Chol Hamoed Pesach
Without a doubt, Passover is my favorite holiday.
Food was always at the center of my family’s celebration and remembrance of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom (yours too?). Each year as Passover approached, I looked forward to the many foods that only seemed to appear at this time of year: Chopped liver, macaroons, charoset, gefilte fish, hard-boiled eggs in saltwater … and of course fried matza — a breakfast favorite in my household. Yet, by the end of the week, the thrill of eating differently began to wear thin and I was — and am — always all too happy to return to my bread eating ways.
And so Passover will soon end. We will put away our unused boxes of matza, and store our haggadot and special dishes until next year’s seder. But let us not be in such a hurry to forget one of the important lessons that the holiday of Passover holds for us.
What lesson are we to keep with us throughout the year? Twice during the seder we welcome those without a place to go into our homes. The first time is near the beginning when we hold the matza in the air and claim it to be the “bread of affliction.” That important Aramaic passage is an invitation. “All who are hungry may come and eat.” On Passover, we are to make our festival tables places where all are welcome.
The second time comes near the end of the seder. Before we bless and drink the fourth cup of wine, many of us open our doors to invite the prophet Elijah to join us. Why? Tradition tells us that Elijah visits every Jewish home on the night of Passover, delivering the hope of redemption. But there is another reason why we open our doors wide that evening. We do so to again be inviting and welcoming to those who have no seder of their own. An open door sends a clear message that all are welcome.
This is a message that we can keep with us long after the last piece of matza is eaten. We can leave the doors of our homes and institutions “open” to those who wish to join us. We can make all feel welcome.
Our tradition reminds us that we have an obligation to greet each other, to be welcoming to those around us. The Talmud recounts a lesson by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who said no person ever greeted him first. (B.Brachot 17a) The rabbis saw this as a sort of challenge, a motivation to greet everyone they encountered. Perhaps it is meant to challenge us as well.
Do we stop to say hello, or to introduce ourselves to people we do not know? Do we ask our friends, “Who is that?” or do we approach the person and find out for ourselves? Do we make time for simple gestures such as saying “hello” or “good morning,” or “Shabbat Shalom?” These small things do much to establish a human connection where none might have existed previously. Each says, “I care about you. I am glad you are here.”
Passover will soon be over. It will be another year until we again gather around the seder table and invite the prophet Elijah to join us. But let it not be that long until we welcome those around us. If we leave our doors “open” who knows who might just walk through them?
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)