Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah–Pesach
The heroic Hannah Szenes wrote, “There are stars whose light reaches the earth only after they, themselves have disintegrated and are no more. And there are people whose scintillating memory lights the world after they have passed from it. These lights – which shine in the darkest night – are those which illumine for us the path.” She was a 23-year-old legend who left the safety of Israel to join a special force of paratroopers back into her native Hungary. They captured her, but she faced the firing squad rather than beg for her life or divulge secrets to the NAZI regime. She reminded us that even in the midst of the storm, we are not alone and that the lives that paved the roads before our own continue to guide us … if we would but pay attention to the brilliance with which they shine.
This poem and Hannah’s legacy struck me for two reasons this week. First, this ethic is the legacy of Passover. Tonight is the first Seder, and we will retell the stories told by generations. We will not tell them vicariously. We will begin with the words,” We (not our ancestors) were slaves in the land of Egypt.” The Haggadah (service prayer book) represents thousands of years of tradition and teachings passed down generation to generation. Each generation has evolved the tradition in order to maintain its relevance, but throughout the Seder, we will read from the teachings of the many who have come before us. Their words still enlighten our minds and illuminate our conversations. We debate with Rabbis, who have been dead for thousands of years, with Rabbis still leading communities, and with Rabbis who may lack the title, but who are every day amazing teachers. For me, Passover is the quintessential proof for the teaching from Mishnah Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Sages), “Who is the one who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” That is the vibrancy of Passover conversation: a conversation in freedom, about freedom, revolving around our commitment to help spread that blessing of freedom to the rest of the world. This holiday is not about indoctrination, it does, however, mandate us to learn to love, respect, and care for everyone (even the Egyptian taskmasters) for who they are … as they are.
The second reason that this poem strikes me today keenly ties into the deeply healing roots of the Passover. This week, I lost my dear friend and mentor, Reverend Fred Reese. I have written and preached about the inspiring and life altering impact he has had on me. As I spent last week remembering the blessing of Oscar Haber, I almost feel as if I was being prepared for the news of Fred’s passing. We wrote often. He regularly gave me feedback on my writing. We spoke last week, as Lori and I were planning a trip that would bring us near him. I would be seeing him for the first time in 15 years. His light will continue to guide me and shine for me. Passover is about remembering what happens when the world forgets to love grace and mercy. “Ahavat Chesed” is one of the most important phrases in our respective faith traditions. Chesed was Fred’s favorite Hebrew word. Chesed is the innate love we share because we are human. It is not the love that motivates our hormones. It is not the love that emanates from our mindful appreciation of another. Chesed is simply the act of loving because we … we are.
Walking through the waters of freedom will be a little different this year. There will be extra light shining for me and guiding me. I hope that I pay attention. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.