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April 14, 2017

04/13/2017 02:45:49 PM


Rabbi Yair D. Robinson

Congregation Beth Emeth

Chol HaMoed Pesach


I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s a holiday this week. That’s right, Passover isn’t just one or two nights but a week of carb-free bliss. Or something like that. I certainly noticed at Rotary when the person next to me had the chicken salad sandwich on croissant and I had the fruit cup. Oh, well. I would argue that the opportunity to be with others and celebrate our freedom is worth skipping the occasional sandwich or pasta dish.

It’s not just our dietary habits that get interrupted this week, but our Torah reading as well. Rather than continue with the text of Leviticus, we take a detour and jump into Deuteronomy, specifically a recitation of the holiday calendar, especially the shalosh regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals of the Bible: Shavuot, Sukkot and Pesach. Our text tells us that we should have nothing but joy, in our festivals, that when we come to the place where God will make the Divine Presence known we shouldn’t come empty-handed. Rather, each person, we are told, should bring gifts, as God has blessed us.

There’s a lot to unpack in this text. More obviously is this idea that you should bring gifts as God has blessed you.  What a deep understanding of our condition! Not all of us have been blessed with the same gifts. The economist and pundit Robert Reich talks about how, no matter how much he loves the game of basketball, he can never play it at a high level, at least in part because he’s less than 5 feet tall. It’s just reality, but that reality doesn’t make him less of a person because he’s not LaBron James. Likewise, that LaBron James has never been a cabinet secretary doesn’t make him less of a person either. To recognize that our gifts, our blessings, no matter how different, are still of value, still worthy of presenting to God, should be an inspiration to us.

But I want to focus on this earlier text, the idea that we don’t come empty-handed. That’s not exactly what the text says. Rather, it says that we should not come ‘reikim’, literally empty. Sure, the pshat, the plan meaning of the text, is that it’s talking about bringing stuff, but let’s explore that idea of emptiness for a minute, especially in a week where we’ve cleaned our houses out. What does it mean that you shouldn’t come to God empty? Well, read it in the context of the other two commands, that we should have nothing but joy and that we bring as God has blessed us. What if this is not about bringing a physical offering, but rather taking the opportunity to look inside: to see who we are and what we’re about, to see our own inherent value, the gifts we’ve been given, the person that we are. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time to reevaluate the person that we’re becoming, to correct the flaws that we see. What if Pesach is a time to accept ourselves, to see our own worth, to fill ourselves neither with haughtiness nor pride but with a real sense of our blessings.

Rabbi Dennis Ross, in one of his books, talks about overhearing one end of a phone conversation, presumably between spouses, where the one says to the other, “If you can’t do that, then what good are you to me.” We spend a lot of time worrying about being on the receiving end of that call, of worrying about what good we are to others, of evaluating our self-worth in relationship to other people’s gifts, other people’s blessings; and we spend a lot of time dismissing those gifts God has blessed us with. Pesach invites us to see ourselves full of God’s blessings, our own blessings. May we bring those blessings forward, and as a result have nothing but joy. Amen

Sun, September 22 2019 22 Elul 5779