Here is a thought of mine for the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. (Cross posted on my work’s blog – https://www.wilfcampus.org/shavout/)
I know this is a bit late, as Passover ends on Tuesday night, but I was finally able to find the article online. Here is my recently published Passover article.
Seven weeks ago, as I was doing my weekly food shopping, I came across an aisle of food set aside for Passover products. Jewish law is very strict regarding what can and cannot be consumed on Passover.
As such, Jews spend days and weeks before Passover planning and implementing our cleaning, shopping and cooking schedules in order to ensure that Passover can be celebrated in its proper way at the proper time. Additionally, each of those tasks is not simple. For example, when it comes to food shopping, it is an overhaul of all one owns during the year and buying replacement Kosher for Passover products for the one week holiday in addition to needing to know in advance what and how much one needs to purchase. As one can imagine, this preparation becomes all-consuming.
Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt of the Israelites 3,500 years ago, a story of going from slavery to freedom, exile to redemption. And yet, in working to prepare for Passover, one gets a sense that there is an irony to celebrating freedom by slaving over our preparations to celebrate. Yet, when we look into the value of freedom versus slavery, we recognize that freedom is not always about absolutely lack of methodical conduct that one must engage. Rather, freedom is having the ability to have dignity and self-worth in the midst of a legal system, a legal system that is ideally established to protect its citizens.
Perhaps this is the lesson of the excessive preparation before Passover. The Jewish mystical tradition presents a fascinating re-read of the laws regarding removing leavened products from one’s home for Passover. Instead of reading the law in the literal sense, it is re-conceptualized to teach people that Passover is a time of introspection, specifically a time of investigating one’s humility in relationship with G-d. We are to remove the arrogance, the leaven, in our hearts, humbling ourselves, symbolized by Matzah, something that doesn’t rise.
While Passover cleaning cannot and should not be the same as spring cleaning, which it becomes for many, there is also a lesson in similar vein regarding the hard work of preparing for Passover.
To truly be able to fulfill the mandate of seeing oneself as having been redeemed from Egypt, which would require a certain humility of perspective as one would be focusing on the idea of redemption from being enslaved, one can see the preparation for Passover as a microcosm of burden before celebration.
May each of us find humility in the renewal time of the calendar, and may we find meaning in the challenges of preparing to celebrate the holiday that truly embodies freedom.
Book of Esther, celebration, giving, Jewish holidays, Jewish spirituality, Jewish thought, Judaism, King Ahasuerus, purim, Queen Esther, religion, religion and spirituality, spiritual practice, spirituality, The Book of Deuteronomy
Below you will find my recently published piece on Purim.
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, Franklin
Jewish holidays have always included the idea that celebration goes beyond the immediate household to include all of society. The Book of Deuteronomy delineates that the celebration should include “you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite, the convert, the orphan and the widow who are in your cities” (Deuteronomy 16:14). True rejoicing occurs when everyone has a place in the societal enjoyment of the festivals.
In today’s Jewish communities, inter-relational celebration is especially experienced during the upcoming holiday of Purim. The holiday celebrates the Jewish survival described in the book of Esther. The particulars of how to celebrate are clearly laid out.
The Book of Esther states, “Mordechai recorded these events and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, the near ones and the distant ones; they are to observe annually the 14th day of the month of Adar and its 15th day as days on which the Jews found relief from their enemies and the month which had been turned about for them from one of sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to festival. They are to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, sending food to one another, and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:20-22).
Celebrating holidays in a societal way is an expression of a fundamental principle of happiness and joy. An adage in “Ethics of our Fathers” notes that a person who is rich is someone who is content with his portion. I recently read an article on parenting that described how in order to teach children the value of money and objects, a parent needs to work hard on not actively pursuing the newest and the best things. Rather, one should work toward being satisfied with what one already has, not always running out immediately to buy the latest gadget or item even if one has the financial means to make those purchases.
It is further incumbent upon the parent to verbalize a commitment to being satisfied in the face of pressure to keep up with society. Similarly, when we work to include others at our table and make the effort to ensure that everyone is able to partake, we are able to exemplify the idea that what we have is not just for our own use.
