At Home With Strangers – Parashat Vayikra
Who’s coming to your Seder this year?
Maybe you’re hosting the family and friends. Maybe even someone new.
But the Seder is most complete when we also include others, people who may not otherwise have a place to go. Some families already do this instinctively, but this is an area where most of us can improve.
“Ha Lachma Anya – This is the bread of affliction” begins the Magid portion of the Seder, the main event. “Kol Dichfin Yeitei VeYechul, Kol Ditzrich Yeitei VYifsach – Let all who are hungry, come and eat. Let all who are in need, come and join the Passover meal…This year we are still slaves. Next year, free people.” Only when we truly open our homes to everybody searching for a meal can we call ourselves fully free.
The “Different Night” Haggadah notes that “Anya” means not only “affliction” but also “answers”: this is the bread over which many “answers” will be shared. On one level, this means that the Matzah is a prop with which to tell the Passover story. On another, I take it to mean that the Seder meal, along with those whom we invite, reveals a lot about who we are: there’s something really special about people inviting those who might be left out.
This week we read Parashat Vayikra, which opens the book of Leviticus. We learn of different animal sacrifices with different instructions for different occasions. Chapter Three introduces us to the Zevach Shlamim, Peace Offering. This type stands out because – unlike all others – three parties partake. The animal is shared between G-d (burned on the Altar), the Priests, and the donor with his guests. As Rabbi Meir Schweiger of Pardes puns, “With the Zevach Shlamim, everyone gets a piece.”
The root of the Hebrew word “Shlamim” is the word “Shalem,” which means “whole, full.” Of course we also see the word “Shalom, peace,” which results when wholeness has been achieved. Additionally, “Shalom” is one of G-d’s many names. Wholeness leads to holiness.
These moments of closeness to G-d at the Temple occurred when a Jew would share his meal with friends and family alongside strangers (the Priests). In those moments of including the other, the giver internalized that he was part of a national event, not simply a family gathering.
In the absence of the Temple, perhaps the Seder is the best theater to recapture this feeling of being connected to G-d, ourselves, and the other: we offer blessings and praise to G-d for our departure from Egypt; we celebrate our good fortune with family and friends; and we extend invitations to others, for Passover is celebrated annually to remind us that in Egypt we too were once strangers.
Rabbi Alex Freedman, ordained at JTS, is Associate Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, NJ. He’s hoping that his entire family – his wife and two little boys – will be awake for some of Seder this year.