A Jewish Alphabet
By Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence
With illustrations by Lauren Black
A is for Apple – We dip it in honey
B for Brit Milah – Essential, not funny
C is for candles – we light Friday nights
D is for doughnuts – delicious delights
E is for Egypt – we served there as slaves
F for Four Species – together we wave
G’s for Gan Eden – where our story starts
H for Havdalla – when Shabbes departs
I is for Israel – The land which is ours
J is for Joseph who dreamed of the stars
K is for Kashrut and food that’s OK
L is Lechayim – To Life we all say
M is for Mitzvah – Good deeds we must do.
N is for Noah – who floated a zoo.
O’s for the Omer – we count forty nine
P is for Pesach – and four cups of wine.
Q is Qabbala – a mystic tradition
R is for Rabbi – of rare erudition
S is for Synagogue – Do come back for more!
T is for Torah – the Scroll of the Law
U is ubiquitous – a God in all places
V is Viduiy – we confess our disgraces
W’s for Weddings – A bride and a groom
The Cross is a symbol not found in this room!
Y is Yom Kippur – our most solemn fast
And Z – dreams of Zion. We got there at last!
One day when you’ve learned your whole alphabet through, I hope that my letters have meaning for you.
A Pesach Message from the Chief Rabbi 5770
At the very beginning of the story of the exodus as recorded in the Torah, three words appear that are mistranslated in virtually every Christian Bible. Moses has met God in the burning bush. God summons Moses to lead his people from slavery to freedom. Moses asks, when I go to the Israelites and they ask me who sent me, what shall I say? God replies: Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. Three simple words. What do they mean?
They are usually translated as “I am what I am”, “I am who I am”, “I am that I am” or “I am: that is who I am.” Each of these is a mistranslation. It does not take much knowledge of Hebrew to know that the words mean, “I will be what I will be.” The name of God is written in the future tense.
Why did these words prove so hard to understand? In the ancient world, and still today, people believed that nothing ultimately changes in the human condition. We are born, we grow, we live, we die, and the world stays what it was. Politicians come, politicians go, great powers rise and fall, and still the strong rule the weak, the rich exploit the poor, and might, not right, prevails.
Within such a worldview, what is God? God is eternity. God is beyond time. God does not sully his hands with the messy business of human life. Hence the translation, “I am what I am”. I am pure being as it is in heaven, not earth. That is a fine and noble belief. But it is not Judaism. Had it been true, there would never have been an exodus, or freedom, or Pesach.
Ehyeh asher Ehyeh in fact means, if you seek to know who I am, look to the future, not the past. For I am about to do what has never been done before. I am going to perform signs and wonders the like of which have never been seen before. I am going to lead an entire nation from slavery to freedom. I am going to take a people others despise and make it My own. All this lies in the future. And now I want you to become part of that future.
Those three words changed history, and not for Jews alone. For they meant that the future need not be like the past. There is such a thing as change in the affairs of humankind. History is not a closed loop endlessly replaying itself. Right can win a victory over might among those who have been touched by the hand of God. In that one moment, hope was born.
Pesach is the festival of hope, and Jews are the people of hope. For we are the people who outlived every empire that sought to destroy us, survived adversities that would have defeated any other nation, that emerged from the Holocaust still affirming life, and built the land and state of Israel against unceasing opposition.
The world in the twenty-first century needs hope. The difficulties ahead, environmentally, politically, economically, are formidable. It is all too easy to fall into despair, to say nothing ever really changes, and to think of God as a remote reality in the high and distant heavens. That is not the Jewish way. The Jewish way is to have faith in the future and in the God whose name is Ehyeh asher Ehyeh.
This Pesach, as we celebrate together with family and friends, remember that the seder service that begins with the words, “This is the bread of affliction”, ends with the wine of freedom and with a children’s song in which God defeats the angel of death. No force has lasted as long as, or had greater influence on humanity than, the voice of Jewish hope. It was born when God told Moses, My name is Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, meaning: I am the God you will find if you have faith that the future can be different from the past.
A chag kasher vesameach to you, your family, and the Jewish people, in Israel and throughout the world.
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
COMMUNAL SEDER – BUT IS IT KOSHER?
by Rabbi Raymond Apple
The community Seder is a widespread feature of the observance of Pesach. In Israel thousands of people go away for the festival and the hotels are full of Pesach programs, often commencing with hundreds sharing a Seder in the main banqueting room of the hotel, though some family groups have their own Seder in a room of their own.
Those who patronise the communal Sedarim have sometimes totally changed their tune. Where once they bitterly opposed the communal Seder as a modern convenience to avoid having to do all the hard work for a home Seder, now they justify going to a group Seder on the basis that Pesach began with groups of neighbours coming together to eat the paschal lamb and ask the questions (Ex. 12:4).
What is the truth? Is the communal Seder an escape from responsibility, or a valid observance with unimpeachable antecedents? The evidence from Babylon and Spain seems to support the second view, though the situation in Ashkenazi communities appears quite different.
The Jerusalem Talmud tells us at the end of tractate Berachot, “One who heard Hallel in the synagogue on Seder night has fulfilled his obligation”. The 14th century liturgical authority David Abudarham explains that this refers to a Babylonian/Spanish custom of running a Seder in the synagogue for the sake of those who were not well versed in the festival procedures. However, some say that it was not the full Seder that took place in the synagogue, and after the synagogue ceremony people would go home, eat vegetables (karpas), say the blessing “Who has redeemed us” and drink the second cup. The
The Ashkenazi custom, according to Rashi, was for a person who was well versed in the Haggadah to go from house to house to help other families in their observances, after which he held his own Seder. To avoid halachic problems, there are suggestions that everyone said the Haggadah together, following the leader word by word, and that when it came to any berachah they but not he would say the Divine name.
All this evidence indicates that there were always people whose Hebrew education was lacking and that communities tried to ensure that no-one, child or adult, would be denied a Seder for lack of knowledge or because of age or disability.
Our generation has developed a range of options to achieve this worthy aim. Educational institutions have demonstration Sedarim. Rabbis and teachers give explanatory talks. Observant families share their Seder with guests. Communal Sedarim are arranged by synagogues and communal organisations.
So the communal Seder has highly respectable antecedents. I still believe that the best way is to make the effort to have one’s own Seder at home, but I cannot say that the communal Seder is halachically unacceptable.