Sunday, April 12, 2020

From the Rabbi's Bunker: April 12: Opening Doors and Unlocking the Yearning Heart

From the Rabbi's Bunker

Happy Easter to our Christian Neighbors...

Here's a screen grab from one of history's most famous Zoom Seders
Tweet courtesy of MythAddict 

If you missed last night's star-studded "Saturday Night Seder," here it is.
Saturday Night Passover Seder feat. Dan Levy, Finn Wolfhard, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel & More
It was terrific from beginning to end, but if you have only time to hear one part, head right to 45:06, where Stephen Schwartz plays his hit, "When You Believe," sung by Cynthia Erivo (who played the female Moses, Harriet Tubman) and Shoshana Bean of "Wicked" -- and they doubled up on Elphabas, with Idina Menzel pitching in with the Four Questions.


Below are some screen shots of our first TBE Zoom Seder.

Our guests also included Peter, Paul and Mary...

Peter, Paul and Mary - If I Had A Hammer (1963 performance)

And survivors of the final Passover Seder
in the Warsaw Ghetto 
The Last Passover in the Warsaw Ghetto



From Israel...
Israelis Taking their Seders to their Balconies
Israelis Taking their Seders to their Balconies

Eretz Nehederet | Fauda VS Corona ��
 Israeli Comedy Sketch: Fauda vs. Corona 

Moses and The Israelites (English Subtitles)
Moses and The Israelites at the Red Sea: What REALLY Happened

And finally, some humor of a more local flavor
Weekend Update: Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy Explains Passover With His Dad - SNL
 Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy Explains Passover With His Dad

And two more immortal works of art, adjusted for social distancing....

The First Draft of History

I hope your Passover has been thus far safe and, to the greatest degree possible, uneventful.  Our TBE Zoom Seder was among the most satisfying events I can recall here.  The virtual room was filled with people from here to Hawaii, from Florida to San Francisco, some of them multiple generations of the same families.  Zoom technology enabled me to "invite" to our Seder vintage eye-witnesses to Passovers past.  We added readings relevant to this Passover and used the chat box liberally to solicit responses to questions we never had thought of asking before; like, how the ritual of washing hands has changed us, how can we find signs of God's presence in the face of illness and suffering, and what activities (or ceasing of your normal activities) have you found to be reviving during these days of quarantine?

Please send me screen shots from this Seder and your family Zoom Seders so we can put together a montage of our extended congregational family.  Some of you already have - and I'd love to collect lots more.  Try to collect your thoughts in writing too, and send me reflections on your Seders and Passover 5780. We are living witnesses to a challenging time that some day we will recall with both sadness and pride.  As part of TBE's 100th anniversary, help us to write the first draft of history.

You can see what I have in mind by looking at this collection of responses from the Forward, which asked readers to chime in about their Seders.  One respondent replied:

Instead of the 10 plagues, we did the 10 blessings. We normally diminish our cups because we feel the pain of the Egyptians who suffered, but this year we aren't diminished by sharing the pain of others, so with each blessing - which I asked each person to repeat after me in English, just like in the 10 plagues - we added some wine to our cups. The blessings were: We are healthy. We are volunteering. We are reaching out. We are learning new technologies. We are innovating. We are slowing down. We are staying home. We are supporting local restaurants. We are appreciating the arts in new ways. We are paying attention. Then we made a l'chayim and drank! Will do again!

Please send your Zoom Seder reflections to

Also, the Jerusalem Post is inviting readers to submit Covid-19 memorials from the Jewish world in conjunction with Yizkor commemorations taking place this week.  See

And don't forget Sunday's weekly healing and hangout at 1 PM

How Many Plagues are Left?

As if the tumultuous nature of these times was not already confounding enough, did you hear about the rumblings of an awakening volcano in Iceland that has not erupted since the 10th century, (and when it did back then, it kept on spewing for 300 years)? Or this story from the weekend papers...
Locusts? Really? Do yourself a favor and don't enlarge the photo. It's not pretty. And so, OK, it's true that locusts are used as apocalyptic imagery in the Bible (specifically by the prophet Joel). However, they are also kosher (though some debate just how kosher they are), and for Jews from some parts of the world, a delicacy. So think of them less as an apocalyptic omen than as a sign that we'll never go hungry.