The Book of Esther also challenges the reader in the same manner when Mordechai persuades Queen Esther that she must confront her husband, King Ahasuerus, about Haman’s evil decree to wipe out all the Jews of the Persian Empire. Esther expresses doubt as to whether she should approach the king to rescind the decree. In responding to this doubt, Mordechai states, “and who knows whether it was just for such a time as this that you attained the royal position?” (4:14)
We are not always privy to the whys of life. The mandate of celebration with all of society is perhaps meant to remind people, “it was just for such a time” that we have the means and the ability to uplift those who otherwise do not have the means to celebrate. As we celebrate Purim, may we remember that true celebration comes from a place of giving, and may we find joy in bringing joy to others.
Here is my latest holiday article. I hope it provides meaning during this holiday weekend.
Nov. 25, 2013 |
Bryan Kinzbrunner, chaplain of the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, in the Somerset section of Franklin, is pictured with Wilf resident Bobby Rosenstraus on a recent trip to Israel. / PHOTO COURTESY OF WILF CAMPUS FOR SENIOR LIVING
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, Franklin (Somerset)
As I was walking around Ben Gurion airport in Israel an hour before my return flight home, looking for something to purchase for my two young children, I happened upon a pile of dreidels, the special spinning top Jews have played with during Hanukkah for centuries. On the dreidel is written four Hebrew letters, Nun, Gimmel, Hey and either Shin or Peh. The letters stand for the phrase, a great miracle happened here/there. Throughout most of the world, the miracle is seen as something that happened there, in another land. However, standing in Israel, the dreidel says to us, the miracle happened right here, right in this land.
The Hanukkah miracle in the year 167 BCE was the Hasmonean defeat of the Seleucid Greeks, a little band defeating a grand army. Hanukkah was an instance of David defeating Goliath. The great miracle is the overcoming of insurmountable odds. As I am standing there purchasing two Israeli dreidels for my boys, I began thinking about another miracle, one which occurred one year prior.
Last November, days after Hurricane Sandy, The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset, where I work, began a miraculous journey of its own. Nine staff members of our campus accompanied 12 seniors on a tour of Israel. For many, this was their first time traveling to Israel, the birthplace of Western religion. For others, it was the miracle of travelling internationally again at such an advanced age. Either way, it was truly something that left a mark on each and everyone’s heart and soul.
Personally, while I have been fortunate to have traveled to Israel many times and to have spent a year of study in Israel, this was truly a different and special time. Accompanying Holocaust survivors, people of different faiths and my colleagues and residents to places that have inspired me, offered me new and different eyes through which to see Israel.
Living in the United States, the commemoration of Thanksgiving is a holiday along the same lines. It is a day of gratitude celebrating the founding of a free nation. While no nation and no miracle can be seen in a vacuum, as both Hannukah and Thanksgiving have stories surrounding the days which raise fundamental questions, the commonality of being grateful for the miracle in the moment, is worthy of celebration. And this year, in a once-in-a-lifetime calendrical event, Jews in the United States get to celebrate both miracles together.
May each and every one find gratitude during this time of year for all we have, all we have opportunity to do and for the miracle of life and living in a world where we can see with our own eyes where the great miracles of history happened.
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner is the campus chaplain for The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, which comprises The Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living, The Lena and David T. Wilentz Senior Residence, The Martin and Edith Stein Hospice, Wilf Transport , Wilf at home, and the Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, call 888-311-5231, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wilfcampus.org.
I know this is a couple of days late, but here is something I wrote that reflects on the recent end of the Jewish holidays.
Sep. 19, 2013 |
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living
For the past couple of years, I have had the unique privilege of celebrating Simchat Torah with my residents at the Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living Residence. As we begin the ritual of the day, carrying the Torah scroll around the Bima (lectern) seven times in celebration of the annual completion of reading the Five Books of Moses, I am always taken with how valuable marching around a Torah Scroll can be for my seniors, whose average age is about 90. Imagine a procession of people slowly making their way around with their canes and walkers with smiles on their faces, singing popular Jewish songs from yesterday and today.
The fall Jewish holidays are coming to a conclusion. Jews have gone from the hopes and wishes of a sweet new year on Rosh Hashanah, to the Day of Atonement, the last chance to be sealed for a good year, to the joys of the holiday of Sukkot. On the last day of this festival season, it is most fitting to celebrate the completion and restarting of the study of the Five Books of Moses, the building block of Western civilization. The fall festivals are a time of renewal. Just like we look at a renewal of the New Year and a chance to start fresh, we also celebrate the renewed opportunity to start our studies anew.
