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Your Past is Now

                          The Purple Sheet

          Shabbat Parshat Metzora- April 15th/16th – ח’ ניסן תשע’ו



Your Past is Now


Every once in a while Facebook will send an unsolicited notice of something you posted on its website from a year or two or four ago. I generally ignore these and in fact find it a bit irritating when others who get these notices feel the need to repost them. I don’t care much for what you are eating for lunch today and certainly didn’t care what you had for lunch a few years ago.


But the other day I did get one of these that I kinda’ forgot about and must say that I enjoyed seeing it. It was a photo taken four years ago of my son, Yoni with Danny Brière, a great hockey player we met in the security line at YYZ (Toronto airport). He was gracious enough to take the time for a photo during those irksome moments when you are undressing for security. The timing that the fb people (or computers) sent it was quite appropriate as we just started the playoffs (wonder if they do that on purpose) and it was interesting to see little Yoni who today would tower over Brière who is on the shorter side, as hockey players go.


But there is a deeper meaning behind my nostalgic fb musings because when it comes to Pesach, focus on the past is an integral part and definition of the holiday. On Pesach we not only recall the past but we are asked to actually relive it. We are told to not just remember the slavery and redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt but as the Haggadah points out, that we must try to experience it once again in the present: “In each and every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he personally had come out of Egypt.”


Passover reminds us that not only can’t you escape your past but you have to cherish it too. No matter how hard you try or how far you run, your history is with you. It’s not only with you – it is you. You are a product of the layers of all of the years and events that have been part of your life up to the present. And this is true both on a personal and on a national level.


That’s why it’s so important for Jewish people from all stripes, but especially those who have little connection to their heritage, to discover the glory and greatness of our past. (It’s why I offer a Crash Course in Jewish History every year or so.) By gaining a knowledge of how the Jewish people contributed so much to civilizations and defined them, all while our hands were tied behind our backs, one cannot help but want to learn what the secret is to this tremendous phenomenon. When we learn of our outsized influence of the last few thousand years, it feeds a desire to want to be part of our glorious and illustrious people and have a meaningful role in it.


I recall a number of years ago when my oldest daughter, Atara was in Israel at seminary after she finished high school. Her school had just returned from their trip to Poland where they visited death camps, synagogues and Jewish towns that are no longer. As we talked about it she kept asking how Zeida (my father) could have survived such hell. Her questions, her energy, the new level of appreciation apparent in her voice and queries made it apparent to me that the trip had given her a whole new understanding of who she was and from whence she came.


I try to instill this self-same sense of my children’s history – not just globally with the story of Pesach that feels so so long ago – but more locally and personally by showing them the photo that I discovered of my father the day he was liberated from Dachau. Every Pesach I take it out and remind them that because their Zeida was saved from slavery and survived much worse, they are able to live today in freedom, security and a full Jewish life. We similarly talk about Karen’s family and how they had to live outwardly as Muslims in Mashhad, Iran much the way the Marranos did in Spain to preserve their Jewish identity and lives. My children need to know that they do not come from a vacuum, from nowhere, but arrived to the here and now through some very very precarious moments in their personal and family history.


This is what we are trying to accomplish on Passover and on the Seder night. To once again give ourselves, our family and our guests the opportunity to understand who the Jewish people really are, where we have come from, how far we have come, and how much further we can go. On Pesach we look behind us and peer into the rear-view mirror so we can appreciate that despite all the slavery, all the hardship and all the pain, we are the most God-blessed people on earth … and that even more blessings await.


Yesterday is gone, yesterday’s alright
Yesterday belongs in my dreams at night
Yesterday is swell, yesterday is great
Yesterday is strong, remembering can wait …
If you want to know my secret – don’t come runnin’ after me
For I am just a painter passing through in history

-Gordon Lightfoot



Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida

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