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Passover Message 5779/2019

The Passover story is steeped in miracles. Bushes burn but survive. Rods turn into serpents and then back to rods. Frogs choke rivers. Night falls for three days. How can I, a believing Jew but also a scientific modern, understand all of this? How can I speak to your children and grandchildren about split seas, rivers of blood and speaking snakes?

The Talmudic Rabbis were very aware of this conundrum and offered Midrashim, interpretations to free us from the bind of choosing only faith or science, only Scriptural truth or provable scientism. For example, one of the many apparent miracles happens just after the crossing of the Reed Sea, when Amalek instigates a war with Israel. Before Israel battles, Moses, his brother Aaron and his nephew Hur, along with a Mateh Elohim, a “staff of G-d”ascend a mountain to survey the battle. The Torah shares, “It happened that when Moses raised his hand, Israel was stronger, and when he lowered his hand Amalek was stronger”. (Exodus 17:11).

A clear and simple miracle, no? But in their interpretation the Rabbis are more nuanced and spiritually mature. The staff is a metaphor for the vision and will of the people. When they look up to Heaven, they ae inspired to victory; when they look down in fright, they are defeated. A simple narrative of miraculous intervention becomes a teaching about faith. G-d does not suspend the laws of nature, but we in our faith have the power to overcome adversity.

Orthodox Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, in his essays about Passover, teaches that Biblical miracles contain two aspects. He believes that there is, first, the wondrous workings, the supersession of natural laws. These are accepted on some level as true, and here I would add literally by some, mythically, metaphorically by many. However, more important for day to day religious life is what change in behavior is inspired by knowledge of the miracles. How does it stretch my own will and imagination?

For example, because the firstborn Israelites were saved, we continue to redeem our firstborns after their birth. Because G-d demonstrated Chozek Yad, a mighty hand in Egypt, we pause first thing every morning, reflect, and place Tefillin on our arm to dedicate our physical powers and material assets to the moral service of humanity and G-d. Because Israel had the courage to march towards a terrifying sea, we try to remember, especially at Passover time, that if we wait until all is clear, we will never grow. In business, we all agree that rising early, getting a jump, increases opportunities. In baking, we all know that waiting, letting the Matzah rise and ferment ruins the Mitzvah. Passover is a season to exercise the same zeal in our self-examination. If you have a sense that your life needs to move in a certain way, get out of neutral  and do it!

Pesach Kasher V’samei’ach, May you and your families enjoy a Happy and Kosher Passover,

Rabbi Weintraub

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