Simchat Torah is the celebration of a verse from the final reading of the Torah cycle; “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). Jews believe the Torah is their heritage passed along through the generations. It is an inheritance that has been shared with the world throughout the past 2,000 years. Torah is an inheritance that has been the source of much struggle, but more so is also the heritage of joy for the Jewish people. In observing the joy of my residents celebrating with the ideas that have been handed down to them — and that they know they have perpetuated and handed to the generations after them — is something that me, a father of two young children, cherishes each year.
The heritage of the generations is a blessing I wish we all will continue to cherish. As the fall holiday season come to its conclusion, may we all continue to carry the joy of the holidays and the joy of seeing multiple generations in celebration together.
Here is a short piece I recently published in preparation for Rosh Hashanah.
In my work with the elderly and with the terminally ill, I am often exposed to the grand questions of life through the eyes of people facing mortality. These penetrating questions are frequently expressed in the negative, through what someone regrets when looking back. A recent book was written by a nurse who spent years working with the dying. She highlights the regrets her patients shared with her. The sense of remorse relates to missing out on what each deems very valuable in life. The elderly often try to convey to their descendants how living life constantly on the go prevents one from enjoying the happy and sweet aspects of life, such as spending time with family and friends or leaving a lasting legacy for future generations.
With the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the Jewish New Year starting on Wednesday, Jews around the world have the opportunity to reflect on how they lived life this past year. The recently retired former Chief Rabbi of England, Lord Jonathan Sacks, offers a very poignant set of questions we need to ask ourselves at a time of new beginning, such as a new year. Regarding Rosh Hashanah, he states, “Properly entered into, this is a potentially life-changing experience. It forces us to ask the most fateful questions we will ever ask: Who am I? Why am I here? How shall I live? How have I lived until now? How have I used G-d’s greatest gift: time? Who have I wronged and how can I put it right? Where have I failed, and how shall I overcome my failures? What is broken in my life and needs mending? What chapter will I write in the book of life (Koren Sacks Rosh Hashanah Mahzor, P. X)?”
New Year’s celebrations can be both joyful and serious. It is a time to start new, and newness always contains a sense of hope. Yet, with a new beginning also comes the fear of what will be, leading people to be deeply reflective about the direction they want life to continue. The task of the New Year is not to let the opportunity for growth disappear. Rather, the Jewish New Year provides opportunity to truly work on improving the meaning and quality of our lives.
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner is the campus chaplain for The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, which comprises The Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living, The Lena and David T. Wilentz Senior Residence, The Martin and Edith Stein Hospice, Wilf Transport and the Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, call 888-311-5231, email email@example.com or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.
bereavement, chaplaincy, grief, grief and bereavement, grief and mourning, grief and recovery, grief and the holidays, haggadah, Jewish holidays, Passover, pastoral care, religion, spiritual care, spirituality, yizkor
The following is a very moving sermon I came across in researching online for a talk on grief during the holidays. The sermon was written for Yizkor on the Eighth Day of Passover and it relates the four sons found in the Haggadah to the process of grief.
PAS Home · The Four Children…of Grief and Recovery
April 06, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Passover 5770, Eighth Day
In every generation, at every Passover seder, we return to the iconic passage of the four children. Four children: wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. In every reading, we know that these children represent far more than first appears, and have been interpreted differently throughout the ages. Some interpretations draw on educational theory – that the four represent four Jewish approaches to learning: a posture of submission (the wise child), of criticism (the wicked), simplicity, and ignorance. Rabbi Yoseph Schneerson once explained that the four children represent four generations of the American experience: the wise child with roots in the European shtetl; the wicked child brought up in the American melting pot – cynical to his parents’ generation; the next generation, confused by his grandfather’s reverence and father’s irreverence, and then the fourth generation who, as a consequence of his mixed-up pedigree, has woken up not even able to formulate a question. Israeli Haggadot have similarly adopted the template of the four children with respect to attitudes towards the Zionist dream; women’s Haggadot have used the iconography of these children to portray the changing face of feminism. A simple passage, but not so simple – one that continues to resonate to different effect year in and year out.
