Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740–1809) spent his life acting as the self-appointed character witness for the Jewish people, engaging in a constant dialogue with G d, pointing out the unique qualities of every Jew he met. The following is one of the best-known “Berditchever” stories:
It was the afternoon before Passover and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was wandering through the streets of the Jewish quarter seeking out local smugglers. From one he quietly asked for a quote on contraband tobacco, from another he inquired about the availability of smuggled brocades and embroideries. No matter the merchandise he sought, everything was available for the right price.
However, when he started asking his newfound acquaintances to supply him with some bread or whiskey, those very same businessmen who had previously proved so accommodating balked. “Rabbi,” said one, “are you trying to insult me? The Seder will be starting in just a few hours, and no Jew would have even a speck of chametz left in his home or business.”
Not one merchant was able to come up with even a crumb of bread or a dram of alcohol. The town had converted into a chametz-free zone.
Thrilled with the results of his failed quest, the rabbi looked up to Heaven and declared, “G-d Almighty, look down with pride at Your people! The czar has border guards and tax commissioners dedicated to his commands. The police and the courts are devoted to tracking down and punishing smugglers and black marketeers, and yet anything one could possibly want is available. Contrast this with the faith and fidelity of Your Jews. It has been over 3,000 years since you commanded us to observe Passover. No police, no guards, no courts or jails enforce this edict — and yet every Jew keeps Your laws to the utmost!”
According to the most recent Pew research study completed, participation in a Seder is more common among Americans Jews than any other Jewish tradition or holiday. More then 70 percent of U.S. Jews said they participated in a Seder, with fasting for all or part of Yom Kippur — often considered the most observed Jewish holiday — coming in at 53 percent.
What is it about Passover that makes it such a widely observed holiday? It cannot simply be just the food, because as you know, people are widely divided on their opinions of matzah, varying from complete infatuation to utter disdain for even the smallest amount. So, what is the uniting theme in Passover?
One of the main mitzvot of the Seder night is v’higadta l’vincha, telling the story of the Exodus over to our children. However, the Torah didn’t just want us to tell the story over, but rather to show, demonstrate and involve the children in a meaningful way. We have all the unique customs on Seder night, the Four Cups, dipping into salt water, leaning, eating the charoset. Why? In order to pique the children’s interest they should ask, Mah nishtana halaylah hazeh?
That’s the reason the Seder night has endured and flourished, because we showed our children through family participation the beauty of the Jewish customs and traditions. It had such a profound effect on our children, they wanted to continue it themselves, and to share it with their own children, that beauty.
If we want Jewish continuity, it’s not enough to just tell our children about Judaism, we need to live it as well. Light the Shabbat candles, make kiddush on Friday night, make Hamotzi. Continuously being involved in the practical aspects of Judaism is the way to ensure we see real Yiddishe nachas. JN
Rabbi Shimi Ash is co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Gilbert and the South East Valley.