Chag Ha’Pesach 5784: Marror & Charoses, Bitter-Sweet

Chag Ha’Pesach 5784.  Chag Ha’Matzos.  Chag Ha’Aviv.  Zman Cheiroseinu.  Passover, the Festival of Matzos, the Holiday of the Spring, the Time of our Freedom.

And it is this that has stood for our forefathers and us, for not one alone rises up to destroy us, but in each and every generation they arise to destroy us, and HKB”H saves us from their hands (V’hi She’amdah, recited in Maggid on Leil ha’Seder).

It is seven months since Shmini Atzeres-Simchas Torah 5784 (this was an ibur shana, a Jewish leap year, with two Adars, hence it is seven months from Simchas Torah till Pesach).  Seven months since a brutal, savage and terrible war was launched against Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael.  Seven months of bereavement for thousands of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael.  Seven months of longing, waiting, wondering, hoping and praying for redemption, shalom, ahava and the Presence of Hashem to manifest in all Its Glory once again in Tzion and Yerushalayim.

This year, the highchair of Kfir Bibas, the chair of his brother, Ariel, and the seats of their parents, Shir and Yarden, will remain empty at the Seder table.

The family patriarch, Shlomo Manzour, who turned 86 in captivity a few weeks ago, will not be at his Seder table, unable to tell his family the story of the Exodus from Egypt, nor the story of his personal exodus from Baghdad, Iraq, after surviving the Farhoud of 1941, to the land of Israel.

Romi Gonen, 23 years old, kidnapped from the site of the Rei’im music festival, remains in captivity.  I met her parents, and spoke personally with her mother, at the site of the Nova Music Festival when we visited this past January.  I told her mother (in Ivrit), I would like to say something to you, but I have nothing to say.  She replied, “ba’makom she’ein milim, chibuk yachol, in a place where there are no words, a hug will do.”  And so we hugged.  Two Jewish women, one orthodox and one secular.  One living in America, the other in Israel.  One who speaks English, and the other Ivrit.  Two women, two mothers, two Jews, one heart.

This year, while we yet await and pray for miracles of redemption, it seems that the Bibas Family, Shlomo Manzour, Romi Gonen and the other hostages, will not be at their Seder tables.

I did not know what dvar Torah to share with you this erev chag.  There are so many thoughts we all have, so much pain we share, so many tefillos we all offer, so much confusion and darkness in the world at large, yet so much hope and faith we maintain in the coming of the Redemption, and so much pride and beauty in our nation and our Land.

It is the symbolism of the marror, the bitter herbs, dipped in charoses, the sweet paste, that reminds us of the destiny and journey, of our nation.

So I chose to share the following words of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, which he penned before Pesach, 1967.  They are as relevant today as they were when penned decades ago.  Perhaps, even more so.

Rabbi Dr. Lamm z’l teaches, “The marror that we eat at the Seder is more than just a vegetable recalling the hard times inflicted upon our remote ancestors in ancient Egypt.  It is the very symbol of human anguish through all the ages, and what we do with it is an expression of the Jewish philosophy of suffering as it issues out of the historical experience of the Jewish people.

“Consider how astounding is our attitude toward this piece of food and how it speaks volumes about us as a nation.  We do not weep when we eat it.  We take this marror, this morsel of misery itself, and we recite a bracha over it!  It is as it we are saying, ‘Thank You G-d for this miserable memory!’  We then take this bitter herb and dip it into the charoses, the sweet paste of wine and nuts and fruit.  Life, we say in effect, is neither all bitter nor all sweet.  With rare exceptions, it is bitter-sweet, and we ought not to bemoan our fate but to bless G-d for it.

“Ever since Adam and Chava ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, our kabbalists teach us, good and evil have been co-mingled, and life offers us neither pure, unadulterated goodness, nor pure, unredeemable wickedness.  The pessimist deplores the bitter and the bad that corrupts the sweet and the good.  The optimist is delighted that the sharp edge of bitterness is softened with sweetness, that there is so good everywhere.

“That is why when the Jew, the eternal optimist, dips his marror into the charoses he makes a bracha.  That is why, when we celebrate the zeman cheiroseinu, the festival of our freedom, the Jew at this time reclines while he eats.  He plays the role of nobleman even while the gentile majority persecutes and oppresses and embitters him.  Let others laugh at the comic Jew who tells himself he is a melech, a king, while he is being tormented.  We know it is true.  Life is bitter, but we have dipped it into the sweetness of charoses.

“Hence, as we come to Pesach this year and every year, we relearn our lesson.  Many of us enter the holiday burdened with a secret sigh, with the heavy heart, the mind distracted, and the soul sorely troubled.  Yet, as Jews, we shall look for the sweet, we shall perform the tibbul marror b’charoses (dipping the bitter herbs in charoses), and experience by sheer will the simchas yomtov, the happiness and joy of the festival… A people that dips marror into charoses and makes a bracha over it is never defeated by fate or foe.  A folk that can find the mellow in a morsel of misery can drive away the darkness with its own light, the outer sorrow with the inner joy” (Festivals of Faith, p.243-244,247).

As we sit down to leil ha’Seder this year, a night when we will ask ‘why is this night, this year, this Pesach, different than all others?’; a night when so many chairs remain empty; a night of almost ten years since Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were captured and whose remains are still held by Hamas y’s; a night of reflecting upon the slavery of Egypt and the turmoil of the past seven months, we will yet reaffirm our faith, recommit ourselves to Hashem, reconnect with our nation and our Land, we will remind ourselves, and declare to all those with whom we share the night of Redemption, that though they arise to destroy us, it is truly the greatest truth in the history of the world, that HKB”H saves us from their hands.

And though galus is dark, exile is bitter, and the marror is great, the sweet charoses reminds us of the blessings of Hashem, the goodness in our lives, the gift that is Torah, the miracle of our Land, and the redemption that is Medinat Yisrael.

,לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה, בברכת חג כשר ושמח


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