for the spouse, not a smile anywhere in sight. Do you know someone like that? Do you live with someone like that?
On the other hand, some people can be ruthless on the outside, but on the inside they are warm and loving with family and friends. And there are those who are very quiet, withdrawn, reserved and uptight when in public, but barrels of fun and laughter within the confines of their homes. The door is where that transition—from the superficial “you” to the real “you”—takes place.
Judaism asks us: What sort of doors do you have? What transpires on the inside of your doors? Is there a spirit of goodness and holiness on the other side of that threshold? Are there Jewish books on the shelves? Are there kosher products in the cupboard and in the fridge? Are Shabbat and Jewish holidays celebrated therein with joy, meaning and depth? Are words of Torah shared? Are prayers recited? Are people treated with chesed, love and compassion? Only you and Gd really know.
Yes, Judaism asks of us: What sort of doors do you have? Yehuda Leib Gordon, the great 19th century Hebrew poet wrote: “Be a man in the streets and a Jew at home.” In his time Jews were trying to get ahead in western society amid subtle and not so subtle anti-Semitism and this was a call to look like a regular person on the outside and leave one’s Jewishness at home. Unfortunately, today for most Jews it’s just the opposite. We have—thank Gd—come to a point in America where with pride we can stick out our chests and tell everyone we’re Jewish. But how many of us have a home that really looks like a Jewish home inside—where it really counts.
We begin the Seder by declaring: Kol dichfin yeytey v’yeychul, “All who are hungry let them come and eat.” It reflects a custom in ancient Jerusalem found in the Talmud that whenever a family sat down to a meal, they would tack a cloth on to the door of their home. This served as a sign to all strangers and passersby that it was mealtime and that anyone who was hungry or so desired was welcome to come in and partake with them.
What’s posted on our proverbial doors? Do we have a symbolic “welcome mat” at the door, or is it more like a “Do not disturb” sign? Do we welcome the opportunity to be hospitable and benevolent to those in need of comfort, friendship or sustenance? Or do we—figuratively speaking—slam those doors in the faces of needy individuals who seek entry?
A mezuzah on the doorpost testifies that this is a Jewish home—a home where goodness, holiness, modesty and decency are a way of life—even behind closed doors. The mezuzah represents Gd’s presence in the home as well as His protection over all who reside therein. It’s not merely a nice Jewish ornament. Indeed, if we’re only concerned about the mezuzah for its facade—its external appearance, putting up something that looks good…if we’re not much concerned about whether the scroll inside is kosher, then we’ve missed what a Jewish door is all about. That’s why we’re supposed to check our mezuzot every 7 years. A Jewish door is where the facade is supposed to end and where truth and authenticity are supposed to begin. It’s not what the mezuzah case looks like that’s important; it’s what’s inside that really matters.
So, what was the message of the Israelites’ marking their doorposts with the blood of the Passover sacrifice? It wasn’t an address or a door marker. It was their testimony that they were truly ready to leave the Egypt that was on the outside and devote themselves from now on—inside and out—to Gd. And that was why their homes were truly untouchable by the Angel of Death. For the blood on the doorpost was there—not for Gd’s benefit or for the angel’s benefit—but for the benefit of the Israelites who finally understood what it was that separates a Jew from an Egyptian. It’s all in the door.
May we all have Jewish doors this Passover behind which we can eat kosher for Passover Ben & Jerry’s Haroset ice cream. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis