Miriam, or Maria as she was now called, went over the shopping list for the fourth time. She wanted to ensure that buying horseradish at this time of year wouldn’t raise the ever suspicious eyes of the Inquisitors who were watching the markets for exactly such purchases. Ever since she and her family had “converted” to Christianity four years back, every step they took had to be calculated carefully. The list in front of her included almost every item the local vegetable market carried, and hopefully it would look as though the horseradish was just another item on her list, not the cause for the shopping trip. The irony of buying these bitter herbs in such bitter times was not lost on her.
On the other side of town, her husband, Don Chaim “Carlos” Abujealta, was descending a hidden staircase in the mansion of another prominent Marrano family, the Samsarras. Luckily, both men were highly regarded officials in the Spanish Treasury. It gave them good pretext for visiting each other on this Sunday afternoon, after attending Mass with the royal family. Another expedition had just returned from the New World, laden with Incan treasures, and newly mined silver. The entire country was euphoric, and the expectation was that the Treasury would use most of the money to send more expeditions to the New World. Discussions and deliberations were definitely in order, and no one would wonder why Don Abujealta was visiting Don Samsarras.
But in truth, this visit was about a different sort of treasure, a stack of unleavened bread they planned on baking in their secret basement. As they began kneading the flour and water, they mouthed the words “L’shem mitzvat matzah, in the name of the mitzvah of matzah.” Both knew that it was more than the mitzvah of matzah they were performing. They were striving to transfer their Jewish identity to children who had never attended a Seder that didn’t take place in a basement, who had never prayed in a synagogue, or lit a menorah proudly in their window.
As they baked their matzahs in the crude earthen oven, the two men talked about their plans for the future, scheming, as they always did, of ways to escape the miserable Marrano life they led. They talked of heading to Istanbul, where they had Ottoman business contacts, and many of the Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal ended up. They spoke of the New World, a place where the Inquisition’s tentacles were weakened by the 6,000 mile distance. During the past few years, Marrano sailors had been trying to gain control of a single ship, large enough to take a few families to freedom, but so far nothing had come to fruition. With the strained communication available to them, they often went for months without any updates. And so they baked their matzahs, understanding full well the meaning of the term “bread of affliction.”
The Seder night descended on Barcelona, dark and stormy. The Abujuelta family had a simple supper of cheese and vegetables, put the children to bed, and dismissed their maids for the night. An hour later, the children were awakened, and were informed that it was Pesach, and instructed to dress in their best for the Seder. It was too risky for the children to know about the Seder in advance, but they were always delighted to be woken for it. They dressed in their dark rooms and congregated in the master bedroom. With sweaty palms, Don Chaim moved the massive tapestry of the Last Supper, and reached for a cleft in the stone wall. He pushed a small knob, and a doorway swung open. Grabbing a lit torch from the wall, Don Chaim led his family down to their secret basement.
They were greeted with a beautiful sight. The table was set with gleaming silver. Their neighbors, the Marciano family were already seated, having come through their secret tunnel, and the goblets were already poured with the first of the Four Cups. The children began singing out the order of the night, and the Seder began.
It was during the Four Questions that the Marciano’s oldest child broke down., Muffling her sobs, she asked a fifth question, “Why do we have to spend this night in fear? Why do we have to watch our friends burn at the stake?” The adults looked at each other speechless. It seemed like nothing in their haggadahs prepared them to answer such questions. But then, Senor Marciano began to sing “Vehi Sh’amda.”
And it is this covenant that has stood for our Forefathers and us. For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out. But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.
Slowly everyone joined in, and the Seder became festive once again. The matzah was brought out, the marror was consumed thoughtfully, and the korech sandwich was eaten. The meal was sparse but delicious, and both families poured out their hearts as they stood up to proclaim, “Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You And on the families that do not call Your name; For they have devoured Jacob; They have devoured him and consumed him And have laid waste his habitation.” Suddenly, there was a rapid clanging of bells. The cord that reached from the house to the basement shook violently as it rang out the signal. Inquisitors were approaching the home!
Pandemonium ensued as everyone frantically tried to determine the best course of action. Some of the adults wanted to run back home and pretend that everything was normal, others felt it was too late and they must use the secret tunnel that led down to the waterfront, and try to escape. Just then the door to that tunnel burst open and in ran a young sailor, out of breath, and flushed. “Quick,” he screamed, “Ani Yehudi, I am a Jew! The Inquisition is raiding dozens of homes across town! But we have a ship. Follow me!”
Without much time to think, Don Chaim grabbed the rest of the matzahs, shoved them in a sack, threw them over his shoulder, and joined the sailor. The rest of the family followed and soon found themselves running down the thin dank tunnel. They emerged in a store on the waterfront, and through the window could see the anchor of a ship being pulled. They raced across the quay, jumping over the unconscious guards. Once on board, they were led below deck, where a few other families sat huddled. Soon they were joined by yet more families, some they had never known to be Marranos. Hearing commotion, Don Chaim came on deck and saw the sailors scrambling to unfurl the massive sails, emblazoned with the red pointed crosses of Christian pilgrims. The captain of the ship was staring silently at the road leading down to the harbor, lit up by dozens of torches, filled with soldiers and priests, all racing to the harbor to stop them.
