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Rabbi Lisa's Message


Chag Pesach Sameach! I hope you have had a meaningful Passover so far, and are experiencing all the spiritual benefits this holiday provides.

The seder table is a place to explore contradiction. Many of the items on the seder plate offer multiple, often diametrically opposed meanings. This makes Passover such a potent and transformative experience. 

Many of us have expressed utter hopelessness and despair about what is happening in the world right now. How do we hold our personal story, our Jewish story, along with all the other collective stories? And how can Passover help us pass through this narrow place?

As we move through this week of Zman Cherutenu (the time of our freedom), let’s remember the timeless wisdom of Hillel the Elder to guide the way:

He [Rabbi Hillel] used to say: If I am not for me, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, then when? 

- Pirkei Avot 1:14

Consider that the seder starts with us focusing on the first part of Hillel’s quote - ME. My Jewish story, the story of my ancestors. We were slaves in Egypt. We allow ourselves to focus here and remember the heartache and trauma of that experience. We honor the history of our people by telling this story each year. We are to attend the Passover seder and feel as though we personally experienced the Exodus (bondage and liberation) . . .

If I am not for me, who will be for me . . . ?

Yet as the seder progresses, our attention shifts outward. We consider others and open our hearts with empathy. We understand that no one is truly free unless all are free. And because we know what oppression is like (we were strangers in the Land of Egypt), we are commanded as Jews not to oppress and marginalize others. 

If I am only for myself, what am I?

The incredible thing about Passover is that we hold all of this. At least once a year we challenge ourselves to focus on self AND focus on other simultaneously. Because . . . 

If not now, then when?

May this Passover expand our tolerance for such dissonance. Now more than ever, we need the courage to embrace our personal needs, the needs of our people, and the needs of humanity, together. May we be blessed with such courage.

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