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Rabbi Kalmar's SermonShabbat HaGadol 10 nisan 5780

"The Rasha, Charoset, and the Power of Showing Up" (April 3/4, 2020)

What is the Rosha doing at the Seder? Much ink has been spilled over the years discussing who the Rosha is – who is this wicked child? He has always been seen as the bogeyman for whatever one identifies as the bad Jew of the day. Says Rav Asher Weiss – you know what – stop giving the Rasha such a hard time – it says in the Haggadah – Ilu Haya Sham – had the Rasha been there – meaning in Egpyt – he would not have been redeemed. But says Rav Weiss - the Rosha is not sham – he is not there – he is poh – he is here. He showed up at the seder. Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev is quoted as saying – the rabbis were told – higia zman keriat shema shel shacharit – the time has come for Shacharit – when the seder was over – if you look at the Roshei teivot – the first letters of the word שחרית shacharit – you find all four sons. The Shin is the She-aino Yodeia Lishol – the one who doesn’t know how to ask. The Chet is the Chochom – the wise son. The Reish is the Rosha – the wicked son. And the Taf is the Tam – the simple son. They are all there. When it comes down to it – all four sons are there.

Switching gears - is the deal with the Charoset? There is a Debate in Talmud – is it a mitzvah to do Charoset or not? Does it remind us of the apple tree – under which the Jewish women kept the Jewish people alive in Egypt by convincing their husbands to continue to bear children in tough times ? Or does it remind us of the טיט – the mortar of slavery? There is a debate between the Rambam’s Peirush HaMishnayot – his commentary to the Mishna and later in the Mishneh Torah – his law book as to whether Charoset is a mitzvah. Earlier he writes – that it is not – for if it was a mitzvah – it should get its own bracha. In the Mishnah Torah he says that it is a mitzvah – but it gets no bracha – how do we understand this contradiction? In the Yerach LiMoadim of R. Yeruchim Olshin it says that originally the Rambam thought – the requirement of Charoset is to eat the Charoset – so then if it is a mitzvah – there should be a bracha. But then – and here the language of the Rambam is very telling – ומביאין אותה על השולחן בלילי פסח- it is brought to the table on the night of Pesach – the charoset just shows up. You don’t have to eat the charoset, you have to have it at the table.

So perhaps there is no bracha of a mitzvah on showing up – but showing up is crucial. The charoset is a integral part. Everyone has their own recipe, and everything is in there. The apple and the maror and the wine and the matzah – the charoset is the everyman of the seder – the cholent of the seder. Everyone is included. The Rasha may not make a bracha – but he is there. The Charoset showed up – today we think about how we can’t show up – we can’t show up to shul, we can’t show up to a funeral or a shiva house, we can’t show up to a wedding or a bris. And we think about the importance of showing up – I still remember with fondness people who showed up to my father’s funeral 20 years ago. There is great significance to those who show up for a minyan, to help someone say kaddish at shul, and to kiddush at shul. Those who show up for Israel, for Jewish education, for our people and for our community. We recognize the power of showing up – the power of the Charoset. Can’t do anything if you don’t show up. You may not be feeling it, but if you are there – it makes all the difference.

I heard this drash from Rabbi JJ Schacter – and he shared that his Aunt Bea would always join them at his family seder – and Aunt Bea loved the Charoset – every year she would take the maror and dig it deep into the Charoset bowl and come out with a triple scoop of charoset and a little sliver of maror – it was like 9 parts charoset and 1 part maror and they would say to her – Aunt Bea – you’re supposed to shake off the charoset 9 parts charoset. She said – this is my way. This is how I do it. I revel in the Charoset. Pesach is about being there. The seder is the ritual where Jews show up. You make a yom tov out of showing up – and out of the charoset. The Jewish people show up for Pesach. We should give ourselves a hand for showing up.

This year – we are apart. We can’t show up the way we are used to doing. But we need to show up this year – tempting to throw in the towel a little bit – just feel like it’s a year to just do a perfunctory job – to mail it in – to just go through the motions and do the seder ehhh – I can’t do it with the whole family, the ideal way – the best way – so just …

We need to show up this year – like the Rosha shows up, like the Charoset shows up – don’t be defeated by the situation we are in. There is a little bit of the Rosha in each of us – we have our good days and our bad days – but even when we are not feeling it - Show up. As best as you can. But show up. You become the Yov Tov – Pesach is about showing up – Jews go to a seder – just by being on the table or at the table. Don’t underestimate it. Embrace it. This year above all years. Show Up.

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782