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From the Rabbi

03/24/2022 09:11:15 AM


Shabbat VaYikra: 

Every Last Little Crumb 


The first word of the Book of VaYikra has a strangely small final letter, the alef. In Jewish tradition it indicates each one of us: not central, so small! but yet necessary to the meaning of the word. Every one of us counts, and every one of our acts matters.

matzah maker still standing in the attic of a long empty synagogue in the Vinnitsa region of Ukraine, photo @Rabbi Ariel Stone 1993
shalom Shir Tikvah kehillah kedoshah,

According to the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hodesh Nisan, the beginning of the month of Pesakh, began on Wednesday night. Fourteen days later at twilight Jews all over the world will gather for a meal which is meant to be shared, even as the conversation guided by the Haggadah is meant to be. 

One of the most obvious aspects of Pesakh is also one of the most ancient: the prohibition on leaven.

שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ מַצּ֣וֹת תֹּאכֵ֔לוּ אַ֚ךְ בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֔וֹן תַּשְׁבִּ֥יתוּ שְּׂאֹ֖ר מִבָּתֵּיכֶ֑ם כִּ֣י ׀ כׇּל־אֹכֵ֣ל חָמֵ֗ץ וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִיּ֥וֹם הָרִאשֹׁ֖ן עַד־י֥וֹם הַשְּׁבִעִֽי׃ 

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. - Shemot 12.15

There is no time more busy, in the Jewish sense of the word la’asok, with preparation for a holiday than this for the average practicing Jew, primarily in the actions and implications of this ancient mitzvah. [The word la’asok is used in blessings we recite over mitzvot like engaging in the work of caring for our community and in learning Torah, both never-ending projects with never-ending rewards).


That practicing Jew - you and I - would be so lucky to have nothing more to be busy with than ridding our homes of hametz in time for the Seder, and to making sure that all our loved ones and community members have a place to share the meal of celebration.


But here we are in an alternate reality, in which we are surrounded by worries that seem to make the mitzvah of preparing for Pesakh pale by comparison. This is precisely the kind of moment that you might say we’ve been training for: how to steadily follow one’s Jewish spiritual path when it gets rocky, not only when it’s easy.


This week in Israel the process of a judicial coup continues; a terrifyingly right wing group of people, some of them convicted criminals, has taken control of the governmental process even though the coalition they represent won the most recent elections by about one percentage point. The mass protests in Israeli streets are exciting and cheering for us to see, but those of us who observe regional politics are haunted by the Syrian, Turkish and, further afield, the Hungarian models of authoritarianism rising despite similar popular opposition.


This week in the United States we saw the furthering of cruel laws targeting our Trans siblings, and we may feel just as opposed, and just as powerless, as we fear that our siblings in Israel feel. 


This week in Portland Oregon we saw that our local government’s response to the escalating crisis of the lack of housing and social services does not measure up to the State of Oregon and Multnomah County’s efforts. Even more dispiriting, the Joint Office of Homeless Services is now under audit by both the independent city auditor and the county.


In all this misery and worry, what can cleaning one’s place of hametz possibly mean?


In a word: everything.


The philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz has written that if one only prays when one feels like it, one worships nothing other than oneself. In an individualistic society like the Western one into which we have been so fully integrated, the very idea that we must do something regardless of whether we feel like it is subversive of much that we may think is a superior ethic.


Clearing the place where we live of all the regular things that are part of our lives the rest of the year is not to negate those things - both matzah and bread are good things. But for one week a year we are invited to live differently, so that we might be helped to think differently about our lives.


Clearing your system of the regular for one week will not make a difference in the world around us, but it may allow you to feel a difference in your spirituality. Darkening the place where you eat and “finding” crumbs (that you’ve left for the ritual) by candle light with a feather is so totally different from your real life that if you give yourself to it, you will forget the world for a moment. Especially if you share the ritual with little ones. Especially if you light fire to the crumbs in the second part of the ritual (do NOT burn the feather, it stinks like crazy).


And if you make matzah right after you clear the kitchen or other cooking space, you will be feeding much more than those who share it with you. 


Let our traditions take you out of your “regular” space, just as Shabbat is meant to do. Have fun with it. The ultimate Jewish resistance is joy; may your preparations for Pesakh bring such warmth to your heart.


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Ariel



Hametz Clearing and Sale Details 5783


The sale of hametz during Passover allows us to focus on a spiritual decluttering of our lives. For modern Jews who live too much in our heads, this symbolic act invites us to go a step further to act out the changes we need to make in our lives. It’s also a great way to look closely at, and pay attention to, what we’ve been consuming!


It is traditional during the two weeks before Pesakh to concentrate on consuming hametz foods and avoiding buying more. Finish up that half pound of pasta, the bread in the freezer, make oatmeal cookies for the class or office.  Hametz includes all forms of the five grains listed by our ancestors: wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt. (To these we add farro, amaranth, teff, freekah, and all other forms of cereal grain from which breads or cakes are made.) We also include food items derived from grain: from pasta to whiskey to beer to soy sauce when it has wheat added. Read your labels! (Baking soda and baking powder are not hametz but Jews tend to avoid them anyway during Pesakh.)


Some Ashkenazi Jews do not eat kitniyot, beans and legumes, and also they avoid rice and corn. Sephardi Jews do not avoid these foods. Shir Tikvah follows the Sephardi rule when there is any deviation between the two major traditions.

Before Pesakh: Unopened or preservable items should be placed in the basement, a cupboard, a drawer or in a box at the back of a closet, sealed away from access. List each item in an email and send it to Rabbi Ariel by Wednesday morning 14 Nisan 5782 / April 5 2023 at 9am. At 10am she will sell all the lists to Amelia Schroth, Shir Tikvah’s operations manager. You will receive an email confirming the sale. On 22 Nisan 5782 / April 13 2023 at sundown it will be bought back for you, and you will receive a confirmation email letting you know that the hametz is in your legal possession again.


Ritual for finding that last little bit of hametz, Bedikat and Bi’ur Hametzis attached here. It comes from the first pages of the siddur we use for our Congregational Second Night Seder; most modern Haggadot will have a similar guide included in the first few pages.

And a video for families with young children:

חג שמח וכשר
hag sameakh v'kasher,
may your celebration of the Festival be happy and appropriate!

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Sat, June 3 2023 14 Sivan 5783