Welcome to the spring which has not yet arrived…
With this Shabbat we begin the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), the third Book of the Torah. The initial chapters of Vayikra detail the various sacrifices central to Jewish ritual in antiquity. During our upcoming Seder, we will place a shank bone on the Seder plate; symbolic of the specific sacrifice which was unique to the biblical and rabbinic Passover. This Passover sacrifice was to be roasted and eaten with matzah and bitter herbs. As a symbolic reminder of that roasted sacrifice; some communities followed the custom of eating roasted meat on Seder night. However, other communities followed the custom of not eating roasted meat at the Seder. Rabbinic teaching validates both traditions.
The custom of eating roasted meat and the custom of not eating roasted meat teach us a lesson about memory. Sometimes, we remember the past by creating visual reminders of the past. Hence, eating roasted meat actively reminded families about the ancient, roasted sacrifice and enabled them to express continuity with the past. Yet, some of us remember and honor the past by depriving ourselves of designated symbols which may only breed sadness and despair over a past which no longer exists. We choose the path of memory which best suits us.
Those families refusing to eat roasted meat at the Seder were neither dismissing nor denying the past. Depriving themselves of roasted meat was an active form of remembrance; not an expression of indifference.
However we express memory, it is essential that we identify with the past and not be dismissive of it. Freedom means that there are many paths to Passover observance and memory; and that we actively select the path of observance and memory best suited to us. How we choose to remember the Exodus-and all subsequent challenges to the Jewish people- is left to us; that we choose a designated path is central to appreciating the cherished Passover theme of freedom.
Whatever path you choose, may it bring meaning as well as joy.