This morning, as we arrive at Yizkor, reflecting on the absence of our loved ones and the storehouse of memories that we are about to open, I want to draw on the image of the four children one last time during this festival. Not as a meditation on assimilation or feminism, but on the process of loss and recovery, how a person receives the blow of the death of a loved one, and then journeys forward. I want to share with you a modern midrash if you will, as to how the four children represent the manner by which we may reconstitute our own lives in the face of grief, as we walk through our own valleys in the shadow of death.
We work backwards from the fourth child, the one who cannot speak. When death occurs, this is the first step. The punch to the stomach, the gasp for air, the realization that our father, our child, our brother or sister or life partner has died. There is a numbness. As in Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream,” we open up our mouths, but nothing comes out. At the moment when Aaron received the news of the death of his sons, he did not cry, yell, or scream, he was silent: Vayidom Aharon. The tradition notes the similarity between Vayidom and the Hebrew word for blood, dam, explaining that upon hearing of their death, it was as if the blood was drawn from him. He was cut loose from his moorings, hit by a tidal wave of despair. So many questions. Why? How could such a thing come to pass? Why not me? According to Jewish law, you do not become a mourner, an avel, until after burial, only then do you say kaddish. The period from the news of death until burial is called aninut. Catapulted into death, you cannot be consoled, grief is inexpressible – comfort or healing is altogether premature. This is the one who cannot speak. This is the bottom rung from which we must climb.
And climb we do, because however painful, whether death happens suddenly or after prolonged illness, all of us know, on some level, that we are mortal. Even as we rend our garments, feeling that which is dearest to us being torn away, we know that there is a simple truth, the third child, embedded somewhere in our collective consciousness. From dust we come and to dust we go. Everyone has a limited number of years on this earth. We realize that we are not the first to have lost a parent. There is another who has felt this pain – mourning after all is one of the very few experiences shared by all of humanity. So we allow for a hug, we allow for a kind word, we are brittle, but we are willing to let ourselves be touched by our family, by our community, for in that contact comes the restorative reminder that we are still alive. It is actually Jewish law that when you return from the cemetery you must eat a meal. Why? Because it reminds us that we are still alive. We are not yet ready to move on, we hurt, but we must recognize that it is not we who have died. Our questions are simple, fumbling inklings that we are aware of our world. Mah zot? What is this? What is this world that we have woken up to – as a widow, as an orphan? There are questions to which we know we will never receive full answers, but at least here and now, in this stage, we are able to find our voice, to shed tears, tears that may just plant the seeds for fruit to be reaped another day.
As anyone who has grieved will tell you, however, just as there are steps forward, there are steps backward. As Elizabeth Kübler Ross explained in her book On Death and Dying, there will be a time for anger, resentment, and depression. The second child comes in all forms, but it all reflects the same impulse – a refusal to accept this narrative as your own. This is not the story as it should have happened; it wasn’t supposed to be this way. We say: “The physicians didn’t do enough. Maybe I didn’t do enough. The rabbi wasn’t there when I needed him. My loved one didn’t hold on long enough. Where are my friends now? Where did everyone go after shiva ended? How dare people plan their future when I can’t see the next day? The resentment of the second child is not good or bad, wicked or otherwise, it is just resentment, pure and simple. We are frustrated, we are alone, we are in pain, we are alienated from everyone who doesn’t know our hurt and we are angry. As the poet wrote: “We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.” (Tagore, Stray Birds, LXXV) We are the second child.
The stage of the second child may last for a long time or for a little. Our constitutions are inherently different, loss follows no set recipe. Each of us proceeds at his or her own pace. But we know, here on Yizkor, that we aspire to be the wise first child, with the possibility of acceptance, the child of hope. Haham, “wise” is a carefully chosen word. Nothing is whitewashed, our grief remains, but somewhere along the way we have chosen to leverage our loss towards understanding and growth, towards asking the questions that we couldn’t ask upon the news of death, that can’t be asked simply, that we rejected in our anger. Now we know that we must learn to reflect on legacy, to think back and consider how the values, qualities, and high ideals of our loved ones transcend death and how they inform our lives. We wonder how we are shaped by them, as an extension of and reaction to the generations that came before. It is not for any of us to change the past; our relationships with our loved ones had their strengths and weaknesses. But we the living have been entrusted and empowered to craft and draft our own narratives of memory, to tell the story to ourselves and to those around us – after all, it is Passover. The wise child knows that given the fragility of life, the acute awareness of our mortality wrought by the loss of those we love, we here in this room must live lives worthy of remembrance. The stage of wisdom is hopefully not so much any one stage or destination, but rather a philosophy of existence reflecting resignation and acceptance, anchors of memory and breezes of hope all mixed together.
