Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Jared Skoff, Rosh Tikvah 2017. Originally from Cleveland, Jared spent the past three summers at Ramah Wisconsin, after working at Ramah Canada for three summers. This is Jared’s second year working year-round for Camp Ramah, last year as a Ramah Service Corps Fellow in Detroit, and this year as the Development Associate & Special Projects Coordinator at the National Ramah headquarters in New York City. He is the youngest dues-paying member of The Workmen’s Circle.
Reflections on Pesach
by Jared Skoff
I don’t own a whisk in my New York City apartment.
Every time I scramble eggs or make a salad dressing, I lament, “I wish I had a whisk, it would make my life so much easier.” And every time, I quickly grab a fork and move on with my day.
While it is true that I can use a fork to accomplish many of the same tasks as a whisk, my underlying thought process is troubling. I feel frustrated, but I act as if I am powerless to change this deficiency in my silverware drawer, as if this is simply the reality I must face.
We all have deficiencies or imperfections in our life that we are upset about, but are unmotivated to change. Some are minor, and some major. Sometimes it is not a whisk but an empty soap bottle that we stubbornly keep refilling with water instead of buying a new one, or a friend that we keep forgetting to reach out to and call.
There is an expression in Yiddish – vos far a Purim, a-zah Pesach, meaning, if your Purim is bad, don’t expect Pesach to be any better.
In other words, sometimes we know the status quo is not working for us, but we continue to sweep our issues under the rug, and illogically hope for them to disappear. We know that we want a change, but something is holding us back. We feel powerless or reluctant to step up.
At our Pesach seders this week we will celebrate, retell, and perform the Jews’ ancient liberation from slavery. The haggadah charges us with exerting our freedom, while actively remembering our ancestors’ lack thereof. The Torah repeatedly reminds its readers that the Jews were strangers and slaves in Egypt, suggesting that our collective past should continue to inform the way we interact with our fellow human beings.
Pesach comes as a reminder that we are not powerless; we were slaves but now we are free. We are hereby empowered to address what is insufficient in our lives – by changing what we can, and finding strength in situations that we hope to change.
“We were slaves in the land of Egypt” means “no excuses” – we are not slaves to a hopeless state of mind, nor to our own laziness.
At camp we are faced with issues every day that we are tempted to neglect. We have all had a bunkmate who is intolerably messy (or obsessively neat), a friend who we have clashed with, and a tarbut/elective assignment that is frustrating. We may not have the power to make every decision at camp, but we have the power to address our negative situations – either by repairing our status quo, or by making the best of our current reality.
We have another Pesach-related expression in Yiddish – meh meynt nisht di hagodeh, nor di kneydlekh, literally, he’s here moreso for the matzo balls than for the haggadah.
Not everyone at the seder can relate to the haggadah, as we learn from the reading of the Four Children. Some seder guests are able to gain more positive feelings from the matzo balls than from the haggadah – and that is okay. Each of us relates to and processes experiences in different ways, whether at the seder, at camp, or at school. Whether you are at the seder for the matzo balls or for the haggadah, you ultimately have the opportunity to experience both. I hope we can all derive enjoyment from the aspects of our experience that speak to us, and derive strength from the aspects that we struggle with, whether that be the haggadah, the guests at the seder, or the friend we still need to reach out to. In doing so, we can liberate our way of living.