Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Passover thought related to Harry Potter: The importance of Jewish unity

In preparation for Passover, I'm posting some Passover-related material from Harry Potter and Torah. This is only an excerpt, and a lot more details are available in the book.

At the end of Goblet of Fire, Professor Dumbeldore delivers some well-chosen words about the need for unity among students and all "wizardfolk" who oppose the evil wizard Voldemort:

"Every guest in this hall ... will be welcomed back here, at any time, should they wish to come. I say to you all, once again - in light of Voldemort's return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.

"Voldemort's gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can only fight it by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open." (Goblet of Fire, chapter 37)

This theme, the importance of unity, is found throughout Jewish thought as well. Harry Potter and Torah has a chapter full of examples of this from through the Torah and holidays.

We see the theme of unity in one of the more puzzling symbols in the Passover Seder. Passover ("Pesach" in Hebrew) is probably the holiday most full of symbols -- matza for redemption coming quickly, maror (bitter herbs) for the bitterness of slavery and exile, charoset (charoses) for the cement used in the hard labor of slavery, leaning on pillows during the meal signifying our having become like royalty after getting out of Egypt, and the list goes on. Chock full o' symbols!

One of the symbols which is harder to understand is mentioned in the 4th of the 4 questions: "On all other nights we do not dip our food even once, on this night (the Seder) we dip twice." This is referring to the two things that we dip during the seder, the karpas (vegetable) in salt water and the maror (bitter herbs) in charoses.

Leaving aside the fact that we do occasionally dip our food during the year (especially the salsa or guacamole lovers among us), what is the symbolism of dipping food? Why does dipping rank up there with the symbols in the other 3 questions, matza, maror, and leaning?

Rav Matisyahu Solomon quotes a number of commentaries that connect these two "dippings" to two events that happened in the Bible involving dipping. The first was when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, and then "dipped" his coat (the "coat of many colors") into animal's blood to make their father (Jacob) believe that Joseph had been killed. The second was right before the exodus from Egypt, when the Jews were commanded to "dip" a bundle of hyssop branches into animal blood and paint it on their doorposts, which would prevent the plague of the first born from affecting the house, and instead would make the plague "pass over" the Jewish houses.

The point of dipping branches in blood and painting it on our doors is not that they acted like pagans. The point, Rav Solomon says, is that they were symbolically taking the same act that was done previously in hatred (when Joseph's brothers sold him and dipped his coat in blood) and doing it now in Jewish unity. The "dipping" of hatred led to the exile and slavery in Egypt, while the "dipping" in Jewish unity led to the exodus and redemption. By "dipping" and painting blood on the doorposts, they were demonstrating the removal of animosity from among the Jewish people.

This is the lesson of "dipping" during the seder. Dipping can take a perfectly good tasting vegetable and make it salty, or can take something bitter and reduce the bitterness. The same action can lead to exile or exodus. While we're remembering the exodus during the seder, we have to remember how we became worthy of Divine redemption: by taking animosity between Jews and turning it into unity.

This Shabbat, March 17 2007, we also say the prayer welcoming in the new Jewish Month, which starts next Tuesday. This prayer, called Kiddush HaChodesh, includes a paragraph of hope for the Messianic era to come soon:

"May He who performed miracles for our ancestors, and took them from (Egyptian) slavery to freedom, may he redeem us too, soon, and gather us from the four corners of the earth. All Jews are friends, Amen."

This prayer is clearly connecting both the redemption from Egypt and our hope for future Divine redemption to friendship and unity between Jews.

I hope everyone has a great Passover Seder, and will post other Passover-related ideas here between now and the holiday.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

1 comment:

Jack Steiner said...

May the unity among all Jews increase this coming Pesach.