Anyone who has studied the Haggadah knows that ultimately, the most important thing to say about the four children is not about one or the other, but about the four of them together. They are not necessarily discrete individuals; rather they are four aspects of all of our beings. Each one of us has elements of the four. The point, we know, is that no matter how wise, how wicked, how simple, or how introverted, each one has a place at the table, and they are all seated at the seder.
It would seem that what is true for the seder table, is true for this moment of Yizkor. We who are gathered here recognize the continuum of grief. On any given day we may find ourselves to be at one stage or another. But when we say Yizkor, every emotion is present and accounted for. We are at a loss being reminded of the death of our loved one; we grieve in the context of a community, finding comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone; we resent, as is our right, our losses; and we are not afraid to bring that emotion into this sanctuary. We also seek wisdom – to draw from the well of memory in hope that it provides sustenance for the years ahead.
One final thought – perhaps unexpected but also a bit inevitable. Maybe, just maybe, the point of the four children is not the children themselves, their qualities, and what they represent. Maybe the point is the one thing, or better yet, the one person, that all of them have in common – the parent who greets them all at the seder table. I have often thought that the real lesson of this passage is to reflect on the role of the parent, that divine personality, who created a seder table capable of seating everyone, responding to everyone, no matter who they are and what burdens they bear. So, too, for our service of Yizkor. We sit at this seder of Yizkor with our Father in Heaven, avinu sheh-ba-shamayim, at its head. None of us are the same, nor need be. Though joined by loss, each of us exists somewhere different on this path of grief and recovery. The promise of Yizkor is the promise of the seder; no matter who we are, there is a place for us waiting, a makom with our name on it – barukh ha-makom – a blessed God of nehama. Hamakom yenahem etkhem. The table is set, the moment of Yizkor has arrived.
The following story really touched me, both personally and professionally. When we enter the holidays, we can’t help but remember all those who have died in our lives and how much they are missing from our celebration.
Nobody expected my grandfather to show up at my apartment for Passover—two months after he diedBy Rebecca Klempner|March 18, 2013 12:00 AM
The first Passover after my grandfather died, my family knew that our grandmother would need us all to be together for the holiday, but we also knew she wouldn’t be able to host everyone. So Grandma, Mommy, and my 7-year-old brother squeezed into the two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles where I lived with my husband, whom I’d married just one year earlier. My sister, who lived nearby, came over for the Seder and other meals throughout the holiday, and several other friends joined us as well. It was crowded but festive, like the crush at a happening party.
And then, on the sixth night of Passover, we got an unexpected visitor.
After kissing my mother and grandmother goodnight, I headed to the bedroom I shared with my husband, carefully stepping over my brother’s open suitcase and circumnavigating the sharp corner of the sleeper-sofa. My husband already lay in bed, curled on his side, breathing deeply. I lay down beside him with a book, drifting off after reading just a page or two.
As I slept, my grandfather, dressed entirely in white, entered my bedroom. He glowed with peace and holiness. Eyes twinkling, he beamed his usual vivacious smile. The vigor he’d possessed during my childhood had returned.
Grandpa’s presence was palpable, as if I could reach out and touch him, and—strangely—the sensation lingered even after I awoke with a start. Electricity charged the atmosphere in my room. Enthralled, I felt Grandpa’s benevolent but alarming manifestation emanating from a specific corner of the room.
Certainly, I would not be going back to sleep.
I crept from the room to go get a drink of water. When I entered the living room, I discovered Mommy sitting at the foot of the sleeper-sofa where Grandma was lying, speaking animatedly. She kept her voice was low to avoid waking my brother, still sleeping nearby. Grandma, who appeared agitated, listened intently.
“What are you doing awake?” I whispered.
“I had a dream,” my mother told me. “Of Grandpa. He came to comfort us.”
“And I had one, too,” Grandma added.
I flopped down into a chair. “Whoa.”
My mother turned to me, her eyebrow arched. “What’s wrong, honey?”
Before I had a chance to explain, my husband emerged from our bedroom. “I dreamed that Grandpa came to visit,” I said. “And it feels like he’s still in there.”
“In where?” my mother asked. I gestured over my husband’s shoulder into our bedroom.
