Rabbi Weisblum's Sermon for the 7th Day of Passover Monday, April 9, 2007
Good Yom Tov. Has everyone had enough matzah?
This morning, I'd like to share an e-mail with you from one of the congregants, who gave me permission to discuss his concerns from the Bimah. My sermon this morning deals with "how we make choices or how we weigh the pros and cons in our life?" Perhaps we can turn to a wise King of Israel to help us navigate contemporary issues? Who in our tradition is considered the wisest man who ever lived? Many say King Solomon, son of King David. As a matter of fact, we just read his Song of Songs on Shabbat Chol Hamoed. He was known to be a great king, pursuer of peace and a fair and righteous judge. He carefully weighed the evidence of a case or dispute between two parties. So, my friends, when I received this e-mail after our KI Seder, I thought about the King Solomon approach to looking at the question posed to me: "If given the choice should one go away to a hotel for Passover, if given the choice?"
The letter I received is as follows.....
Subject: Pesach resort hotel
Shalom. I had a great time at the Kneseth Israel’s Congregational Seder. As usual, the feeling of warmth and tradition goes right to my heart. I feel proud to see how all the details from the food, to the decorations, to the storytelling, and songs makes for a beautiful spiritual, entertaining and meaningful Passover. I did walk away from the table appreciating my freedom and my heritage. Many thanks to all who worked so hard and to all who participated with their goodwill. I have a question that has been tugging at my conscience. My sister and brother-in-law who are both well to do financially go to a five star kosher hotel every year. They know the owner and they receive a big discount. Even with the discount they end up spending about $4,000 per person for the 8 days. That does not include the round trip airfare to and from Arizona, taxis, tips, clothing including 2 fancy outfits per day plus the bus trips, jewelry and art auctions as well as the souvenirs to bring home. Additionally, my brother-in-laws entire family whose father is a successful attorney and his brothers, also attorneys and their wives and children, plus the in-laws and some cousins come in their party. Rabbi, you do the math. They are more then 50 people in the party. With the discount they spend about $200,000. How can this be? Do you think this is normal? My wife and I and our children debate every year whether we should splurge and spend the money and be part of this family get together. There are so many pros and cons. Every year, our extended family gives us a guilt trip because we are not there. Here's a list of our pros and cons. Maybe they are right? Should we join them next year? What message are we sending our children either way? I am really tormented over this dilemma, especially since I am the oldest in the family and bear the responsibility to be a leader of the family.
Rabbi, the PROS are there is no cooking or shopping for food-total kitchen freedom, being served 24/7 round the clock, Jewish lectures, learn more about one's backround, entertainment, diversion, relaxation from work, Synagogue on premises-no driving or walking, just roll out of bed, the family is all together, and there is great bonding with relatives. Tremendous networking opportunities, great for business and one meets new people. Wider choice of food, one doesn’t feel so many restrictions. Change of pace-nice outings, after all we work so hard during the year, refreshing cultural activities. Dressing up is more fun in public. People who are lonely will not be isolated and depressed. People who are physically weak will not be burdened with the preparations and serving. The food is delicious, the desserts mouthwatering.
Rabbi, the CONS are: Financial expense - How hard do I have to work to pay for these 8 days? Am I able to feel the hardships my ancestors endured in such an environment? Is this the best way to spend one's money? Is this trip very self-indulgent? The family may get spoiled and focus on materialism instead of spirituality. In my home, I am the king of my castle and can be more relaxed. I like my own bed. There is too much noise with over 600 people at every meal; 8 days with over 50 relatives is a bit much. The travel to the west coast is long and stressful - just getting through the airport is full of tension, waiting on lines, and security inspection takes forever. I like my own shul, my own Rabbi and I feel more grounded in my own community. There is a potential for serious weight gain with all the food served. The children eat sweets and one can nosh 24 hours around the clock. Rabbi, what is your opinion on all of this? I value your thoughts?
Please help me have some piece of mind.
Shalom and Happy Passover,
My response as the Rabbi was:
My dear congregant, there are several different ways to look at this. First, I think you are lucky, there are places that charge $9,500 for the week of Pesach for one person… you are also fortunate to have the basic ability to make your choices. However, even if it is "halachically correct" (OK from the Jewish law point of view) it maybe more complex from the spiritual perspective. For example: many of my colleagues feel that there are many ways and places to celebrate the holiday of Passover: be it at one’s home, a neighbor, a community setting or a hotel.
Each environment has its advantages and disadvantages. The key here is how you and your children relate to the history of slavery. How do we process the Matzah, which is the bread of affliction when eaten in the tremendously opulent atmosphere of a hotel resort? When we are breaking the middle Matzah, we need to convey a message of poverty, implying that poor and hungry people need to save food for the future. Thus, we break the Matzah to express our connectedness to this idea and to our past. I presume based on your conflict, you are concerned that if you remove your family from a no frills environment, will it diminish your historical roots and create a new generation that will live in a state of denial, or worse, belittling values and traditions.
Your worry of how you will be able to relay to your future generation, the fact that your grandfather was waiting for hours on long lines in the Warsaw Ghetto wearing a yellow star on his sleeve for a piece of potato, or your grandmother was waiting to receive food in Auschwitz. Or, how does one convey the feeling of trepidation of blood libels for more than 6,000 recorded incidences that our forefathers encountered? If we spoil the younger generations children, how will they feel connected to the messages of Matzah and Maror and the historical link to our people?
The truth is you have already analyzed the pros and cons of your choices. I suggest you carefully weigh your options. Many times as you yourself said going to a hotel for Passover has a lot of pluses. Especially when it involves family reunions and the actual celebrations of the Passover holiday.
There is no right or wrong answer. In the big picture, what truly counts is to feel proud to be a Jew and keep the Passover traditions alive with "simcha" and "shalom" wherever you choose to go. In proverbs it states "Grow where you are planted." Try to be easier on yourself and pat yourself on the back for caring so much about having a meaningful celebration.
There is a story where two people argued in front of King Solomon. To the first person the king answered: "You're right." To the second witness he said, "You're right" Both asked how they can be right. To which the king answered "You're both right."
My friends, the choices we make in life need to be analyzed by looking at the pros and cons. Hopefully, we will make the right choices that benefit us and our families and our community. Let us pray that we judge favorably, weigh our options, and finally obtain good results in the end in all of the choices that we make. Remember to look at each situation individually without bias. Good Yom Tov.