Blog Post


Parshat Tazria: Pesach and the Playoffs

Pesach and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They will forever be bound together in the hearts and minds of many hockey fans who find these monumental events often align with one another in the calendar. No matter how “early” or “late” Pesach is, hockey playoffs invariably overlap with Pesach Seders and, in the words of George Costanza, become worlds colliding. I am too ashamed to recount how often I left our family Seder to watch the Maple Leafs on TV as a child. But inasmuch as most of my memories were of how the Leafs were skewered by the Boston Bruins during those years, clearly God was punishing me. 

In the Haggadah we read that in each and every generation, one is obligated to see him or herself as if he or she had personally come out of Egypt. This line has bothered commentaries throughout the ages. How realistic is it to truly fulfill this requirement given that we have not had the Exodus experience personally? We all know that if someone has had a very intense event in their lives – good or bad – another person cannot fully appreciate it unless they have had a similar or identical experience. 

My father who was a Holocaust survivor used to always say that one who has not been through it could never imagine what is was like. I am sure those who recently survived October 7th would say the same. So how are we meant to honestly feel like we were slaves, to feel the daily oppression, the bondage, the inability to live a free life and then the subsequent unbelievable miraculous redemption, if we have not had a similar Exodus from Egypt in our lives? I am sure some have been redeemed from some very difficult and oppressive situations, but for most of us who have grown up in the freedom and luxury of Western nations, it is a foreign concept. 

So let’s go back to hockey to show how this statement of the Haggadah might be accomplished or at least understood. About 25 years ago my son, Moishy came to me with a problem. He was (and is) a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. One day his friend at school asked him why the Florida Panthers are not his favourite team. “My dad is from New York but I am not a Rangers fan. So what if your dad is from Toronto, you grow up here and should be a Panthers fan like me!” 

Perplexed at how to deal with this challenge to his love and identity, Moishy asked me how he should answer his little buddy. So I explained to him the difference. To his dad who grew up in New York, Hockey is a game; to Moishy’s dad who grew up in Toronto – Hockey is a tradition. For them, it’s just another sport like so many others they follow like baseball or basketball. But for Canadians, hockey is more akin to a religion, and just like a religion it gets passed down from one generation to the next. “And that’s why the Leafs are your team.” 

We all know that memory is crucial to the identity of a person and a nation. The tragedy of Alzheimer’s is that there is no awareness by one of the parties of the shared history that created the relationship. The memories of thousands of experiences, events, shared emotions and moments together that created the love and bond between two people are forever lost. And because relationships by definition are a two-way street – the relationship, in a large sense, is gone. There is still love for the person, but now there is little relationship since one member in that relationship has had its memory erased. 

Similarly, on a national basis, without a connection to the defining moments that have made up that nation and created it, without being part of the ongoing experiences of that people – then there is no relationship to the peoplehood of one’s past. If there is no memory then there’s no relationship.

This is why it’s crucial for Jews to visit Israel – it instantly connects us to our glorious past and history. It’s also why one of the first things I teach to my Momentum brothers after the Israel trip is A Crash Course in Jewish History. It gives people a sense of who they are and from whence they came. 

The Haggadah authors knew that we cannot fully experience the miracles that the Israelites did 3500 years ago. But that is not the point. Seeing yourself as coming out of Egypt is not about being there at that one event long ago, but in the identification that you are part of the continuum of that event. That you are part and parcel of the Jewish nation and a crucial component in its continuation and mission in the world. 

It’s no accident that Hockey Night in Canada will often include historical videos in its pregame montages of the playoffs, superimposing clips of Bobby Orr, Jean Beliveau and Rocket Richard next to ones of today’s players. (Here is one of my favourites: They know that tapping into history is key for the game to go on, and for fans to connect to it. Jewish tradition has understood the same all along. Jewish life and the Jewish People is a montage of thousands of years of amazing and miraculous events. It began before Egypt with the forefathers and foremothers, became defined in Egypt and Sinai onward to Eretz Yisrael and continued ever since – during the high points such as the glory days of King Solomon and through the darkest days of Exile, for thousands and thousands of years until today. 

Seeing yourself as coming out of Egypt is not about reliving what is impossible to feel, but about being part of the string of tradition and purpose of why God took us out in the first place. 

Pesach is less than two weeks away. It’s soon time for the playoffs to begin. It’s time to make your own montage of Jewish life that will be included in the mosaic of Jewish history that stretches all the way back to Egypt and before. And to pass that onto to your children and others. Let the Games Begin. Or better yet – Let the Games Continue On.  

Sally, take my hand
We’ll travel south cross land
Put out the fire
And don’t look past my shoulder
The Exodus is here
The happy ones are near
Let’s get together 
Before we get much older
-The Who

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