Weekly Sermon

Weekly Sermon

PESACH YIZKOR 5780

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

 Isn’t it interesting that Passover begins with the focus on the children at the Seder and ends with remembering the grandparents at Yizkor? This year with the stay-in-place restrictions on the Covid-19 Coronavirus, most of us are without children and grandchildren this Pesach. When we’re not with family at the Seders we miss them with the silent prayer that we’ll be together for Seders again next year.

Let me ask you, if you were forced to put a price tag on your precious Passover moments with the kids, would say they’re worth $1,000, $10,000, a million dollars. This year as we went without family, like MasterCard, we now know they’re “priceless”?

But we can be with our parents and grandparents who have passed as we now recite Yizkor for them. Most of us have fond memories of what it was like when we were young, and our father or grandfathers led the Seder. Some of us remember the special tunes they used for Dayenu or Adir Hu or Echad Mi Yodeya or Chad Gadya. Some of us remember the stories they told from the “old country,” or a favorite word of Torah that they shared. Some of us remember the way they hid the afikomen, or how they rewarded us when we found it.

We have so many memories—serious memories and funny memories. Let me urge you to share these stories with your kids again—even or especially if you didn’t have Seder together this year—so that there continues to be a link between those that are gone, and those who are our future. Don’t let these memories be lost.

Let me share a Pesach story that should always be remembered. It was 1st told to me by one of my teachers at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Melech Schachter, who was an army chaplain with the brigade that liberated Bergen-Belsen. It’s the story about Rabbi Aharon Davids and his community who were taken to Bergen-Belsen in 1944. I’ll read you from the account told by his nephew, Joseph Freuchtwanger, on Aish.com:

          Rabbi Davids wanted to do something to keep the spirit of his family and his congregants alive, even as their physical strength wore down. To refrain from eating chometz during the week of Pesach was obviously impossible. If they did that, they would starve to death…What should they do? On Seder night he conducted a Seder...He had no Haggadah, so he recited the words from memory. And when he came to recite the bracha over the matzah, he lifted his voice and said:

          Avinu Shebashamayim, [Our Father in Heaven] it is known and manifest to You that we desire to carry out the commandment to eat matzah, and that we desire to refrain from eating chometz on this, the Festival of Pesach. But we are prevented from doing this by reason of the oppression in which we find ourselves. And therefore we stand ready to perform Your commandment: ‘You shall do [Gd’s commandments] them—and live by them, which the Sages explain means: ‘you shall live by them and not die by them’…Therefore, we eat this bread in place of matzah tonight, and we pray that You will keep us in life and redeem us from our servitude soon so that we may be able to perform Your statues and carry out Your will with a perfect heart as we yearn to do. Amen.”

Rabbi Davids and his son, Eli, died in Bergen-Belsen, shortly before it was liberated, but his wife, Erika, and their daughters immigrated to Israel and took with them the prayer that her husband composed—saved by one of the survivors of that Seder. Each year, her family and their descendants, read it at their Seders.

This Pesach it is WE who are creating special memories that we will pass on every year going forward about how the Coronavirus enabled us to deeply understand the Egyptian experience of our ancestors—especially that 1st Seder in Egypt as the angel of death hovered outside.

And like Rabbi Davids at that Seder in Bergen-Belsen, we say to Gd this year: “Avinu Shebashamayim, [Our Father in Heaven] it is known and manifest to You that we desire to properly observe Passover this year with family and friends at the Seders and davening in shul on Yom Tov.

         But we are prevented from doing this by reason of the oppression in which we find ourselves. And therefore, we stand ready to perform Your mitzvah:You shall live by Gd’s commandments and not die by them.”

        Therefore, we pray: Keep us in life and redeem us from this servitude soon so that we may be able to perform Your mitzvot and carry out Your will—coming to shul and living a full Jewish life—with a perfect heart—as we yearn to do…and as our parents whom we remember now have taught us, so that we can make them proud. Amen!                               

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