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Pesach VIII 5783      April 13, 2023

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Hag Sameach

Some of the most difficult decisions we have to make is deciding how we will spend our time. Fifty years ago, this was not as difficult as it is today. Fifty years ago, there was only one movie theatre in town. There were only three television stations. The downtown stores were the only places one could buy what was needed. Our choices about how we spent our time was very limited. Today a movie theater has a choice of some twenty movies. There are hundreds of television stations competing for our attention. Just a few years ago we had malls filled with hundreds of stores to buy whatever we desired; now, even the malls are closing in the face of thousands of places to purchase anything we may think we need online.

Every minute of every day we are assaulted by advertising to point us to one decision after another. We learn that we can have any car we want, food delivered to our homes, diet programs that “really work,” medications available if we only ask our doctor about them. Advertising advises us where we can invest our money, how we can invest our money and where we can get a loan in just a few hours. There are, it seems, hundreds of sites where we can get curated news, designed, not to inform us of important events, but to affirm our feelings about the world. When do we have time to sit and try to make some important decisions?

I have a hard time understanding why more Jews don’t take advantage of Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Last week, there were three full days we could unplug and disconnect from the world. I am not sure when American holidays became a time to be so busy. I know that in Israel, the entire country has a work vacation during Hol HaMoed and large corporations sponsor free amusement park admissions for the holiday so everyone has something to do.

The idea of having a day that is not over planned, the idea of a day where someone can just sit for a while and reflect on what happened over the last week and consider what the new week will bring, a day to consider where we are and where we would like to be going, it seems like a dream. But it shouldn’t be a dream. It should be a reward for living a thoughtful life.

Pesach is the kind of holiday where there seems to be a lot going on all the time. There are the days leading up to the festival where we clean and Kasher, order and cook for special meals. There are people to invite, tables to set, dishes that need to be changed, hametz that needs to be searched out and then burned. Hametz that needs to be sold and Hametz that needs to be used up.

And now, here we are, the last day of Pesach. I believe it is time to sit back and enjoy this holiday. Once this day is over, we will be back to getting our lives back in order. We go back to work, we shop for the food we need now that Pesach is over, we put the Pesach stuff away for another year and return to our old reliable dishes and foods. But right now, we get to sit and think.

One of the things we can think about is the meaning of this season of the year. The world is being reborn in the springtime. We have flowers and leaves sprouting up everywhere. It is a time of new beginnings. It is also the end of winter. Time to put away our warm clothing for another six months. Time to change out the storm doors for screen doors and to open the storm windows to let the fresh air in.

Rabbi Mimi Feigelson reminds us that this is the season to remember the Exodus from Egypt. But in this quiet in between time, there are things we need to contemplate. She writes,You know we came out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) in haste, and we are on our way to Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds).

But for a moment, catch your breath and ask yourself: What did you leave in Mitzrayim? Were there things that you left behind, that if you had one more minute, you would have taken them with you?

Or maybe in that hastiness, you grabbed things that are too much, or too heavy or a burden, perhaps. … Why is it important? It is important because it is not only a question of how we left Mitzrayim, how we left Egypt, but it is also a question of how we are going to make it to the splitting of the sea?

Do we want to get there out of breath, with no understanding of who we are and where we will be going? Or do we want to take a moment to be accountable to who we are? To take inventory of who we are?

So that when we get to Yam Suf on Shvi’i shel Pesach (seventh day of Pesach), that we make a choice, we make a choice to enter into the desert, we make a choice to go through the Sea of Reeds.

We make a choice not only to leave Mitzrayim, but we make a choice to enter into the journey the desert will take us on.

As I like to often suggest, it is not only a question of who we are running away from but who are we running away to?

My father always taught me to plan for the future. He would say that if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? Once we know our destination, we can begin to plan how we can get from now to there. Our ancestors barely understood what it meant to be free. They had no idea what the future had in store for them except a journey to a promised land where they could live free. They had no idea what to pack and what to leave behind. They did not even consider that the journey could take forty years and that they would not live to see the land promised to them.

I am sure that if we were to go and examine the luggage, they packed for the trip we would learn a great deal about who our ancestors were and what was important to them. I once had a friend who lived in northern California. One day he got a call that a wildfire was nearing his home and he needed to evacuate the neighborhood. He sped home to find that his wife, who had arrived earlier, had already packed one car. As he looked at what she had placed in the car, he understood what there was in the house that was important to her, pictures, children’s school projects, jewelry from her mother and grandmother were among the other important items. He asked me, “If you were leaving home and not knowing that it would be there to come back to, and you had just an hour to pack and get out, what would you pack?” When a house burns, usually there is very little left in the ashes.

Sometimes, what we pack are things that are less important for us but things we want to make sure that we leave for our children. Items that might help them know and understand who we are and what is important in our lives.

The late Rabbi David Hartman, the founder of the Sholom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, once wrote, “Judaism imposes a vital task on the parent, to tell the children their people’s story. What the child does with this past, no parent can decree. Parents provide their children with luggage. Whether the child will open up the suitcases and use their contents is beyond the reach of parents. They have no right to enter the child’s future. Parents must aim at instilling memories that haunt the child an entire lifetime; their bequest is a weight of generations, an awareness that one’s biography began with Abraham and Sarah.”

Where are we going to? What do we want to accomplish with our lives? What will we leave with our children, and will it haunt them enough to eventually want to connect with their past? Today is that chance to sit and ponder questions as important as these.

As our Pesach draws to a close, there are also other kinds of questions we might ask. We don’t know the future; we think we understand the past. But what we have is right now. Now, as our holiday wanes, it is time to think back about this Pesach and all the other Pesach’s we observed in the past. We think about where we have come from, who we celebrated Pesach with and now, who is missing from our Seder table? Who are the significant people who taught us when we were children so we could be able teachers for our own children and grandchildren? On this last day of Pesach, it is time to remember them.

Have we ever opened the luggage they left for us? We often think of luggage as something we just shlep around until we tire of it and then we throw it away. We want to get rid of the baggage that holds us down as we enter a new year or a new springtime. But not all luggage is the same. Some suitcases call to us to open them. Some suitcases we are almost afraid to open lest we remember something we have been running from for all our lives.

But some of that luggage carries within it a legacy, a precious legacy of who we are and where we came from. How can we pass a legacy on to our children if we don’t understand it all ourselves? Nobody can force us to open the containers of the memories that they left behind for us. But as we look ahead to where we want to go, we need to understand also what we are running from, what we are leaving behind.

The hour of Yizkor has arrived. That suitcase is sitting still in the attic of our minds. It is filled with the memories that really matter in life. Now is the time to remember those who are gone. Now is the time to remember what lessons they taught us in life. Now is the time to confront the parts of their life we never fully understood. As we get ready to recite the memorial prayers, are we also ready to finally open that last piece of luggage they left behind for us? The one that will connect us to our most precious legacy, the legacy that began in Egypt and will lead us through the desert to the Promised Land? I believe that knowing our past can be the key to finding our way into the future. May God help us build our future on the solid foundation of our Jewish heritage as we say….  Amen

I wish everyone a Hag Sameach as we now rise for the prayers of Yizkor.

Sat, June 22 2024 16 Sivan 5784