One of the things that added to my personal seder was the new Hagaddah my husband bought me. (Thanks, dear.) A Hagaddah is the book that contains the story of the Exodus from Egypt and all the symbols and songs we have to remember that once-in-a-history-of-the-world event.
Every year I try to learn the Hagaddah with new explanations of the classic. This year, I used an Historical Hagaddah by Rabbi Nachman Cohen. Rabbi Cohen gives a fascinating historical perspective to the stories in the Hagaddah. For example, did you ever wonder what that table full of rabbis was doing together in Bnei Brak? Why weren't they home with their families? Who was going to hide the afikomen in their homes if they weren't there?
I had heard over the years that the rabbis at the table had come together to plan the rebellion against the Romans.
Rabbi Cohen begins by saying that the rabbis (the most famous of their generation) had just returned from Rome on a mission to intervene for the Jewish people. They did not have enough time to return to their homes before Passover, so they stayed together for the Seder in Bnei Brak.
He noted that they were interested in not only the story of the Exodus, but how it affected their current situation under the Roman Empire's opression.
Rabbi Cohen also tells us that these rabbis were not the only ones who returned from Roman. There were more rabbis with them, including the nasi (the head of the Jewish people) Rabban Gamliel. Why wasn't he at the rabbis' seder as well. Rabbi Cohen maintains that there was a second seder being held with Rabban Gamliel and other great rabbis of the time. Why were the two groups not together?
The first group, as we had heard before, was the group of rabbis that were against the Romans. They wanted to know how they could proceed to act against the Roman tyranny.
Rabban Gamliel's group believed that the Second Temple (which had been destroyed by the Romans) would still be rebuilt one day soon. Rabban Gamliel believed that if the Jewish people could only hold out a little longer, the Romans would loosen their grip on the Jews and allow them to once again practice their religion and worship in their Holy Temple.
Just like today, different opinions in our great leaders and severe splits in the people. Who should we follow?
Rabbi Cohen delves into this and many other issues across the panorama of Jewish history. I shared some of his thoughts at the table, and everyone had much food for thought before we had the food for dinner.
This year's Seder is over, but there are still six more days to Passover, and IY"H, there's always next year. (No, I don't get a commission for selling this Hagaddah. I just wanted you to know about it.) You can contact Rabbi Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org .
MAKING THE OMER COUNT
Tonight we began counting the Omer, Sefirat HaOmer. It's actually a countdown to Shavuot. Wow, tonight was the first night, only 48 days to go until Shavuot and the commemoration of our stand at Mount Sinai.
It's great to count down to an event that is exciting for us, but it's not enough just to count the 49 days, we've got to make those days count.
Last year, my husband bought me a different book, called Sefiros by Rabbi Yaacov Haber with Rabbi David Sedley. (And no, I don't get a commission for writing about this one either.) I used to think that presents were jewelry or cool chotchkes, but I've come to appreciate quality books. When I first received the book on Sefiros, I sighed. Truthfully, I'd have rather received diamonds. But when I got into it, I realized this book really was a diamond.
It explains the meaning of every one of the 49 days of the Omer, and what we can do personally to incorporate the characteristic of each specific day and make it valuable for us.
For example, today was the first day of the Omer. It is characterized by pure chesed (loving kindness). The book suggests that we spend this day looking at the world and realizing that G-d's creation of the world and everything in it was a tremendous chesed (kindness) whether we all deserve it or not.
Then the book suggests that we can show chesed to others by giving some time to a friend or family member, and giving charity or doing a kind deed for someone else. It also suggests that we spend one day NOT thinking that the world revolves around us, us, us. If we think about others for this one day, we will perhaps learn to be less self-centered, and more like G-d wants us to be - caring kind individuals.
Wishing everyone a great rest of Passover, and 48 more days of value and growth.