Tag: Torah

The buried Seder plate

by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
The tragic fate of one survivor’s remarkable heirloom.

“Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt…”

The exodus and the miracles of the Passover story happened a long time ago, but they are still part of our contemporary consciousness because of the power of memory. Thomas Cahill, the Catholic writer who authored the best-selling book, The Gifts of the Jews, concluded that it was the Torah with its commandments to remember that gave the world the concept of time and a reverence for the past. Passover speaks to all generations, reminding us to not only recall our past but to also shape our future.

But not everyone remembers, and tragically, some choose to forget, as demonstrated by the incredible incident I had with Shmuel’s Seder plate.

A few years ago I was browsing in an antique store on the East Side in New York when I spotted an all-too-familiar object. I recognized it immediately, even before I spotted the family name clearly etched on its border. How could I not know what it was when I had been so involved in its story? After all, my eulogy of Shmuel, a miraculous survivor of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, focused on it.

What a tale it had been. The Germans had rounded up all the Jews in his little town for deportation. Some believed that they were merely being transported to another site to be used for labor. But Shmuel knew that they were meant to be murdered. He understood that the Nazis wanted to eliminate every Jew as well as every reminder of their religious heritage.

An introduction to Passover

Putting the Seder into perspective.

The holiday of Passover marks the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish nation. The story of the Jewish nation is one of individuals who became a family who became a people. The great individuals who laid the spiritual foundation of Jewish peoplehood were Abraham and Sarah, their son and daughter-in-law Isaac and Rebecca, and their son and daughters-in-law Jacob, Rachel, and Leah.

From Jacob, Rachel, and Leah came a family of 70 people who, due to a famine in Israel, were forced to migrate to Egypt. In Egypt this family grew and prospered to such an extent that they eventually came to be seen as a threat by their Egyptian hosts. Respect and admiration turned to contempt, and finally to an organized program of enslavement and oppression. After 210 years, and a series of unheeded warnings by Moses to Pharaoh which resulted in the Ten Plagues, God liberated a nation which had grown from the original family of 70 people. Seven weeks later this newly conceived nation received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Why are American Jews liberal?

For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn’t solidarity with Israel; it’s rejection of Christianity. This observation may help to explain the otherwise puzzling political preferences of the Jewish community explored in Norman Podhoretz’s book. Jewish voters don’t embrace candidates based on their support for the state of Israel as much as they passionately oppose candidates based on their identification with Christianity—especially the fervent evangelicalism of the dreaded “Christian Right.”

The Divine Code

Did The Rabbis who authored the classic Jewish daily liturgy embed certain messages in the prayers that were intended to draw attention to authentic Jewish ideas?

The Rabbis inserted one phrase from the Torah over and over again in everyday Jewish prayer. It is recited ten times by the praying Jew on a weekday and twelve times on Shabbat.