Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Passover

This year, our congregation celebrated a week-long of Purim. It was not intentional, but sort of just happened. We did a Purim play in religious school for older kids, another for the whole school, and another for adults on a Saturday night. Passover is shaping up the same way. If we include the various religious school Seders (differing ones for differing age based cognitive levels), I will have experienced all or part of five Seders at Monmouth Reform Temple and one at home. In this light, I have given this holiday a whole lot of thought. In the process of revisiting everything I feel about this holiday, I rewrote my Haggadah (the service/prayer book used at Seder, and had to rethink a host of the holiday’s symbols and lessons.

Most poignant to me is the piece of the service where we address the four types of children. Traditionally, the first is the wise, the second is wicked, the third is simple, and the fourth is the one who does not even know enough to ask questions. Traditionally, the wise child understands how vested he/she is in the conversation and the story. The wicked one stays distant, affirming that it is for everyone but him/her. The other two are simple and need to be taught the whole story, knowing that especially as to the last, we have to be proactive in education.

This week, coincident with the beginning of the holiday, we read the piece from Torah about Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. Moses had just ordained them as priests, and the brought an “alien fire” to the altar. The text says that the fire leaps from the altar and consumes them. I scoured Jewish and Christian commentary on this text. The near-uniform answer is that the brothers were arrogant or drunk … the Seder’s wicked child(ren) who excluded themselves from the miracles of redemption and the prescribed service at the altar.

In past years, I have defended the boys. As an advocate knee deep in the continual civil rights movement, I know lots of folks who have brought an alien fire to the altar and died in its wake. Martin Luther King’s fire was not only alien to a white supremacy based nation, but churches all over the country preached that his movement violated God’s ordained plan for humanity. Members of the Ku Klux Klan wore crosses around their chest as they lynched black people. Around the world, there are many who control the practice of religion and use it for all sorts of abominable purposes. It is often the case that it is the “alien fire” brought by someone bent on righteousness that changes the course of history … and most often, at the cost of his or her life. I certainly see the possibility that Nadav and Avihu died from their own arrogance. I also see that they might have been the first social action leaders who stood up to God to argue what we know to be true: there is never only one path to God.

So, I had to rethink the “wicked” child. Dr. King taught that violence begets violence, and hate begets hate. The only way in which we can drive either out is through love. I also know that most folks who hate feel that they have something to defend. Teenagers distant themselves from norms in order to rebel; they need to be their “own person.” They are often not secure enough within themselves to be strong and belong. Bullying comes from insecurity. One who is secure in his/her own skin and faith does not need to validate himself at the expense of others. It takes faith to realize that God is bigger than our personal beliefs. It takes only fear and insecurity to need to prove one’s self by destroying everyone else. Our unfortunate reality is that there a lot more fearful people than faithful ones. In both the case where someone withdraws in insecurity or bullies for the same reason, they isolate themselves from the blessings of the world. The wicked child is then this afraid and insecure child: thus, we better define the wicked child as the isolated child.

What Dr. King taught us, is perhaps the best Passover lesson there is. If we really want to heal the world … bring freedom to the world, and then we need to embrace it. If people act out or disassociate because of being insecure, then we need to perform the mitzvah of “ahavat shalom baen adam l’ayavoh … making peace between one and his enemy.” We know that this is one of the greatest of mitzvoth, so we need to give the isolated child a reason to want to join us. Instead, the traditional Haggadah ostracizes this child by telling them that they are outside of God’s covenant. Maybe the world is wrong about Nadav and Avihu in shunning them as not appreciating God. If I am right, then perhaps they appreciated God more than anyone else, including Moses and Aaron. Perhaps, we can alleviate the isolated child’s angst by listening and engaging. Perhaps, for all these years, in celebrating freedom at our seder tables, we have actually participated in continuing strife in the world … isolating one-fourth of the children who are, in reality, not shunning us but screaming for recognition and ultimately, for help. In the spirit of John Lennon’s words, “It’s time for a … Passover … revolution.” Shabbat Shalom. May Passover bring us all sorts of reasons to celebrate … and find ways to help others celebrate, too.