“In that corner?” he asked, pointing to a specific area of our bedroom.
“How—how did you know?” I stuttered.
“I just felt something, something there,” he said.
The blood draining from my face, I nodded silently. Mommy and Grandma rushed over. But as everyone approached, the presence dissipated.
Grandpa had been more than a grandfather to me. He had acted as a substitute father after my parents divorced when I was 5 years old.
In my eyes, he’d been tougher than Muhammad Ali. He regularly lifted my sister and me high into the air when we were little, one in each arm. Every summer, Grandpa schlepped my sister and me from our home in Columbia, Md., to the beach in Ocean City and bought us frosty Popsicles on hot days. When Lee’s Ice Cream in Baltimore introduced cookies-and-cream ice cream, Grandpa mixed his own version for us at home with kosher Hydrox cookies instead of treyf Oreos. Grandpa fried crispy latkes at school with me at Hannukah and celebrated all my triumphs, large and small, with his booming voice and contagious grin.
When my sister and I grew up and left for college, Grandpa wrote us long letters in an almost indecipherable scrawl. He battled cancer during my first year at college, but triumphed. When we returned home, he pulled us close and said, “Are you still growing? So tall! So beautiful!”
Life was unpredictable, but Grandpa’s love never was.
On a Shabbat evening the February before he died, I had worried about Grandpa. The doctors had concluded that they could no longer fend off his cancer, which returned from remission shortly after my wedding. A hospital visit in January had left us with little hope—Grandpa, who’d once been so strong, had withered to a specter of his former self. My husband had held one of Grandpa’s hands while I had held the other. It had become unimaginably soft, his calluses faded from months lying in bed. Like the hand of newborn.
Now Grandpa had returned home, awaiting the inevitable.
In a dream that Friday night, I entered a wedding hall draped in white tulle and festooned with flowers. A groom approached the chuppah, the Jewish wedding canopy. Grandpa sat across the aisle from me. We stood as the bride entered, radiating joy and light. Just as my eye caught Grandpa’s, I awoke and sat up.
Grandpa had told me as a child, “My mother believed that if you dream of a birth or a wedding, it foretells death.” Shaken, I noticed the time—a few minutes past midnight. I knew with great certainty that my grandfather had passed to the next world.
In the morning, I quietly confided my dream to my husband. Not wanting to dampen the joy of the Sabbath, I said no more about my secret knowledge, but I walked around all day with a lead weight on my heart.
Our phone rang immediately after havdalah, the service that marks the end of Shabbat. Grandpa had died at home, surrounded by his wife and children, a few minutes past midnight.
As Passover approached just a couple months later, I wondered what the holiday would be like. Grandpa’s Seders had always opened a door to a magical reality, completely distinct from the quotidian world I inhabited the rest of the year.
We had always read the service all the way through from my grandparents’ art deco Union Haggadahs. With a booming voice, Grandpa had told the story of the slaves in Egypt as though it were his own personal drama. My young mind never once questioned the miracles of the Exodus—their reality had been handed down to me by my grandfather, who’d received it from his, and so on for more than 3,000 years.
Year after year, Grandpa had hidden the afikomen, undetected. His sleight of hand was worthy of Doug Henning. By the time the gefilte fish arrived on its china plate, Grandpa would have me on the edge of my seat, wondering where he’d hidden the matzoh.
In our youth, my sister and I balked when we were sent to the front door late in the Seder to invite in Elijah the Prophet. To us, Elijah the Prophet could be no one but the Boogey Man. After all, hadn’t Grandpa told us that the Boogey Man lingered by the front door at night?
As a child, I was greatly relieved when Elijah would fail to appear. Now, as an adult, I grieve.
Twelve years have passed since Grandpa died. My husband and I still live in the same tiny apartment, now (thank G-d) crammed with kids. When I begin to prepare for Passover, I inevitably think of my grandfather, who never met my children and would have taken such pleasure in them. Nevertheless, my husband and I try to make our Seders as magical as possible for them. I don’t think we have quite the same flair as Grandpa, but the kids look forward to Passover with as much anticipation as I did.
I don’t expect Grandpa to visit us again this year. When he appeared to us that first Passover, he knew we needed him. Today, we still miss him. We still wish he were here. But we no longer need reassurances of his unconditional love. His one final visit gave that to us.
