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April 18, 1986 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-04-18

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even to read some portion of the
Hagadah (as is well known, the typical
American Jewish Seder is not very
strong on the Hagadah) without
encountering guilt.
There is a basic, tangible, difference
between the Passover observances as
prescribed in the tradition and those
that pervade American Jewry today.
The difference is the question of
removing hametz, all articles contain-
ing leaven, from the house in prepara-
tion for Passover. In contemporary
America matzah is brought into most
houses but leaven is removed from
very few.
The traditional preamble to the holi-
day, the meticulous cleaning of every
corner of the house to make sure that
all is proper according to the prescrip-
tions of ritual law, is the most pointed
reminder of the whole cycle of the
Jewish year that our religion pro-
scribes things which are forbidden, at
least for a time, such as a ban on
leaven for eight days.
Obedience to Passover ritual is
something other than going through
the cafeteria line in school or business
and seeing a pile of matzoh beside the
bread, with some pleasure at the
"equality in America" of Jewish sym-
bols with such other religious symbols
as Easter eggs. The traditional obser-
vances of Passover totally separate
the Jew in his eating habits from
everyone else in society. They are a re-
affirmation of principle that most
American Jews would prefer to forget,
that being Jewish means to be radical-
ly other than the rest of society.
Many of the forms of Jewish moder-
nity have tried to remake Jewish iden-
tity and experience so that Jews could
fit comfortably in the larger society.
There were, however, counter-themes
among European Jews. Some insisted'
that it was better to remain in the
ghetto and practice Judaism without
reference to the surrounding world
rather than to attempt the dangerous

journey into secular society. Others,
such as some Zionists, proclaimed the
need for Jews to live in a national ,
center of their own, where, alone they
could preserve their unique identity.
America is the land in which Jews
have chosen, overwhelmingly, not to
be apart, neither in a self-made ghet-
to nor by leaving for Israel. The ob-
vious and fundamental differences bet-
ween the observance of Passover in
the United States today and two
generations ago represent two dif-
ferent approaches to the great ques-
tion of how are Jews to survive in an
open society. The older answer was
that survival itself, not to speak of
authenticity, depended most on the
fear of God, that is, on guilt and
otherness. Many contemporary Jews
want to have joy without fear and
In authentic Jewish tradition, the
14th of Nissan, when one must com-
plete the removal of the hametz, is as
important an occasion as the eve of the
15th, when the Seder is observed. In
talmudic imagery, leaven symbolizes
man's . capacity for sin which is in-
timately related to his very life force.
The removal of the leaven on Passover
is a way of reminding ourselves of
what we may and may not do. If such
thoughts are not on our mind as we
begin the Seder, then is that feast real-
ly different from a pagan spring holi-
day? To be sure, Jewish family emo-
tions are being reaffirmed at such
tables once a year, but in the name of
what Jewish values? Togetherness -
for the sake of togetherness?
Since time immemorial we as Jews
have been a singular people. At our
most characteristic we live at the in-
tertwining of guilt and joy. You can-
not have Seder, authentically, without
the fear of hametz. ❑

Dr. Hertzberg is professor of religion
at Dartmouth College in Hanover,
1V. H.

Why Elijah's Cup
Is Empty

. and how we can fill it up.


Special to The Jewish News

I have adopted an innovation of
Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz (died 1827)
at my Passover Seder. Elijah's cup,
symbolizing the corning . of the
Messiah, was left unfilled. But before
the door was opened and Elijah
greeted, he would pass the empty cup
around the table. Everyone, man,
woman, child, would pour a portion

I • •

from his wine glass into the empty
vessel, during which the traditional
melody of Eliahu ha-navi was
repeatedly sung and hummed. When
the cup' returned to Reb Naftali he
would lift it and recite the rabbinic
statement, "Israel will not be re-
deemed except through its own

• 4.

The Ropshitzer's ritual not only in-
volves the participation, of the Seder
guests ceremonially but ologically.
Redemption does not come through
waiting. Belief in the Messiah is no
surrogate for active involvement. The
sages meant no slight of God or
Messiah. They expressed their convic-
tion that divine power is expressed
through a living people's exercise of
their moral will. Their midrashic
legend crediting the tribe of Benjamin
for splitting the Red Sea by their ac-
tive leap of faith accords with God's
rebuke of Moses' prolonged cry for
divine intercession in the Bible (Ex-
odus 14:15). The first signs of redemp-
tion were manifest in Moses' appeal to
the people to go forward.
In the Bible, Moses casts aside the
rod and instead of using the staff, he
stretches out his hand over the Red
Sea (Exodus 14:21). A rabbinic corn-
mentary offers this to teach the peo-
ple that reliance upon a miracle rod is
misleading. The rod which once turn-
ed into a serpent and turned the Nile
a reddish hue is no magic wand. Its
earlier use was for purposes of morale,
meant to impress the Egyptians who
respected only the powers of.magic.
But Israel is to learn that divine power
is not in the rod. The same rod used
to smite the tyranny of Egypt led to
Moses' downfall when, in a• fit of
frustration and arrogance, he smote
the rock to force it to yield water. The
cup of Elijah stands empty before us.
It will remain empty until we each give
of our strength towards the fulfillment
of the promise..
The ritual of filling Elijah's empty
cup is in keeping with that in Jewish
mysticism which emphasized the
power of the world below to give
Strength to the world above. The
Lurianic meditations before prayer
and ritual acts were predicated on the
firm belief that man is able to move
heaven. From the viewpoint of the
Zohar, a Jew is to relate the Exodus
story on Passover night not simply for
himself. He must • tell it joyously,
fervently, with song and fOod and drink
in order to rejoice the Shechinah,
the God who is in exile with us. "Re-
joicing brings forth rejoicing."
Laughter below resonates in the
heavens above. It is good to bring hap-
d rejoices in our joy
piness to God. Go
and in our redemption as His own.
With the family below, Jews call forth
the Family above. God boasts: "Come
and hear the praises which My
children bring unto Me." Then all the
angels and supernal beings break forth
into jubilation that the Holy One
possesses people on earth who have
not forgotten how and why to
celebrate the joy of freedom.
All these legends of angels and
Shechinah mean to rescue us from the
self-imposed chains of passivity, to re-
mind us that actions produce other ac-
tions, waves upon waves of conse-
quences flow from every stirring of the
human spirit. We have powers within


and between us which reach the
heavens. One does not need a dungeon
to remain insulated. The self-paralysis
which, is called by many names is
subtler and heavier than chains. What
fetters of the human will are disguis-
ed behind the gray "wisdom" of
We "build worlds" through prayer,
meditation and deeds. However
removed we may be from its
metaphysics, however odd the im-
agery, we must surely sense our 'kin-
ship with the Zohar's fervent faith in-
our people's capacity to affect the
world. To lose faith in ourselves and
in our task is to turn back to Egypt
and away from the Passover of the
Future that redeems up from
"Ascribe ye strength unto the God"

A kiddush cup from Augsburg, 1760.

(Psalm 68). The "ye" refers to each of
us who knows himself to be part of a
greater Jewish community. He who
separates himself from the communi-
ty reduces his own power to choose
and weakens the strength of godliness
in the world we inhabit. The "wicked"
deny the root principle of Judaism by
uprooting themselves from the soil of
community. Unbelonging, they aban-
don the matrix out of which belief is
born and nurtured. Only in, with and
through community can the self be
raised out of sorrowful impotence. No
individual alone, no sectarian group
alone can fill the cup of Elijah. Only
together, as a united people understan-
ding its common purpose, will the mes-
sianic cup of promise run over. ❑

Rabbi Schulweis is the spiritual leader
of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino,

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