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Questions of Faith March 28, 2021

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“What makes this night different from all [other] nights?
1) On all nights we need not dip even once, on this night we do so twice?
2) On all nights we eat chametz or matzah, and on this night only matzah?
3) On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, and on this night maror?
4) On all nights we eat sitting upright or reclining, and on this night we all recline?”

– The Four Questions (“Ma Nishtana”)

How is this practice different from all the other practices? Good question. It is a question you can ask before any practice. It is also a question that sounds a lot like “The Four Questions,” traditionally asked by the youngest person at a Passover Seder. The word seder is a Hebrew word that means “order” or “arrangement,” and it refers to the ritual feast people in the Jewish community have on the first night of Passover (or first two nights for Orthodox and Conservative communities outside of Israel). The meal is a symbolic celebration of the Exodus story, which is the story of how the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt. Really, the meal is the story – beginning with the questions, which are also symbolic.

Passover, which is also called Pesach and The Feast of Unleavened Bread, is considered a spring festival and, in ancient times, was directly connected to the harvesting and offering of barley – which was the first grain to ripen and harvest in the Holy Land. For seven days (eight days for the Orthodox and Conservative communities, especially in the diaspora), people commemorate the story of Exodus, which is a story of faith. The ritual observation actually begins before the Passover Seder, with the removal of chametz (“leavening”), as it is forbidden to consume, keep, or own chametz during Passover. Some forms or chametz will be burned; other forms can be given away or even sold. Keep in mind that the agents of “rising” or fermentation are not forbidden – in fact, wine is a required part of the celebration. However, the action of rising is symbolic and part of the story (2. where the Jews have to flee so fast their bread doesn’t have time to rise.)

Another part of the story and another ritual that occurs before the Passover Seder is the Fast of the Firstborn, which falls on the day before the evening of the Passover Seder (with adjustments made when Passover begins on a Saturday night – which is the end of the Sabbath). Again, this is a symbolic element of the story as first-born sons (and “newborn” sons) play critical roles in the Exodus story (as you will see below).

Saturday night marked the beginning of Passover, making today the first day of Passover. Today is also Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week or Passion Week (also known as Passiontide) in the Western Christian community. As I mentioned last year, in reference to a question from my brother, it is not a coincidence that so many holy obligations are happening at the same time even though different faiths use different calendars. While how the holidays overlap is different from year to year, according to the Gregorian calendar, the fact that they overlap is significant and relevant – because the stories of Exodus and the story of Jesus’ last week are connected.

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

– Stuart Chase

Historically speaking, Jesus was a Jewish teacher or rabbi, who returned home to Jerusalem for Passover. The Gospel According to Saint John (12:1) is the only New Testament gospel that specifically refers to Passover as a reference point for the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life. However, all four of the canonical Gospels mention preparation for the festival, feast, or first day (depending on the translation) of “Unleavened Bread” and describe a jubilant and memorable moment where Jesus rides into town on a donkey (a symbol of peace) and is greeted by people who honor him by laying down palm fronds and possibly coats to cover his path. This is a day remembered, in Christian communities, as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. It is the final Sunday of Lent and marks Christians’ final preparation for Easter.

Remember, Jesus is seen by Christians as the Messiah – the one whose life (and death) ushers in an era of peace, salvation, and forgiveness from sins. His story – especially the story of his last week – is seen as a story of freedom and also of God’s power and love for humankind. On the other hand(s), we have Aaron and Moses – as well as Miriam – who are instrumental in the story of how God ushers in an era of peace and freedom for “Children of Israel.”

In both stories, we are meant to see the hand or power of God (and the Holy Spirit) and in both stories people are required to have faith in order to be saved. In the first, the story of Exodus, the Jewish people are told to have faith – even when they are suffering the suffering through the Ten Plagues along with the Egyptians – and to not only envision, but also to celebrate, freedom that has not yet come. That is the whole point of the first Seder, which happens before the exodus (3 & 4). Finally, for Christians, faith in Jesus as the Messiah is the “ticket to heaven.”

Here’s the thing I think it is important to remember – especially as this year marks the second year many people are observing these holy times in some version of lockdown due the pandemic: these stories about faith and the power of God, all require action on the part of humankind. The first to act is Jochebed (or Yocheved) who hides her baby (Moses) for three months when she hears the Pharaoh wants all newborn males thrown in the Nile. She acts again when she throws him in the river, but only after placing him in a waterproof basket. The next to act is Miriam, the sister, who watches her baby brother floating down the river until he is picked up by the Pharaoh’s daughter (whose actions should not be discounted since the woman had to know the baby was Jewish) and then acts again when she offers to provide a “wet nurse.” Miriam also acts to connect Moses to his community.

Then there is Moses, who is called to action by the burning bush. Because he, in some ways, lacks faith (in himself and, one could argue, in God), he calls his brother Aaron (a first-born son?) to action. Together, the brothers inform Pharaoh and the people of Israel how God wants them to act. Pharaoh, as the story is told, does not act appropriately; but the story of Exodus – and in particular of the first Seder – is the story of a whole community of people putting their faith into action.

Finally, we get to Jesus (another first-born son), the apostles, and the stories that lead up to Easter. Pay attention this week and you will see, time and time again, how people are called to action… called to put their faith into action. We can debate what we believe all day long, but ultimately, what is important is not what you believe so much as how you act based on your beliefs. Then, finally, we see can/will see if our actions (and therefore our beliefs) lead to sweet freedom (1) and the grateful end of suffering (1) or just more suffering (3).

“Remember: If you want to make progress on the path and ascend to the places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.”

– quoted from “The Fourth Dwelling .1.” of The Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Ávila (born March 28, 1515) (New Translation and Introduction by Mirabai Starr)

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, March 28th) at 2:30 PM (CST). Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04122020 All That Is Holy”]

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

### PEACE ###

Comments»

1. muckth - March 28, 2021

Very interesting. (I abhor the practice of double dipping whatever the occasion.) t

ajoyfulpractice - March 28, 2021

You’re funny. Technically, “dipping twice” is not the same as “double dipping,” because it is two different items (the karpas/green vegetable and the maror/bitter herbs) dipped into two different solutions (the saltwater and the charoset, a sweet “cheres-clay”), respectively.

2. Sandra Razieli - March 31, 2021

What a lovely sharing of the similarities of overlaps of these traditions. I love the notion of the importance of the call to action. Thank you! And I am with you on the dipping twice not begin the same as double dipping.

ajoyfulpractice - March 31, 2021

Selah and Amen!


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