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Parashat Beshalach: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Get Going!

April 22, 2022

Saturday night, April 16, 2022, we did something extraordinary.

Over fifty members of our Temple family and extended family gathered together, right upstairs, for our first in-person congregational Passover Seder since 2019.

We are so grateful to Lesley Anne Beck, our Worship Chair, to Edie Mulligan, our amazing head chef, and to all the volunteers and our staff who made our seder possible. It truly was a miraculous and joyful event.

We came together at seder, celebrating the joy and beauty of our holiday of freedom. We celebrated our redemption from slavery, and we celebrated our reunion with friends and neighbors. If you were not with us last week, I hope that you, too, enjoyed a seder that was more than we could have hoped for in recent years.

It was a beautiful coincidence that our congregational seder fell on a Saturday night. We began our gathering with the prayers of Havdalah, ritualizing a separation from Shabbat, from the past week, and moving us into the week to come.

Never in our lives has a period of time been defined by separation more than the past two years. Even as we’ve been able to gather more, to meet for Shabbat services or classes, to see family and friends, separation has been the underlying and overriding sentiment since March of 2020. Separated from family, from friends, from community, from large gatherings. From the people we love. From the tradition we cherish. From places that feel like home.

Last week, we celebrated reunion and community, gathering and hope - what it truly means to be redeemed, to be free.

When Havdalah, our service of separation, falls on a holiday, a chag day, we change the words of our fourth and final blessing. Normally, we say, “ha-mavdil bein kodesh l’hol” - acknowledging a God who separates, who distinguishes for us between kodesh, holy time, and hol, normal, ordinary time.When Havdalah falls on a holiday, we change those words: “hamavdil bein kodesh l’kodesh” - separating, distinguishing, and moving us from kodesh to kodesh, from holy time to holy time, from the holiness of Shabbat right into the holiness of Passover, because Passover, like Shabbat, is sacred time for us.

Never have I felt the holiness of time more than when we gathered, after being unable to do so for so long, for our community seder last Saturday night. It was truly a holy, sacred time.

There is one line in our Passover Haggadah, the telling of our story, that I like to call its mission statement: B’chol dor va’dor hayav adam lirot et atzmo k’eilu hu yatzah m’Mitzrayim.In every generation, each and every person must see themselves as having personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt.

That is our goal of our seder night. That is Passover in one sentence. The sights and symbols of our seder plate help us to tell the story. Our songs and our questions help us connect personally, to imagine ourselves as slaves, now freed.

We have been separated, isolated, and shut into our homes. We have been in our own kind of Egypt. We have walked slowly toward freedom and hope and renewal. The Passover story is as real for us as it ever was, as it ever will be. There is more work we can do, to bring about the redemption of the world, so all might be free. We know that work begins in community, in connection, in sitting together, singing words of thanks and praise.

Just as Havdalah helps us distinguish between sacred and ordinary time, Passover itself, as a seven or eight-day holiday, depending on your personal observance, is not entirely made up of chag time, of sacred holy-day time, of time we would call Kodesh in a blessing. The first two and final days of Passover are considered chagim, days when we would traditionally not work when we would focus on prayer. The intermediary days of the holiday are known as hol ha’moed - the normal days of gathering.

Again, we hear that word hol from our typical holiday blessing. The non-sacred, opposite of chag time. And mo’ed, a fun, and unique word Hebrew word means to gather together. We know it from our Psalms: Ki va mo’ed! The time has come to gather (Ps. 102:14) We know it from the tabernacle, the ancient tent of meeting that accompanied us on our wanderings in the desert - our Ohel Mo’ed, our Tent of Meeting, of Gathering.

And on these in-between days of our week-long festivals, of Passover and Sukkot, we greet each other in a special way: Mo’adim L’Simcha - May you gather in joy.

On hol ha’moed, our ordinary, normal days of gathering, we greet each other with words simple and profound: Mo’adim L’simcha - May you gather in joy.

May we gather in joy. Something we took for granted for so long, and now, such a joy, such a blessing.

May we gather in joy. May it be normal, and may it be sacred! May we gather in peace, in freedom, in redemption, in hope. May we be blessed to gather, and gather in blessing!

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784