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Rebecca Klempner is a wife, mother, and writer in Los Angeles.
Here is an article I wrote about Purim.
Giving to Others is Our Freedom
By Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Purim commemorates the Jewish survival from genocidal decree in the Persian Empire during the 6th Century BCE. The celebration of Purim today entails the fulfillment of three Mitzvot, which means religious obligation or commandments. On the night and day of Purim, Jews around the world read the book of Esther as a remembrance of the miracle of survival. Additionally, Jews observe Purim through giving gifts of food to each other, as well as to the poor. Both of these commandments are alluded to in chapter nine of The Book of Esther.
The act of gift giving in of itself is a symbol of freedom for the Jewish people. The giving of gifts can only be performed if one has a feeling of ownership for the item being given. A person enslaved or living under strict rule lacks the sense of ownership that comes from being a free individual. Freedom’s core is best expressed through the words of Emma Lazarus, engraved on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor which says:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Some of the freedom we experience today comes from the ability to provide for the needs of others.
When people are in the midst of enduring tremendous suffering such as during and after Hurricane Sandy, human nature is such that often herculean efforts are made to continue to provide for and help those in this type of devastating situation. It has been shown many times over that many people manifest increased selfless behavior during times such as these which are perceived as excessively stressful and overwhelming. When the Purim story describes the celebration including the giving of gifts to friends and to the poor, it is describing the greater sense of altruism associated with these more difficult times. The commandment is a reminder not to rest in comfort, but to recognize that comfort comes with a responsibility. Therefore, the question that begs to be answered is this. If one who suffers and is traumatized can give when they don’t have much in emotional stock remaining to contribute, how much more should we, who are not in the midst of collective anguish, be able to provide to those who desperately need it?
As we celebrate Purim’s message of giving this year, my hope is for every person to take the time to recognize the tremendous responsibility all of us have to use the resources we possess individually in support of each other both in good and bad times. Chag Purim Sameach!
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner is the Chaplain for The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset, NJ. You can contact Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner at 732-227-1212 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on The Wilf Campus visit us at http://www.wilfcampus.org or call us at 732-568-1155.
Here is a small reflection for Simchat Torah next week.
Simchat Torah marks the yearly celebration of completing the reading of the Torah, the Pentateuch. It is a joyous day in the Jewish calendar, the culmination of the fall holiday season. It is a day of song and dance, celebrating the basic spiritual building block of the Jewish community.
As is customary, there is no break between concluding and restarting the Torah reading cycle. The tradition is to conclude the reading of the Torah, reading the last two chapters of Deuteronomy, referred to by the first words of chapter 33, V’zot HaBeracha, “and these are the blessings.” Following this, the community then begins the reading of Genesis again, reading the creation story, chapter 1 to chapter 2:4.
Ends and beginnings are intertwined. For the Jewish community, this day marks the conclusion of the holidays, either seen as the conclusion of the season of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, or more broadly, this is the culmination of the three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, when in the times of the Temple, the people would go to Jerusalem as biblically mandated. Simchat Torah leaves us with a sense of completion, of finality. Simchat Torah is the day Jews integrate into their minds the verse from the final portion: “The Torah that Moses commanded to us is an inheritance for the congregation of Jacob” (33:4).
Completions tend to be happy, joyous affairs. Yet, sadness hangs over the synagogue. It is sad to consider that the holidays, which are so highly anticipated, have come to an end. The hope is to carry the spiritual high of the holidays through the doldrums of winter. While this is difficult, perhaps there is a way, for there really is no ending. Just like with the annual Torah reading cycle, which always loops back to the beginning, to the grand expectation for humanity, so too our lives can loop back around and be refreshed.
This idea is best exemplified in a teaching from “Ethics of Our Fathers,” where it says, “Turn it over and over, for all is in it. Look into it deeply. Grow old and grey with it” (5:21). Judaism considers the Torah the blueprint of life. As such, the looping around on Simchat Torah is symbolic of this need for deeper communal study of the work. Further, as the blueprint, the yearly cycle should be an impetus for further reflection on life, allowing for continued growth and renewal.
Renewing our lives is about working on consistent growth. When we celebrate the completion of something, we really are celebrating the beginning of the next step. As such, the Simchat Torah celebration is more than the culmination of the holidays and the completion of the reading. It is the ultimate symbol for starting afresh, which we all strive for at new beginnings.