Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing



Ready or not, the 1st Seder is less than 2 weeks away! Many Seders this year—suggests my friend and colleague Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg—will be a raucous occasion. Why? Because of Donald Trump! Like it or not, The Donald is the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination for President. Here’s the problem: some people like him and some don’t—and often they live in the same home!

The Wall Street Journal (2/25/16) had an article: “Till Death – or Donald – Do Us Part: couples spar over Trump.” It tells the story of Jeannine and Jon Hinman—a lawyer and a doctor. It got so bad they had to make a rule that when Trump appears on the evening news one has to leave the room, or they must turn to the National Geographic Channel. She says, “It makes it a test of time. I know we’ll weather this storm but there are moments when I think: I have no idea who you are.”

The Wall Street Journal also told the story of Isaac Pollak, an ardent Republican who was going on a business trip to Asia during the Presidential Primary in his state. He gave his wife his absentee ballot and asked her to mail it. His wife Bonnie, a Democrat, asked herself: “Should I be loyal to my spouse, respect his rights and mail the ballot, or should I be faithful to my beliefs and suppress his vote?” She said, “I decided to do the right thing.” She threw away the ballot! 

According to a survey by Stanford University, only 10% of the married couples in our country see eye-to-eye politically. I think that’s a bit low, but what’s going to happen at the Seder after a few cups of wine, when gun-toting, right wing, Tea Party Uncle Yahoo comes face to face with socialist, left wing, LGBT advocate Aunt Goody Goody?

I’ll tell you what we should do! We should shift the talk from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. When Supreme Court Justice Scalia passed away last month, tributes came from all over the country. He was a hero of conservatives, a strict constitutionalist who voted against many of the social changes that have taken place in our country in recent years. What was most remarkable was that the most moving tribute to Scalia came from his rival on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

When it came to the law, these 2 agreed on very little. Scalia was one of its most conservative members and Ginsburg one of the most liberal … and yet the 2 of them were the dearest of friends. They spent every New Year’s Eve together, enjoyed going to the opera and, in fact, an opera was written about the 2 of them, with the tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg singing a duet: “We are different, we are one.” 

How did they do it? Ginsburg’s grandson said, “I never heard them talk about anything political or ideological because there would be no point.” So yes, that’s one way to avoid disagreements—don’t discuss matters that you know will lead to an argument. But Scalia took it a step further when he said, “If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake!” Ruth Bader Ginsburg took it even further when she said, “We disagreed now and then. But when I wrote for the court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation.” Do you understand what Ginsburg was saying? Not only can you be friends with someone with whom you disagree, but you can even learn from them! 

This is why the Talmud referred to the disagreements between the 2 major schools of Jewish Law, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel as a machloket l’sheym shamayim (disagreement for the sake of heaven). To drive home the point…the Talmud tells us that although they disagreed in more than 300 areas of Jewish law, there was never any personal rivalry or rancor. Even though they disagreed on matters of marriage and Kashrut, they nevertheless married each other’s children and ate in each other’s homes. They understood that none of them had a monopoly on the truth.

Passover is a time when families get together and even without Trump there’s usually plenty to disagree about. These days it’s, perhaps, even more stressful as the new modern family brings together people of diverse interests and backgrounds. As one rabbi put it: “Whether it’s Uncle Charlie’s complete disinterest in the Seder and inability to read Hebrew and cousin Darlene’s explicit request that we hurry up the Seder part so we can eat, or to complain about the excessive stringencies that Uncle Yossi brings, each year thinking up a new one, or the lengthy yet simplistic Divrei Torah cousin Chani likes to share.” So what are we to do?

One approach is to follow what Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton did. Ivanka Trump, the daughter of The Donald, and Chelsea, the daughter of Hillary, developed a close friendship over the years. Their parents had been very friendly for years. Both live in Manhattan and both married Jews—Ivanka, in fact, became a practicing orthodox Jew. But what do they do now that their parents are hurling all kinds of mud and insults at each other?

According to insiders, Ivanka and Chelsea they have chosen to put their friendship on ice until after the election. That’s something you can do with friends. But you can’t put your mother, father, brother, sister, husband or wife, son or daughter on ice… So let’s learn from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia: you can disagree without being disagreeable. You can walk shoulder without seeing eye to eye. And who knows? If you can figure out how to listen to each other, you just might learn from each other!

The special Torah portion for this Shabbat Hachodesh tell us that the Jews in Egypt were commanded to take a lamb and roast it and eat it, l’mishp’choteychem (by families: Ex. 12:21), seh labayit (one lamb for each family: Ex. 12:3). At that 1st Seder we were commanded to eat the Pascal Lamb together one family: parents, children, grandparents. We no longer have the Pascal sacrifice and most of us no longer have all our family together. As for the Pascal sacrifice, we’ll have to wait until the arrival of the Messiah. As to bringing families together, we shouldn’t wait! So let’s do it now!

We begin the Seder declaring: Kol dichfin yeytey v’yeychol (Let all who are hungry come and eat). All are welcome—Republicans and Democrats, observant and non-observant, relatives who are on the “outs” and those who are “in” … let all who are hungry—and who is not hungry for love—come and be with us, welcomed with open hands, hearts and minds. 

There’s a popular Hebrew word, taken from the Arabic, Sulha, which means “to make up” or “make peace.” The Seder is our opportunity to do that. If we do that we will fulfill the popular festival greeting: Moadim l’simcha, “May our festival will be filled with joy.” May it be so this Passover—Amen!

                                      Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis


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