By Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
The Chassidic masters explain that matzah represents humility and self-negation, as matzah is flat, simple and unassuming, whereas chometz signifies vanity and egotism, as symbolized by the fermentation and bloated texture of chometz. When B’nei Yisroel prepared to depart from Mitzrayim, they humbled themselves to the commands of Hashem and uncompromisingly submitted to His directives, despite their inability to fully appreciate all that was being charged to them at the time. Slaughtering the deities of Egypt, rushing through the Pesach meal and girded to scurry out of the country at midnight, adhering to new and stringent dictates in the face of local animus – it was all quite a challenge. Yet that is what Pesach is about, as our nation was freed from enslavement to human beings and entered into a redemptive form of servitude to the Almighty, who lovingly saved us and brought us close to Him.
It is thus always disturbing to read of ideas and observances whose authors and promoters claim are in the spirit of Pesach yet so clearly contravene the message and values of Pesach, and rather than embodying service of Hashem embody service of self.
Unfortunately, several prominent Open Orthodox leaders have once again shown how far their denomination has strayed from Orthodox/Torah Judaism of any form. On the day before Passover, a celebrity Open Orthodox rabbi appealed to us to exclude a section of the Haggadah:
Friends, please consider omitting the passage שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ (asking G-d to pour wrath) in the Haggadah this year. This was a justifiable addition in the past (added during the oppressive Crusades) & anti-Semitism is certainly still alive today, but our prayers today, need to focus on peace, justice, love, & healing. This is a powerful moment in the Haggadah to feel a little pain, pray for strength, and meditate on our crucial moral leadership role in our un-redeemed world. We are to take the high road & not hide behind prayers of old laden with anger & hate, justifiable then (in powerlessness & isolation) but potentially dangerous today (in an era of power & inter-dependence).
Aside from the fact that this section of the Haggadah, as explained by Rav Soloveitchik, bears the message of the Aleinu prayer – that all nations recognize the authority of Hashem and that that those who manifest evil and frustrate the Divine Will be removed – it is stunning that a rabbi, in the name of Orthodoxy, exhorts people to delete this portion, or any portion, of the Haggadah.
Another top-tier Open Orthodox rabbi, after discrediting the Sages of the Talmud who spent Passover night in halachic discussion as “elitists” whose actions have been rejected, presents the idea that we insert our own characters and values into the Haggadah:
Through retelling we make the story our own. We decide what to emphasize and what to leave out; we tell it in a way that makes us a part of the telling… It is the bringing of the fullness of our selves – our experiences, values, worldview, questions, critical thought, and faith – into conversation with God’s Torah. What results is aTorah she’b’al peh, a Torah that is both God’s and our own.
That is why the characters of the Haggadah are not Moshe, Aharon and Pharoah. The characters of the Haggadah are Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Tarfon, Rabbi Akiva, and all those who were a part of explicating the Haggadah, all those who found themselves in the story. The key question this night is, can we engage and retell the story in such a way that we, too, will become characters in the Haggadah?…This night, we must all make the story our own…
I don’t know which Haggadah text this rabbi uses, but all of my dozens of different Haggadahs feature the Passover story as per the traditional Midrashic exposition and the words of the Sages; no one imposed his own personality or values into the text or its rendition. The explanation of the Open Orthodox rabbi, as was sort of to be expected, represents the imposition of something else into the Haggadah, which otherwise is an objective, holy and timeless text with a very clear message that needs no remaking or reforming from the perspective of an alternative worldview.
Immediately before Pesach, the leading halachist of Open Orthodoxy issued a lengthy responsum that permits and even encourages breastfeeding in the synagogue, including in the open presence of men who are davening (such in the case of a woman who is temporarily in the men’s section of the shul), when the men will view the woman not properly covered, so to say. Aside from the fact that the responsum is loaded with assumptions and extrapolations – the basis for the responsum is the halachic sanction to recite the berachos for a bris in the presence of the unclothed infant who is about to be circumcised – and aside from the fact that the repsonsum’s conclusion is violative of uniform Orthodox practice and contradicts the rulings in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim siman 75 and siman 90:26 (as the responsum claims that temporary viewing of adults under the circumstances is permissible, whereas the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries make no such exception in their discussions of people at prayer), the issuance of the responsum at the commencement of Pesach speaks volumes about its clash with the message of the Yom Tov, which exudes the values of tradition, humility, modesty and the meticulously careful handling of Halacha.
Rav Soloveitchik explained that Pesach represents the struggle of the Jew to free himself of inclinations that are not in consonance with the Torah. Bi’ur chamtez symbolizes the elimination of tendencies that pull one away from the Will of Hashem.
Let us recommit ourselves to Mesorah and pray that the true and authentic messages of Passover be promulgated and integrated into us all.