Friday, March 30, 2007

An offbeat thought about Passover

The following somewhat offbeat thought about Passover doesn't have anything to do with Harry Potter and Torah, but I wrote it a year ago in another context and thought some of you might enjoy it. For Passover-related ideas related to Harry Potter click here, and for a Passover idea related to the movie Titanic click here. For the Harry Potter and Torah book at Amazon click here.

Now on to a new idea related to Passover.

Imagine the following scene, and how you'd react if it happened to you. You walk into your neighborhood fast food joint and see a sandwich described as "Grilled lambchop on a crispy bun with our special spicy sauce." Sound tasty? Imagine you go ahead and order it, pay for it, get to your table, unwrap it, take a big bite, and HUH? You find a crispy bun with spicy sauce, but no lambchop!

How would you react? Would you complain? Ask for a replacement? Ask to see the manager? Yell and scream? Or would you suffer through it? Try to enjoy it? Even if you'd eat it, would you decide that you really like spicy sauce on a crispy bun even without the lambchop? Is there any chance you'd hope to get another one just like it next time you were in that restaurant?
I think it's a good guess that most of us would complain. Some loudly, some quietly, some with understanding, some with impatience, but we'd all want the real sandwich.

Or would we?

We say in the Hagada: "In memory of the Temple, as Hillel did: This is what Hillel did when the Temple was standing, he would make a sandwich ("korech") with (meat from) the Passover sacrifice, matza, and maror (bitter herbs), and eat them together, to fulfill the verse 'eat it on Matza with maror'."

Hillel ate his lambchop sandwich, with meat from the Passover sacrifice, on a "crispy bun" (matza) with "spicy sauce" (maror). In memory of Hillel's practice, we eat a "korech" sandwich of matza and maror. But the lambchop is missing!

Why don't we miss the meat in our Korech? Why don't we complain "Where's the meat?"

The obvious answer is that most of us find it hard to relate to the sacrifices in the Temple service. Meat, for us, is something to buy shrink-wrapped in a store, or to order in a restaurant. We don't want to know what goes on at the meat processing plants or in the butcher shops, and we can't relate at all to meat processing as a holy part of a Temple service. Meat isn't holy, it's deliciously (or not) mundane.

And yet the Hagada also includes prayers to return to the Passover Sacrificial service. In the blessing over the second cup we read: "Blessed are You, G-d, ... Who has redeemed us and redeemed our ancestors from Egypt, and enabled us to live to this night, to eat Matza and Maror. So too, G-d ..., may You enable us to live to other Holidays... happy in the reconstruction of Your city... May we eat there from the offerings and the Passover sacrifices...." And we finish with singing "L'Shana Ha'Ba'ah bi'Yerushalayim," next year in Jerusalem, which in Israel we sing "L'Shana ha'ba'ah bi'Yerushalayim ha'benuya," next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem, next year in Jerusalem with the Temple.

(As an aside, the English word "sacrifice" is a non-Jewish translation. The Hebrew word "korban" has nothing to do with losing something or giving up something, it means "coming close," meaning something that embodies our coming closer to G-d, related to the Hebrew word "karov" which means "close.")

How can we even imagine the Passover holiday with a Passover Sacrifice? How can we possibly relate to Holy meat?

I think that clearly that we can't imagine it. Even if we can develop an intellectual understanding of the Passover sacrifice (and there are certainly a lot of explanations written in Torah literature on the meaning of the sacrifices and the Temple service), none of us can possibly relate to eating sacrificial meat. How could we? We have no frame of reference for it - we can't even imagine its being part of our life.

But this is no different from other mitzvos that need to be experienced in order to be understood.

If our only experience with wine was getting tipsy, would we understand the feeling of Friday night Kiddush? And yet Friday night kiddush feels different from wine with dinner. Shabbat challah feels different from dinner rolls. Fasting on Yom Kippur feels different from a strict diet. Matza at the Seder feels different from crackers as a snack. Prayers in Hebrew feel different from singing "Fraire Jaques."

Who thinks about the fruit they eat? Fruit is fruit. But fruit in Israel tastes different. Do visitors to Israel really rave about Israeli Orange juice because it's better-made than Tropicana? Maybe, but many feel some intangeable difference which I think comes from holiness. And there's no way to explain it.

Imagine if you'd never heard of a bris (circumcision, "brit mila"). Would anyone hear of it for the first time and think of it as a holy experience? "Barbaric!" we'd yell. "How can a service be built around a painful operation?" And yet this same mitzva is one that almost all Jews hold on to more than any other, as a central and emotional part of bringing a Jewish boy into the world. Because we've experienced it, we relate to it and feel it.

Eating sacrificial meat is something none of us can relate to, since we've never done it. But if we did, it wouldn't be unimaginable, it would be as real as Shabbat kiddush wine, Israeli orange juice, or a bris.

Picture the following scene in Messianic times: You walk into the meat section of a TempleMart supermarket in Jerusalem. There will be no guards or security cameras, since all guns and bombs will have been turned into plows (or microprocessors). You won't see anyone pushing or shoving in line, since everyone will love their neighbor. In the store, we'll see signs not only for different cuts of meat, but also for meat from that day's sacrifices. Some will have stickers saying that they can only be eaten in Jerusalem, or by people in a particularly pure state, or by Cohens or Levis, or must be eaten before dark that day.

There will still be non-sacrificial meat, because the amount of meat sacrificed each year is nowhere near the amount of meat eaten each year by the Israeli or Kosher markets. But we'll feel the difference. In the TempleMart, the Cohen family three-year-old will be whining about the "daily sacrifice burger" tasting so much better than the "regular burger" that his mother put in the cart, and the Levine family teenager will be absolutely refusing to eat anything for dinner other than shnitzel from that day's peace offerings ("like, no way!").

I know I'm going way overboard with literary license here, but my point is this: However life in Messianic times will look exactly, we'll have gained the ability to relate to the holiness of sacrificial meat. We'll "get it." It'll be as normal as Kiddush wine. And just like those of us living in Israel remember "the old country," and remember how before moving to Israel we didn't "get" how great it would be to live in Israel, I expect that in Messianic times we'll all remember back to now, back when we had silly locks on our doors because noone really loved their neighbor, back when we had metal detectors in airports because people were making war against other nations, and back when we just "didn't get" sacrificial meat, back when we'd never experienced eating food that so directly embodied our relationship with G-d.

Even now, though, we can realize what we're missing. While we're having our Seders, reading and acting out and remembering the Exodous from Egypt, we can at least think about something that's missing from our lives and from our psyches: the ability to relate to the original Passover Seders and to Hillel's original sandwich, as well as other aspects of life after redemption.

I happen to think that my Korech sandwich, with matza and maror, would taste a heck of a lot better with some lambchop. Maybe the only way we can relate to sacrificial meat and the Temple service is to say to ourselves in the middle of our Seders: "Hey! I want the meat in my Korech!"

Happy Passover to everyone, and L'Shana Ha'Ba'ah Bi'Yerushalayim Ha'Benuya.


Tzipporah said...

nice post, Dov.
I'm one of those who generally gets freaked out by the idea of reinstating the sacrifices, but I think that's because I've always imagined some overzealous group trying to go ahead and do it before we were ready (ie., NOT in messianic times). You've put it in a different perspective for me.

Bruce Krulwich said...


I think a lot of people get freaked out by the idea, for a variety of reasons. One is the preconception that animal sacrifices are somehow inherently worse for animals than basic carnovirism. One is simply that we don't get how it will feel.

I really wrote the message with all those in mind, thanks for the comment that the different perspective can work!