Does that help?

An Important Message from our Beloved Elders


An important message from residents of a seniors facility, from the Washington Post.

Opening Doors and Unlocking the Yearning Heart:
A Look at Nachman of Bratzlav's Haggadah

The pandemic has brought out the generosity of so many, including artists and publishers.  Over the past week, I've been able to download two classic Haggadahs that are invaluable to the Haggadah collector.

 The Koren Haggadah, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacksone of this generation's great rabbis and former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain; and  The Breslov Haggadah, by the renowned 19th century Hasidic leader, Nachman of Bratzlav. (If that link doesn't work, you can download it through this link.) 

I've taken some brief excerpts from the Bratzlav Haggadah which, while two centuries old (he died in 1810), is an exceedingly contemporary commentary.  In the view of his biographer Rodger Kamanetz, Nachman's storytelling was clearly designed to reach out to people who otherwise would not be interested in Jewish mysticism or in serious religious Judaism. 

"I think what's most modern about Rabbi Nachman is his consideration of the problem of extreme doubt and extreme nothingness - of descending into states of mind where he felt that he knew nothing, which he frequently proclaimed to his followers.... To dramatize and live out the reality of doubt is an extraordinary feat for a figure like Rabbi Nachman, who clearly was deeply devout and deeply religious."

So he was a very traditional figure, though he lived in the infancy of a very radical movement, Hasidism, and he was addressing an audience with increasingly modern sensibilities.  No wonder his Haggadah commentary feels like it was written just for us, as we grapple with living in Coronaville, 2020.

Commenting on the verse from the Haggadah, "God will bring us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm," a section of word-by-word analysis that rabbis go gaga over and everyone else at the table typically wants to skip, the Bratzlaver shares thoughts that echo in our current experience, of the need to bear our suffering, see beyond it and never lose hope.  While we ruminate over our current predicament, Nachman's point would be that we always need to be aiming for self improvement and lessons learned, even when so much is out of control.  There are things we can control: how we read danger signs, to what degree we socially distance ourselves and influence others to do the same, and how and when we raise voices in protest.  

The next commentary that I've excerpted ends with words that have never been more prophetic.  As the Israelites shed themselves of the crust accumulated from centuries of superstition, cynicism and lethargy, God "opens doors" for them, releasing them from their Egyptian quarantine.  They are now keenly aware of the miracles they've witnessed, enabling them to overcome their despair.  We too have been awakened to the miracles of our families, our community, the goodness in people and the gift of life.  

And we too yearn for the opening of doors.  The journey from Passover to Shavuot this year, from Egypt to Sinai, the traditional And we too yearn for the opening of doors.  The journey from Passover to Shavuot this year, from Egypt to Sinai, the traditional counting of the Omer, will be a time of counting and growing such as we've not seen since the Exodus itself.   

Here are those first two commentaries:

Here's Reb Nachman's take on the Four Children - a fascinating psychological study in which all four of them in fact reside within each of us.

In the commentary below, we read Nachman's take on the Matzah as the "Bread of Experience" and how the Seder itself, as embodied in the matzah, is sort of a Rorschach test of one's openness to Jewish experiences.  In light of this past week's once-in-a-lifetime Seder experiences, it is hard to imagine that anyone was bored!  If this was, for you, just another Seder, please take two Nachmans and see me in the morning.  I'd love to hear your Seder stories from this week, especially if you happen to be among those that Nachman was talking about, the person who usually is heard saying countless times, "Are we there yet?" before we've even broken the middle matzah.  What moved you this year?  How was this Seder experience different from all others?
And finally, here's a small snippet of the book's extensive introduction, where Nachman tells the story of the Exodus, from the very beginning of Genesis.  We read in this excerpt a fascinating psychological study of Pharaoh, the defeated despot - that first paragraph is a keen analysis of autocrats, then and now -  and how the Israelites endured the night of terror with joyous expectation of their pending liberation, so joyous that even Pharaoh's own daughter was enticed to join them. For a guy who lived decades before Freud, he was speaking in the language of Freud and Kafka...and us.
Hag Samayach!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
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Temple Beth El, 350 Roxbury Road, Stamford, CT 06902
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Hag Samayach!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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