Like most good stories, this one has passed through many storytellers. It is said to have originated with Shlomo Carlebach:
Many years ago, a little 7-year old boy and his family were about to leave their native Poland. The day before their departure, the father took the little boy to the town where the rebbe lived so he could receive the rebbe’s blessings. They remained overnight in the home of the rebbe, and the little boy slept in the rebbe’s study. Staring at all the holy books, the little boy could not sleep. In the middle of the night, he saw the rebbe enter the room, and he pretended that he was asleep. The rebbe whispered “Such a sweet child.” Thinking the child might be cold, the rebbe took off his coat and placed it lovingly on the sleeping boy.
Many years later, when the little boy became an old man of 80 years, he was asked what the source of his kindness and comfort was. He said that 73 years earlier, the rebbe showed him love and comfort, and placed his coat on him to keep him warm. “I am still warm from that coat,” said the 80-year-old man.
On the last day of Pesach we add two elements to our worship — Hallel and Yizkor. That is, we bring thanks and praise into our awareness. The Hallel expresses our gratitude to the author of freedom, the source of deliverance and the creator of all life. With Yizkor, we remember and honor all of those people who have shown us love and comfort. We remember and honor our family and friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, our teachers, our classmates … all of the people who have gently covered us with a coat, tenderly stroked our hand, silently given us hope.
With Hallel and Yizkor — with thanks and memory — we acknowledge that we are still warm from their coats, their hands, their hearts. We thank them — and we thank God — for their love and warmth. Zichronam livracha, may their memories be for a blessing.
The hagadot that we held this past week are not only about the story of our people’s redemption from slavery. They are about our own family stories. Each time we gather around our seder tables we remember all of the people with whom we once gathered at Pesach. We remember them with stories; they are our story.
I am reminded of a scene from the film “Throw Momma From the Train” in which the Danny DeVito character (Owen) shows the Billy Crystal character (Larry) his coin collection. Owen pulls out — with tenderness and pride — his ordinary coins. He describes each one: “This is a quarter. This is a nickel. This is a dime. This is another nickel.” Larry is unimpressed, but Owen continues, “This is the penny I got in change the day my dad took me to the zoo.” Each coin was a memory of Owen’s deceased father. The coins were not valuable; they were priceless. They were not simply coins; they were memories.
So too with each of our own family stories — each one is precious.
During Pesach we cherish our collective memories and our individual histories, we celebrate our freedom, we acknowledge our abundance, we give thanks and we remember. May each one of our memories be for a blessing.
(This columnn is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)