Only in Israel are there kosher-for-Passover buns at McDonald's. Only in Israel do non-Kosher restaurants offer you a choice of bread and/or matzah. Only in Israel do we have shelves overflowing with every possible variation of the full range of kosher-for-Passover foods; from those who eat legumes to those who will not put matzah meal in anything. It's on this holiday in Israel that we obsess about food. Considering how humble the biblical Passover matzah was in origin, today we now have a wide variety of egg, spelt, whole wheat, and so on, for every possible diet and taste! Of course, from the inception of the Exodus, our ancestors were not going to spend eight days eating dry matzah; they left Egypt taking the paschal lamb sacrifice too. When we say Feast of Freedom, we mean it; and we spend eight days eating feasts. Passover is the holiday on which Israel really shuts down, and the spring holiday is taken full advantage of. Everyone is out sightseeing, picnicking, and visiting family, schlepping their matzah-based delicacies with them. We live and breathe and "eat" the joys of our redemption from Egypt. Flowers are in full bloom in this season; the winter rains are over and it is deliciously green, everywhere you look. Hope springs eternal!
Most Israeli Jewish families sit down together for a Passover seder. Surveys demonstrate every year, that this holiday is indeed the most "observed." Secular Israelis who can now read and understand Hebrew, have little patience for the whole traditional Haggadah, so they skim, hit the key parts, get to the meal, and then skip to a few final songs. And they eat the entire menu of ritual foods. They embody the holiday, consuming and imbibing. Whether they are conscious of it or not, this nationwide holiday has multiple meanings: for centuries, it has served not only as our festival of national liberation, but also as a reenactment and rehearsal of our national independence. We have "completed" the Exodus in our return to the homeland. Most Israelis observe this holiday at home or outdoors in nature: only those who are religious (from Orthodox to Reform) go to synagogue to sing Hallel and enjoy our special scriptural readings.
On Shabbat Chol HaMo-eid Pesach, we have special dramatic readings from our Torah, and, particularly, for our haftarah. The haftarah from Ezekiel 37:1-14 shares the vision of dry bones coming to life. What does this vision have to do with Passover, our festival of freedom, our deliverance from slavery? The Haftarah Commentary, by W. Gunther Plaut, offers this opinion on the connection between Passover and this prophecy:
The connection of the Shabbat of Pesach and the main body of the haftarah (37:1-14) lies in the theme of Israel's deliverance: in the Torah it is delivered from slavery: in the haftarah, from death.1
The story of Passover is the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, yet the story is incomplete without a messianic vision. Ezekiel, preaches to his people who are exiled from Israel, after many have been killed in battle; they are given a vision of the return of the dead to Jerusalem and a restored homeland.
This is an extraordinary vision that becomes the basis for later Jewish understandings of the Resurrection of the Dead. Are there other possible connections to Passover? One interesting connection is that we end our seder with the song "Chad Gadya," the so-called "children's song" that follows the chain of violence and death from one goat to God's striking the Angel of Death. By this time in the seder, most of us are too tipsy, tired, and full to pay attention to incredible theological message masquerading as child's play, sung in Aramaic. Its message of ultimate redemption echoes in the seder and is fully disclosed in Ezekiel's prophecy of hope and restoration.
Was Ezekiel's prophecy meant to be real or a metaphor? Is it really a description of physical resurrection or spiritual resurrection? And how do we moderns-and particularly we Reform Jews-find meaning in this? The prayers for the resurrection of the dead were among the first to be excised from classical Reform prayer books. But our more recent Mishkan T'filah has put the prayer back as an alternative reading. Could it be that the last century, with its extraordinary events, reminded us that "resurrection" is possible?
In our haftarah, Ezekiel 37:11 will send a shiver down your spine: "Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost (v'avdah tikvateinu), we are cut off [from life]!" Writing a poem in 1876, did Naftali Herz Imber literally will the revival of the Jewish people in their homeland, in defiance and deference to the words of Ezekiel? That this poem became "Hatikvah," the words of Israel's national anthem, is testimony to the story of the revival of Hebrew language and poetry, as well as the rebirth of a nation.
The rebirth of the Hebrew language, poetry, and prose represent what is probably the most powerful cultural resurrection of the twentieth century. Ezekiel was right, "I will put My breath into you and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land" (Ezekiel 37:14). These words, written sometime in the sixth century BCE, resonated in the hearts, minds, and pens of our early Zionist dreamers! Recited century after century, this haftarah has changed from a wistful prayer to a clarion call to action.
Imber died destitute in America in 1909. Yet his words resurrect his ruach, "spirit," every time our anthem is sung. Ezekiel was revived and made popular in a famous rock and roll song in the late 1960s, "Yeah Yeah Yehezkel (Ezekiel)." Only in Israel-wheretikvah, "hope," is never lost!!!
1. The Haftarah Commentary, W. Gunther Plaut(New York: UAHC Press, 1996) p. 711)
Rabbi Naamah Kelman is the dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. Born and raised in New York, she has been living in Israel since 1976, helping to build a pluralistic, progressive, and egalitarian Jewish Israel.
A friend once told me that every year she brings matzah to her office during Passover. Inevitably, one of her coworkers asks her about it. She told me how proud she is of being Jewish in that moment. She says that it is meaningful to her to keep kosher for Passover and to observe the rituals of the holiday. After she shared this with me, I asked her if she would ever try keeping kosher all of the time. She responded, "Absolutely not!"
Rabbi Kelman highlights the theme in Ezekiel of spiritual resurrection. Passover, one of the four Jewish New Years, is a time for renewal, rebirth (think egg on the seder plate), and revival (that is, the dry bones). It is a time to consider our personal connections to Judaism and our own Jewish practice.
Of course, Passover is a holiday of celebrating freedom. I wonder if it can also be a time to challenge ourselves to find a rebirth of our own individual Jewish practices and observances.
Why do Jews love keeping kosher on Passover but not during the year? Why do we revel in cooking special foods for the Passover seder but not on Shavuot? Why do we enjoy reading from the Torah and Talmud through the vehicle of the Haggadah but not on a regular basis? Why do we delight in singing Hebrew and English songs after the Pesach meal but not regularly, on Shabbat?
While I don't have the answer to these questions, I would encourage all of us this year to permit our bones to be resurrected and our spirit to be renewed. Allow the joys of celebrating Passover to not pass over you, but instead to carry over into the rest of your year.
Avram Mandell serves as the director of education at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, California.
Chol HaMo-eid Pesach, Exodus 33:12-34:26
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 657-661; Revised Edition, pp. 592-596;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 508-512