April 2016 – Passover

The observance of Pesach involves an element, which is applicable not only to this festival, but to Jewish life generally and, indeed, to the nature of human existence.

Jewish law prohibits the use of bread and leaven products during Passover.  The regulations are strict, you can check them out on our website; in essence, the smallest quantity of leaven renders food unfit for consumption.  Why is a minute particle of hametz so potent that it can spoil a vast quantity of food?  The answer, in general terms, is that this law emphasized the importance of little things in life, the details of human existence.

We live in a world, which pays tribute to size.  We are addicted to bigness – bigger industries, bigger cars, king-size computer screens, and skyscrapers raise their heads higher into the heavens.  Institutions grow increasingly larger.  In our concern with bigness, we have confused it withgreatness, mistaking quantity for quality and size for substance.  The two nations of the ancient world that left the deepest impact on Western civilization were Jews and the Greeks.  A cursory glance at a map indicates how small in size were the two countries whose influence is so enduring.  David Lloyd George, British statesman who guided Britain and the British Empire through World War I and the postwar, said: “God has chosen little nations as the vessels by which God carries God’s choicest wines to the lips of humanity, to rejoice their hearts, to exalt their vision, to strengthen their faith”.

It is interesting to note that as we deal with materials, which are precious, the significance of little things becomes important in proportion to their value.  In a ton of coal, for instance, a shortage of one or two lumps is unimportant.  But when we deal with precious stones or volatile chemicals, every minute quantity becomes a matter of great concern.

In our relationship with human beings, the large things are generally placed in the focus of our attention.  But the difference between cultured and crude people, politics aside, is to be found in little things: a few kind words, a gesture of esteem, a sympathetic clasp of the hand, a thoughtful remark, a pat on the shoulder – these are the gestures and signs which enable us to feel the warmth and friendship of another.

The same principle holds true in our life as Jews, for there is nothing really spectacular about Jewish observance.  The washing of hands before eating, the blessing before a meal, kindling of a few candles, it is in these acts by which Jewish values are experienced.  Our generations of American Jews are not asked to perform heroic deeds or great acts of sacrifice, only little things – and because they are little we often disregard them.  Giving a child a Jewish home, reading a Jewish book, enrolling in a Jewish class – these are quite unspectacular.  Reciting the Kiddush, subscribing to a Jewish magazine, buying an Israel Bond, serving on a committee – these ae quite undramatic.  Yet it is precisely in our faithfulness to these little things that our loyalty to Judaism is reflected and that the character of Jewish life in America is shaped.  “Piety,” wrote Leo Baeck, “especially Jewish piety, respects the little – the little person, the little matter, the little task, the little duty.  Through the little, religion meets the greatness that lies behind.”

I know that parents, if put to the test, will make massive sacrifices on behalf of their children and all their dear ones.  I appeal to parents to undertake those humble acts and undramatic tasks that are the “little things” of this Passover season.  I refer to the importance of introducing the Seder in the home in a manner that expresses the gaiety and beauty of the holiday.  It is a bit more trouble to prepare the home for Passover and there are certain special tasks and skills for a mother and father to perform.  Such a shared experience nourishes the Jewish spirit and has the power of sanctifying and elevating our lives.

A little particle of hametz may seem an insignificant thing, but consider for the conductor of a symphony orchestra, one false note ruins a great masterwork.  It is in the small things of life that we reveal our sensitivity and our right to claim the privilege of being civilized.

A Happy Passover to all of you, Kasher ve Sameach.  May the ideals of this Festival of Freedom bring new hope here and in Israel and inspire new vigor into the Jewish community.  Let the dream of freedom be realized for families throughout the world as we celebrate the event that gave birth to liberty for our ancestors.

From my family to yours,

Have a meaningful Sedarim and a Pesach Kasher ve Sameach

Rabbi Leonardo Bitran