March 15, 2013 admin


‘Not a bone in its body shall you break’, says the Torah, describing how the Passover lamb is to be eaten. The Jewish People has always understood these words metaphorically as well as literally. At Pesach the community should be whole, entire; not one single person should be forgotten or abandoned. After all, what meaning can the Festival of Freedom have if it means only freedom for some? That’s why Moses, asked by Pharaoh whom he was intending to take with him out of Egypt, answers that everyone is included, ‘With our young and our old shall be go, with our sons and with our daughters’ (Exodus 10:9). (Interestingly, rabbinic Hebrew has an ancient word for what we now call a Zimmer-frame, pisachon, from the same route as Pesach: disability was not to mean exclusion from the great journey of the Jewish People towards freedom and dignity.)
People were not to be left out of the Passover celebrations because they couldn’t afford them: ‘Even the poorest person should not…be given less than four cups of wine’, demands the Mishnah (Pesachim 10:1) To this day Jewish communities have funds, known as kimcha de’Pischa, ‘Pesach flour’, or ma’ot hittin, ‘wheat money’, to ensure that nobody should lack the means for the festival. ‘We have not seen or heard of a Jewish community which does not have a charity fund,’ wrote Maimonides approvingly over eight hundred years ago (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 9:3).
There are many other reasons why people are left out or sometimes simply quietly forgotten: shyness, illness, loneliness, disability, or just because nobody thought or troubled to say, ‘join us, please’. To be mindful of one another, without exception, is a privilege and responsibility all of us share. We are all the poorer, emotionally and spiritually, for those dimensions of human experience we fail to heed.
I love the preparations for Pesach. I find myself thinking of the clump of horseradish breaking new leaf at the back of the garden. I have a mental image of steam rising from the pot in which we’ll be koshering cutlery and resolve not to tip the boiling water over my arm as I did two years ago (I have a small scar to prove my love of freedom). I think, less happily, about the oven racks and what’ll be entailed in removing from them every trace of the burnt remains of the drips and spills of fifty-two weeks of Shabbat meals.
But through all of these delightful details what should shine through is not just the cleanliness of the kitchen, but of the essential Jewish vision: from slavery to freedom; from the experience of injustice to dignity and equality; from marginalisation to inclusion – be it at the Passover table, or in the community, or in society, or in the family of nations. Should this not be the ideal of all humanity, in a world where hunger, slavery, trafficking, torture, racism, religious bigotry and turning a blind eye to the pain of others are constant realities?
The Jewish vision requires us first to sit down together at the Seder table and remember our story, then to get up and act.

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