Rabbi Nico’s Dvar Torah from 3/27/21


In just a few hours we will be celebrating Passover and I guess that by now most of our preparations are behind us, even though in my household we still have some, I do hope that we still have space to keep preparing our spirits.
Tonight we will read in the Haggadah:
בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים
In every generation each one of us is required to see him/her/themselves as if he himself came out of Egypt.

This is one of the most powerful statements that we have in our tradition.
It is at the same time a link to our millennia-old collective memory and an anchor to the life and circumstances of our modern society.
The experience of the exodus is the foundational stone of our People’s identity but more than that it is our DNA.
Egypt is literally the land of narrowness and so the celebration of Passover is by definition defying narrowness in our hearts, in our minds and in our society…. Recognizing oppression and standing up for redemption. Torah teaches us that God will hear the cry of the oppressed and so WE need to hear that cry.

This year as I prepared for the seder and I read again and again “B’chol dor V’dor” the cry of our Asian American siblings kept coming to my mind…

I kept remembering the story of my friend Katy who while sitting in an airplane was asked where are you from? From San Diego, she said. Well you live in San Diego but you are not really from San Diego… Where are you from?
Katy is 3rd generation American and since I learned this story from her I have seen it and heard it many times in many forms.
And make no mistake, what stands behind this is not curiosity or the eagerness to learn about each other, but rather the narrow definition of what an American should look like! And we all know that those comments don’t end there…
And so thinking about narrowness and oppression let’s talk about Pyramids… not the ones from Egypt but the one of hatred.

(Look at the graphic)

Symbolically the pyramid has a wide foundation and a very narrow edge. Now ,when we see explicit discrimination or violence in any form we tend to feel indignant but regrettably, often we also feel disconnected, we feel powerless, it is so overwhelming; None the less this is the story of our society, it is the reality of our lives and those that are crying out are fellows… Not to mention the fact that many Asian American are also fellow Jews…

We can disassemble this pyramid from its foundation, in early stages: we can stop justifying biased behavior, we can refrain from and challenge non inclusive language, we can oppose micro aggression and more than that we can trade Narrow ignorance by genuine interest and the expansive eagerness to learn.

There are two other components in the seder that I find particularly striking today.

Bein Yoshvin U’bein Musuvin – Tonight as we sit we recline in our chairs…

The seder is a reflection of a Roman banquet, something that represented to the rabbis the image of the free, the rich and the powerful. They reclined in their banquets so we are reclining tonight. But make no mistake we recline but we don’t sit back, we stand up because even that reclining is a symbolic reminder that our work is not done yet. As Martin Luther King said: “No one is free until we are all free”

And number two is the sentence that concludes the seder: “L’shana haba’a B’yirushalyim”
Next Year in Jerusalem!

Jerusalem wasn’t the dream of those who escaped Egypt, Jerusalem was the dream of the Rabbis who wrote the Haggadah. The Haggadah ends with the aspirations of freedom of this generation, it ends with the request of being somewhere else, which is rooted in the hope of being moved, in some cases physically and maybe today spiritually.

And so in this Shabbat Hagadol, once again we experience our collective memory and deeply connect with the tears and the yearnings of our time. We pray to find in our identity the foundations for empathy, for defiance and for freedom. We don’t sit back and we pray to be moved.

L’shana Haba B’yerushalayim – Next year in Jerusalem

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

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