It is an unusual day indeed when The New York Times, not always considered sensitive to the concerns of the Jewish community, publishes a front-page obituary for a rabbi. But the Times did just that a few short weeks ago, when it noted, with appropriate pathos and respect, the death of Rabbi Hershel Schacter, of blessed memory.
The Torah’s words were familiar: “V’asu Li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham.” And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. This verse from Exodus 25:8 took on entirely new meaning as I sat, Shabbat morning, in a Reform service in Budapest, Hungary. I just returned from a powerful Rabbinic Mission with 28 other rabbis, sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
It is often said that if it were possible to remember pain, no family would have more than one child. And yet, year in and year out, we Jews engage in this annual ritual of completely subverting the normal order of our kitchens, and often our furniture, and willingly subject ourselves to the very arduous task of preparing for Passover.
By the way, it is also often said that if the ancient rabbis ever set foot in their kitchens, such that they were, the laws of Passover would look quite different. But we won't go there…
Each and every year, at precisely this time of year, I find myself struggling with the question of who owns Jewish history.
It sounds like an odd question, I know. In a sense, it is. But what I mean is that there are some chapters of our history that are so imprinted on the broader consciousness of western civilization that it often feels as if we have handed over our historical experience to the rest of the world, to use as it pleases.