April 12, 2019
13 Nissan 5779

Moses then summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, pick out lambs for your families, and slaughter the Passover offering” (Exodus 12:21).

The very night the Israelites were to leave Egypt in freedom, they were commanded to sacrifice the Passover lamb that had been kept in their homes for three days.  Preparing, sacrificing and eating the lamb with matzah and bitter herbs were a shared family experience. The memory of this ritual is kept alive by placing a roasted shank bone on the Pesach ritual tray.

Family as a source of love, support and strength is one of the great gifts and significant indicia of freedom. There are, of course, many occasions for a family gatherings and celebration, but the Pesach Seder has special meaning and significance. 

During slavery, African Americans lived with the reality and the fear that their family and generational ties could be easily severed at their master’s whim. The slave was a commodity whose owner was free to use or disposed of he wished.  Husbands, fathers and children were often sold to other owners thereby separating spouses, children, parents, siblings—all never again see one another.

In 1938-39 the Kinder-transport brought over 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi dominated Western Europe to Great Britain, where they lived with foster or adopted families. The children were unaccompanied by their parents, many of whom never again saw one another. I can visualize the pain of the empty seat at all times.

Freedom at its best is family harmony and togetherness. An absent child, a deceased loved one, and an alienated family member impact upon family reunions and celebrations. It’s often a constant struggle to maintain the solidarity of the mishpacha

To this day separating children from parents is viewed as wanton cruelty. This undoubtedly accounts for the public outcry following the Administration’s decision to separate children from their parents at our Southern border.  Jews aware of the relatively recent history of enforced family separations during the Holocaust have been in the vanguard of today’s protests. Tearing children from the loving and protecting arms of parents is an act of violence that is rightly condemned and resisted.

The observation rings true that every family is unhappy in a different way, but a family confronted with the absence or alienation of a child or any loved one, is especially pained at family gatherings and obviously at the Seder table. 

May the blessing of family togetherness continue to enrich our lives on Pesach and throughout the year and years.

From Newton, my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach and a Chag Sameach, a joyous and festive Pesach celebration!

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman