Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, step up to the altar to offer the sacrifice, as they are required to do as Kohanim—Priests of Israel. But there is something amiss in the procedure, and the sacrifice they offer is described in our Torah portion in cryptic terms: eish zarah—strange fire. We aren’t told any further details than these. But the result was catastrophic. A fire came forth from the LORD and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the LORD. . . And Aaron remained silent (Leviticus 10.2-3).
Aaron remained silent. Not a scream, not a protest, nor a cry—nothing. How can this be? Perhaps the trauma was so profound that Aaron could not bring himself to break through the grief because he worried that he would not be able to tolerate the pain. But sometimes we just need to scream. And after some time has passed, at the very least, we need to talk. . . .
In 1946, only a year after the end of WWII, in the town of Kielce, Poland, a pogrom was perpetrated against a group of Jewish Holocaust survivors who had sought refuge there. At least 40 people were murdered and another 40 severely injured.
And they all remained silent.
Some years later, in a free Poland, a Catholic Polish journalist and trained psychologist named Bogdan Bialek, began speaking out publicly about the pogrom. Over time, and with great effort, he persuaded the people of Kielce to confront a painful piece of hidden history in their town. Beginning as a solitary figure, attracting a community of like-minded individuals along the way, he cut through the heavy fog of repression and denial. He tackled years of lasting, mutual animosity, dissolved conspiracy theories and confronted the deepest prejudices in the hearts of his fellow citizens. Step by step he reconnected Kielce with the international Jewish community.
This Sunday evening, April 23, beginning promptly at 7:00PM here at Union Temple, the Brownstone Brooklyn Community will gather as we do each year to commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Our cantors and shinshinim will sing, survivors and their descendants will light candles, and we will view the film of this extraordinary story together. The movie is Bogdan’s Journey. But it is really the journey of a town, and of peoples, to overcome the paralysis of a horrible past, and seek understanding and rapprochement for the future.
Please join us. This Sunday, April 23, 7:00PM, in the social hall.
The Passover story is one of miracles and marvels: the parting of the sea; the plagues that struck Egypt; the protection of the blood on the doorposts of our people’s houses, as the Destroyer struck down the Egyptians; the miraculous redemption of our people from slavery.
Did these miracles really happen exactly as described in the Book of Exodus? I leave that to you for this particular moment. But here is a miracle that did happen, and happens every single year as we tell and retell the story of our Exodus from Egypt. It is the miracle that is described in this speech by David Ben Gurion, , exactly 70 years ago, before the UN Commission on Palestine (the “Peel Commission,” established by the British as they tried to extricate themselves from the Arab-Jewish quagmire).
300 years ago, there came to the New World a ship, and its name was the Mayflower. The Mayflower’s landing on Plymouth Rock was one of the great historical events in the history of England and in the history of America. But I would like to ask any Englishman sitting here on the commission, what day did the Mayflower leave port? What date was it? I’d like to ask the Americans: do they know what date the Mayflower left port in England? How many people were on the boat? Who were their leaders? What kind of food did they eat on the boat?
More than 3,300 years ago, long before the Mayflower, our people left Egypt; and every Jew in the world, wherever he is, knows on what day they left: the 15th of Nisan. And everyone knows exactly what food they ate: matzah. And to this very day, Jews all over the world eat matzah on the 15th of Nisan. And they tell about the Exodus from Egypt, and the sorrows the Jews have experienced from the day they entered into Exile. And they conclude with two declarations: “Now we are slaves, next year we shall be free; this year here, next year in Jerusalem!”
What is the real miracle of Passover? Even now, over 3,000 years later, we – all of us – all over the world – still gather on the night of Passover, to tell and retell the story of our miraculous redemption from Egyptian bondage. Whether here in the United States and Canada, in the State of Israel, South America, in Europe, or Asia, or around the Pacific Rim, we tell it. In so doing, we remind ourselves as well of the core values of our history: our mandate to establish a more just and compassionate society, from the lessons we learned in the bitterness of slavery and oppression.
And so, in our celebration of miracles, and our hope for the coming of a better day on this Earth, I wish you and your families a Chag Sameach and a Ziessen Pesach – a sweet and joyous Passover to all.