Next Wednesday evening we shall celebrate an unusual Seder Night, one that even the eldest of the elders may not remember one quite like it. I have no doubt that each and every one of us has memories from a Seder that was celebrated under difficult or demanding circumstances. I certainly remember that Seder Night at my sister’s place which I led while my dear mother-in-law, Nava Shashoua, was fighting for her life in a hospital nearby. I got the notice that she has passed away and decided to continue with the Seder, one of the toughest decisions ever for me. I am sure that now the few Holocaust survivors amongst us have their own sad Seder stories to share with us. And there were other difficult times where blood libel haunted communities as they were spread just about around this season of the year. Nevertheless, this Seder night as we ask the question “How different this night is from all other nights?” it will have a meaning that we will be speaking about for a long time to come.
The Shabbat before Passover is also known by the name Shabbat HaGadol and on this Shabbat we read the words of the prophet Malachi. Frequently the reference is made to one sentence from it, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” In the Hebrew text the word “great” is הַגָּדוֹל and provides but one reason for this Shabbat’s name. You can surely imagine that the Jewish literature is dotted with more reasons for the choice of this name. Some of course joke that this was the Shabbat were the communities rabbis had the opportunity to investigate every possible angle of the Passover laws, rules and traditions, so that the Passover would be strictly celebrated, and hence the sermons were endlessly long.
To me it seems that the choice of reading from Malachi was actually to raise the point that there are things that should be dealt with while others are by far less important. The prophet calls, “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them”. One may be tempted to think that this would be a call to actually make sure that all the laws and ordinances are kept to the letter. However, the prophet knows whom he is dealing with and cries, “Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return? Will a man rob God?’ Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.”
We learn here something of importance – all the laws, rules and ordinances amount to nothing more than a few things that without them everything else is meaningless. When the tithes and offerings are robbed then there is no meaning to God. The tithes and offerings are indicators to the ability to look beyond oneself, beyond family, community and congregation, beyond religious, national, race or gender affiliation. It is the ability to profoundly see the needs of the other, the one who is not like me, she who does not speak my tongue, he who has different preferences than I, she who is different.
When reading from the portion of the Torah you will find that it is quite different and provides much details, again, of many kinds of offerings. We read about the guilt offering, and the priest’s offering, sins offerings and peace offerings. There is a place for learning about them and figure out the relevancy for our lives today. With that said, these can be replaced by other traditions where our offerings take the form of study, education, and seeking of profound knowledge. The tithes and donations cannot be replace in these ways. If we wish to build a just and healthy society it is necessary to perform a deed, we must give up on something that we seemingly own just so that we can benefit someone else.
The Corona-virus days have sprung upon us like a bolt out of the blue and are challenging societies worldwide. It is especially during these days that we must lead the camp, despite the challenges each and every one of us is experiencing, so that we are able to address the sorrow, the difficulty, the distress and the pressure face by so many. We have to be there for them with our offerings, our donations, big or small, large or little, each as much as they can afford and that befits them. We have that responsibility and we need to act upon it. Keren Bekavod of the Israel Reform Movement is one such fund you can donate to for these purposes. You can also find other organizations to your liking that address such fellow needs here in Israel and worldwide. No doubt this is a period of significant challenge but our societal strength will be measured, among others by our ability to provide our “tithes and offerings”. It will also result in the blessing of the prophet, “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers:.
Shabbat Shalom, a Happy Passover and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 3 April 2020, 10 Nisan, 5780