With a creak the boat began to glide out of the harbor narrowly denying the Inquisition their prey. Two thousand years after the original exodus, yet another group of Jews left their land of oppression with nothing but the matzahs in their sacks. Don Chaim knew that there would be countless dangers ahead, but all he could think of was the verse, “This was a night of vigil for Ha-shem, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. This night remains a night of vigil to Ha-shem for all the B’nei Yisrael, for all their generations.”
For some, Egypt is a place where the shackles are physical, for some Egypt is an emotional or spiritual place of constriction and limitation, but for all of us, the Seder night is a night that we can break free. In every generation there are those that stand up against us to wipe us out, to wipe out what we believe in, or to wipe out our belief in ourselves and our capability to change and transform. In the coming week, as we prepare for Pesach, let us contemplate what our Egypt is. Armed with that knowledge and the readiness to “leave with nothing but the matzah on our backs” to forge a new path, bravely leaving our comfort zone behind, we will indeed experience great light and salvation in Pesach 5781 once again!
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s parsha, Vayikra, we begin reading about the many offerings that were brought in the Tabernacle and Temple. There are offerings brought with livestock, fowl, and even flour and oil. One common denominator between all the different offerings is that they all had salt placed on them. “You shall salt all your meal-offerings with salt and you shall not omit salt, the covenant of your G-d, from being placed upon your meal-offerings. You shall bring salt on every one of your offerings.” (Lev. 2:13)
The Medrash tells us that this was a result of a complaint filed back during the creation of the world. On the second day of creation G-d split the lower waters and the upper water. The lower waters were unhappy with the fact that they were left far away from G-d, and complained that they wanted to be closer to G-d. G-d consoled them by telling them that salt which is taken from the sea would be placed upon all the offerings, and that water would be poured on the Altar on Succot.
If this is the case, why do we put salt on the offerings, why not simply place sea water on them since it was the sea water that desired to be closer to G-d? Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky (1891-1986, Lithuania- NY) answers that the water elevates itself and joins the upper waters simply by evaporating. What’s left behind is the salt, that which does not naturally climb on its own. When G-d tells us that He wants the salt on all the offerings, He is saying that He wants to see us offer up the parts of us that are not inclined toward elevation on their own. The parts of us that we view as the residue, the part that remains behind when we try to grow and raise ourselves up. That is what G-d wants to see us bringing before Him as offerings.
There should be no part of our personality that we hate. Some parts of our personality we love because they are naturally good. Then there are the parts that we should love, because when we iron them out, we not only grow immeasurably, but we tap capabilities we never thought we had! Please pass the salt…
This week’s Parsha begins with G-d calling Moses from the Tabernacle for the first time since His Presence rested upon it. Since the purpose of the Tabernacle is to enable the Jewish People to serve G-d in a focused manner and place, G-d’s first discussion with Moses is about the Temple service and the sacrifices.
The Torah describes the laws of the olah, the wholly burnt offering, as they pertain to animals and fowl. (Quick lesson: G-d says both the olah brought from an animal ($$$$) and the olah brought from a bird ($) will bring a satisfying aroma before Him. This teaches us that whether it is an expensive gift or an inexpensive one, they are equally satisfying before G-d as long as the intent is sincere.) The Parsha then elucidates the five types of meal offerings (that is meal as in fine flour, not meal as in bringing a four course dinner with a side of sushi). After describing these basic offerings, the Torah commands us to put salt on everything offered upon the alter (this is one of the reasons we dip our bread in salt after making the Hamotzi blessing – to remind us that our table should be like an altar, and we should eat in an elevated fashion, not out of gluttony).
The Torah then discusses the laws of the peace offering (called that because everyone gets a piece of the action; some of the meat goes on the Altar, some to the Kohanim, and some to the owners who brought the sacrifice) and the sin offerings. This is followed by a description of an offering brought when a group of the Elders of the Assembly make an erroneous judgment, causing a large group to sin. After that, we are told of special sin offerings brought if the king or the Kohain Gadol commits a sin. The message here is that the more elevated your status, the more you must scrutinize your actions since they have a stronger effect. When a sin is committed by a person of higher stature, the atonement process is more elaborate than the process for a commoner.
Finally, we learn of the Asham sacrifice, the guilt offering, brought for a variety of sins such as broken oaths, entering into holy areas while in a state of unknown impurity, stealing and then making an oath denying it, and certain cases of uncertainty as to whether one committed a grave sin or not. And that, my friends, pretty much sums the whole Parsha up!
Quote of the Week: Liberty is always dangerous, but it’s the safest thing we have. ~Harry Fossick
Random Fact of the Week: Coffee is the second most traded product in the world after petroleum.
Funny Line of the Week: Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip round the sun.
Have a Superfly Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham