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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Pesach Sedarim’

A Rabbi’s Rabbi Shares His Seder Secrets

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

The ideal drashah (sermon) combines science and art.

There is the scientific component, where the darshan embodies deep and authentic Jewish scholarship: breadth of knowledge, methodology, and faithfulness to tradition. Equally significant are the artistic elements of the drashah: eloquence, presentation, and a penetrating understanding of one’s intended audience.

It is no easy feat to compose good Pesach sermons. One must envision creative twists to well-trodden ancient texts, emerging with new understandings that educate, inspire, and delight.

As an accomplished scholar, and armed with a lifetime of experience as a community rabbi and then president and rosh hayeshiva of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm brings all his credentials as a master darshan to our Pesach Sedarim in his newly published commentary on the Haggadah, The Royal Table (OU Press).

Perhaps the core philosophy of this treasure-trove of insights can be identified in Dr. Lamm’s interpretation of the preface to the first half of the Hallel (Psalms 113-114), where we promise to sing a “new song” (shirah chadashah).

Dr. Lamm expresses amazement that this “new” song is none other than “the old, tried, worn Hallel.” His response: “Our people throughout the ages have instinctively understood that the rhythm of Torah combines the old and the new new insights are possible, insights that come with age and wisdom and experience . We must keep the old in sight; perceive in it the new through Insight; and as a result learn – to excite our souls and galvanize our spirits.”

That interplay between tradition and creativity receives magnificent expression throughout his elucidations of the classical Haggadah text.

Dr. Lamm stresses that ethical living is central to Judaism: “The highest form of creativity is neither intellectual nor artistic; it is ethical.” Elsewhere he even converts the korech sandwich into a lesson in balancing the different elements of our personalities – represented by the symbols of matzah and marror – to achieve perfection. Extremes must be avoided.

There is a talmudic debate about whether we should begin the negative aspect of the storytelling from our physical slavery or from our idolatrous origins. Instead of tackling that debate, Dr. Lamm explores a more basic question. If the Talmudic sages cannot even agree on so fundamental a point, how can we ever speak about “tradition”?

Dr. Lamm answers that uncertainty provokes machloket l’Shem Shamayim (debate for the sake of Heaven), and that uncertainty coupled with ongoing study makes life more interesting and energizing.

Religious existentialism emerges in the discussion of the plague of darkness. Darkness and solitude can indeed be a plague, and this is how the Egyptians perceived it. However, one with a healthier perspective finds blessing in moments of solitude. Loneliness can be painful, but also can become a creative opportunity to hear the voice of God and discover ourselves.

Dr. Lamm infuses ironic meaning into our practice of reclining. We recline as a relic from the Roman period, when nobles did so on couches while they dined. In an age of great technological advances such as chairs, however, of what value is this fossilized custom?

Dr. Lamm responds that our Seder is profoundly lacking because there is no Temple, and it was the ancient Romans who destroyed it. We shall not allow that destruction to undo us as a people.

Our response is to celebrate a living tradition from the era of the Temple with a Roman practice, while that once invincible Roman Empire is long gone.

Along with his perspicacious discussion of the Four Children, Dr. Lamm delights the reader with another section that outlines traits of the Four Parents. Education should not be focused exclusively on children and their respective differences. Rather, our continuity as a people depends heavily on the religious-educational attitudes of parents and how they speak to their children.

Dr. Joel Wolowelsky has provided an invaluable service in reading Dr. Lamm’s sermons, selecting and abridging them, and placing them alongside the text of the Haggadah as a running commentary. He also has succeeded in retaining Dr. Lamm’s authentic voice (as stated in the general introduction, Dr. Lamm reviewed the volume).

The Royal Table is a veritable gold mine for rabbis and educators. In addition to the wealth of insight, it is a consummate model as to what makes a great drashah. The Royal Table similarly is a welcome addition for all committed Jews seeking to enhance their Sedarim and ultimately their personal religious growth. The book is accessible to Jews of all backgrounds, as Dr. Lamm combines his hallmark eloquence and subtlety with clarity and a keen understanding of a diverse Jewish community.

The Significance Of Saying Dayenu

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The pictures had been removed from the wall a while back. Carefully and methodically, they had been placed in the back of her desk drawer, a spot that could be reached only if one were looking for something intentionally. Other pictures were inconspicuously hanging in the corner, situated on a wall blocked by a large, mismatched piece of furniture. There were also loose photographs, neatly stacked in their original envelope, discreetly placed in an unmarked folder located in the back of her filing cabinet.

A few remained on the wall, but only a few. It was too painful for her to view them all, facing her directly day after day, reminding her of a time that was, a period in her life she could never again retrieve.

Normally she would not consider even touching them, let alone viewing them. However at this time of year, when Pesach cleaning is in the air, she could not help but rummage through some of her drawers and cabinets. Discovering the envelopes and gazing at its contents, she is overtaken by a powerful urge – evoking within her curiosity – to pick them up. One by one she scans each photo; contemplating – reminiscing – listening to her inner voice reflecting upon those earlier years.

“I can’t get over that smile; it’s so angelic. He’s so adorable and cute! I could just eat him up! How did I not see that back then? Sure I played with him as any nurturing mother would. But I have little recollection of enjoying this precious child during those tender toddler years. And yet, the one thing that does stand out vividly in my mind is my complaining, and my lack of patience at his screaming and whining. How could I have wasted that time?”

Had she known then what she understands presently – that her baby’s screaming and whining are a part of G-d’s Master Plan for her to develop patience – then maybe she would have said dayenu.

She picks up another batch of photos. This pile appears to be that of her son’s earlier school years. Flipping through each one and pondering that period in her life, she thinks about her son’s adjustment to school, homework, learning, friendships. And, within seconds, her thoughts are focused on his temperament.

Her inner voice painfully speaks: “Nothing was easy for him, or for me. Everything seemed to have been a struggle and an issue, from ending playtime and doing homework to brushing teeth and bedtime. Whatever I said was met with resistance. And to think the toddler years were tough! Oh, how I wish that stage could reappear!”

Had she appreciated then what she is thankful for today- that her child’s resistance and arguing are a part of G-d’s Master Plan for her to acknowledge his sharp mind and intelligence – then perhaps she could have said dayenu.

She gasps when she picks up the next envelope. The childlike face is gone; four inches taller, his body filled out and he’s suddenly a young man. Ah yes, the onset of adolescence. There he is in his Purim costume with a bottle of beer in hand and an unlit cigarette in his mouth.

As she gapes, her inner voice projects confusion: “Look at him; he thinks he’s an adult but he shows no responsibility. How could someone be so bright, ask profound questions and achieve such high grades throughout his academic career only to dismiss it all now. His learning means little compared to his social life. Even sports activities have gone by the wayside. The non-stop arguments over homework, curfew and, going to shul and davening are a daily struggle. His chutzpah is rampant. How I yearn for those days when the only major issues were teeth-brushing, homework and bedtime.”

Had she observed then what she notices now – that amidst her son’s compelling socializing behaviors are a part of G-d’s Master Plan for her to recognize and focus on his interpersonal skills; and to praise the exemplary character traits (middos) he embodies and demonstrates toward his friends and others – then it’s possible she would have said dayenu.

In another unmarked folder, a more recent picture lay dormant. She picks up a single passport photo. It’s the only picture she has of her son during this juncture. His hair is wild, long and partially colored. He is bedecked with piercing and jewelry. And he dresses in clothing she never imagined would have entered into her home.

Tears begin to emerge as her inner voice cries: “Why didn’t the schools try harder to keep him? Why couldn’t some of his better friends stick with him? When did the transformation take place? One minute his tzitzis are flying out of his pockets, and before my very eyes, they’re replaced with tattered jeans and tee shirts. How I wish we could quarrel just a bit. Oh, how I wish he would disagree with me about curfew. But how could he? Between his staying out a large part of the night and sleeping most of the day, our paths rarely cross. Between his grunts and depressing look, there are few words spoken between us.”

Had she felt then what she senses at this moment – that her son’s unhappiness and disengagement from the family are a part of G-d’s Master Plan for her to feel her son’s loneliness and to raise compassion for his pain and struggles – then she might have most assuredly said dayenu.

With the advent of the Pesach Sedarim, perhaps now might be a good time to move the theme of dayenu beyond the realm of the Hagaddah. Consider the following:

If your struggling teenage daughter shows up to the family Seder, appreciate that she came and has a desire to be a part of the family. If you hug her, give her a kiss and truly make her feel she belongs with you, you might feel fulfilled when you say dayenu.

If your struggling teenage son drops in while you are in the midst of the Seder and if he quickly escapes to the security of his room, appreciate that he came home.You might, then, excuse yourself from the table and go to his room with a piece of kugel or some other yom tov delicacy. And as you smile warmly and kiss him while wishing him a good yom tov, the love and compassion you demonstrate might help you feel uplifted when you say dayenu.

May Hashem strengthen all struggling families with chizuk and hope, and provide personal salvation and redemption to the entire family.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com

If you would like to read Debbie’s archived articles, log on to www.jewishpress.com and, in the search box on the home page, type in Debbie Brown.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/the-significance-of-saying-dayenu/2009/04/07/

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