I doubt many of us would have thought, a year ago, that we would still be planning Zoom seders a year later. Yet, here we are again. When last year we asked “what does all of this mean and when will it end”, I find myself and others this year asking “how much more, how long will this last’? Pandemic and Zoom fatigue have settled in, even with the vaccine roll-outs. SO, I find myself prepping for the seder with a different mid set. I keep asking what is it that I am searching for?
The themes of liberation, freedom and hope seem so challenging. Just in the past week or so we have been bombarded by more sensless gun atrocities, the sad and challenging pictures from our southern border, the return of Jim Crow era laws in Georgia that make no pretense regarding the desire to restrict voting access, the continuing inablity of Congress to act like adults and, for good measure, the seeming right wing drift of what passes for politics in Israel. In many ways, this all seems too much!
So we return to basics. More important than any global macro concerns will be, for some who will have an in person seder, the fact that we can be, in a limited way, in person. To sit across the table from some family, as opposed to across the screen, may put the global concerns into perspective. What we are searching for this year may be very personal. After all, I believe, all religion, like politics, is local. That hug maybe way more important than sticking to doing every ritual. It is a sense of peace that we seek for after a year plus, our souls, spirits and senses have been overloaded. Maybe this seder season will usher in a few moments of peace.
To that end, I discovered a long ago published treasure that may help in this search for peace. In 1946 Rabbi Joshua Loth Leibman published a challenging and ahead of its time book titled “Peace of Mind” that discusses what Leibman referred to as a need for a mature religion, a religion that adapts to changing times. Remember, this was on the heels of World War 2. Leibman wrote of an age beset with “psychic anxieties, cloven by emotional conflicts, beset by economic insecurities, assailed by political doubts and cynicisms”. Sound familiar? Our search for peace of mind is a paramount desire and is aided by a religion that takes into account the insights of psychology whch help understand the power and place of basic human emotions. In a sentence that could have been written now, Leibman states that “when no legitimate outlet is provided for the emotions of man, they will seek legitimate outlets; that when moral religion starves the feelings of its worshipers, immoral religions like racialism and tribalism will claim its fanatics”.
What Leibman is also saying in this gem of a book is that peace of mind begins with our ability to know ones self. Perhaps this is another hidden kernel of meaning for Passover, for the symbolism of slavery to dignity is not only the story of the Israelites, but of each of us. For our own peace of mind, maybe we need to go into our own souls during this week and have the courage to assess who we are. Maybe when we ask “why is this night different” we can also ask ourselves, “why are we different”? Self acceptance is a key to peace of mind. We are free to define who we are. and that freedom of self-definition is part of the message of this festival. As Leibman writes: “The great commandment of religion “Though shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, might now be better interpreted to mean. ‘Though shalt love thyself properly, and then thou wilt love thy neighbor”.
Have a sweet and healthy Passover.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.