Passover is a lot of fun, isn't it? Earlier this week, Cantor Friedrich and I hosted our fourth annual Interfaith Seder at Christ Church Episcopal in Media, with Rev. Adam Kradel. It's a wonderful event, and we love partnering with them. In fact, I think one of the things
that most of us love about Pesach is that we get to explain all our crazy rituals and customs to our non-Jewish neighbors and friends, and we enjoy seeing their faces when they look at us like we're nuts! 'Yes, we really are eating this dry, tasteless bread for an entire week. And yes, we ARE calling this wilted sprig of parsley dipped in nothing but over-salted tap water the 'appetizer' to our meal.' Pesach is indeed a bit of a crazy week, but it makes us feel unique, and bonded to other Jews all around the world, and that makes it all kind of seem worth it. Like eating gefilte fish suddenly becomes a rite of passage! But there are also some dark parts to the Seder - and thus to Jewish history - as well, aren't there?
We love our Interfaith Seder at the Episcopal Church, but it's hard to talk about our ancestors painting their doorposts with lamb's blood, so that God would 'pass over' their homes and spare their first-born sons, while killing off all the oldest sons of the Egyptians. And we named the entire holiday after that 'glorious' moment?!? And we feel good about removing drops of wine to acknowledge the suffering of the Egyptians, but ultimately we only take out a whopping TEN drops, so how compassionate are
we REALLY being? No matter how many songs we sing about frogs jumping on Pharaoh's nose, or hand puppets we create to illustrate the plagues, it's still hard to get away from how gruesome they were. And it's challenging to talk about how much we struggle with God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart in order to keep the plagues coming and increase the suffering of our enemies. In both of these examples I've mentioned, door posts and plagues, blood features prominently. In fact, when you really think about it, blood is often the sticking point in a lot of our inter-religious encounters. From challenges to circumcision and questions about Kosher slaughter, to the ancient blood libels of anti-Semites in medieval Europe; blood is simply an uncomfortable topic for dinner party conversation.
In this week's Torah portion, Tzav, we are reminded once again about the prohibition against eating ANY blood (Lev. 7:26-27). This is, of course, one of the many ironies about the centuries-old accusation that Jews made their WHITE matzah with the blood of Christian
children... According to the Torah, the blood contains the life force of all creatures, and so we are forbidden to consume the soul of another living thing. Yet the blood DOES get used in other rituals - purifying and dedicating the Temple, for example - so it's not that we can't use it at all, we just can't ingest it. In some ways, this further heightens its mystique, because blood harbors the soul, but it also contains holiness, purity, and some type of Divine spark. Today, we really don't talk much about blood in polite conversation, and we relegate it to the medical world; far away from anything religious.
Now I'm not trying to suggest (as I did, entirely in jest, before Purim) that we should bring back any rituals surrounding blood. I'm just trying to highlight its role in our history, so we don't shy away from it or feel embarrassed to speak
about it. Our ancestors were saved from the plagues of the Egyptians by blood, and they gave thanks to God for their redemption by creating rituals that incorporated blood as a sacred fluid, while always refraining from consuming it. I don't want to bring the rituals back, but I wonder if we lost something when we phased them out? Do we talk about 'the life force' anymore? Do we talk about the Divine spark that is in EVERY living thing, even the animals that are served up on our plates? We don't need to dab blood on our doorposts, but we should remember our ancient history, and how connected our ancestors once felt to God, and God's ability to save them from slavery. Pesach has some wonderful, modern customs that connect the Seder to our lives and communities today. But let's also remember our ancient origins, and not be ashamed to talk about those as well. They may be a bit gorier, but they make for some great and entertaining stories!
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