D’var Torah For Friday, March 31, 2023

This Shabbat we will be reading from parashat Tzav. In it, we find more laws regarding the sacrificial offerings. There is also the dedication of the Tabernacle as well as a ritual involving the ordination of priests. This Shabbat also happens to be Shabbat HaGadol, “The Great Shabbat.”

Shabbat HaGadol takes place on the Shabbat immediately preceding Passover. By tradition it was one of two Shabbatot that the rabbi would give a sermon. The other being Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat in-between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The Shabbat HaGadol sermon was focused on the laws, customs and rituals associated with the observance of Passover. It was a way of reminding Jews how to observe the rites of Passover.

For example, by tradition you can select your lamb for sacrifice on Shabbat HaGadol. There is also another custom of reading through the hagaddah on that day in preparation for Passover. Basically, this Shabbat is about celebrating God’s creation as well as turning our hearts and minds towards the most observed of all the Jewish holidays in the home.

In addition to our Torah portions, this coming Wednesday evening also begins the festival of Passover. Passover is the most observed of all the Jewish holidays in the home. Jews from all walks of life find time to celebrate our story of redemption. Our homes are filled with the aromas of traditional, and perhaps not-so-traditional foods that we can find on our seder plates. We sing songs and tell the stories of our ancestors from a time so long ago.

Passover is steeped in tradition, yet it is also a celebration of reinvention. Up until the book of Exodus, we read the stories about our individual ancestors: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, Zilpah and so many more. It was not until the arrival of Moses, that we begin to tell the story of the formation of our people. A people who had to redefine themselves. A people who had to create a new covenantal tradition. A people whose tradition would now be based on collective responsibility rather than individual autonomy. A people who would then commit themselves to telling the very stories we will share on Wednesday to their children, so that one day, we can and will, tell it to our children and grandchildren.

What makes this all the more astonishing is that our ancestors managed to do this against all odds. Lest we forget, they came out of a time of great crises. They left behind their enslavement all the while forging ahead to make themselves into a lasting legacy, whose efforts we continue to celebrate to this very day.

Passover may be tied to tradition, history, and legacy, but it is also a celebration of the future. We do not merely tell stories to glorify the past, but instead, we use them to provide lessons and instill in us a driving sense of what is possible. As we say each year, “none are free until all are free.” And as we say as well, “this year here, next year in Jerusalem.” Both statements are reminders that there continues to be great, holy and sacred work to be done to build for a better future.

And to that, I think we can all lift up the first come and say: Amen
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff