Shabbat Hagadol: Playing The Game Of The Theology Of Change

Everything Changes, Take a Risk and Live!
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This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Hagadol” – the great Shabbat. It is the last one before Passover and it the one in which the Rabbis stand before their congregations and public and teach them (or revise) the laws and conducts related to the celebration.

The list of things that the celebration of Pesach entails is incredibly long; there is no other Jewish festivity that resembles it.

Something common to all our celebrations is that they all have a “mega-message”, an invitation to deepen in thinking about a certain theme, accompanied by specific customs (and/or laws) which function to help us to practically experience the theme.

So what is the Pesach message? In two words: Ma Nishtana? What has changed??

Let’s start with the customs. Pesach looks like a challenging activity in the youth movement! Did you think that in Purim we dress up? Look at what we do in Passover!

We start with the coordinator (the Rabbi), delivering explanations on Shabbat Hagadol, of what we are expected to do in this activity:

  1. Obsessively clean up your house.
  2. Find all the Chametz that you wish to keep and “sell it” to your non-Jewish neighbor (which beautifully connects us to our brothers and sisters of other religions, understanding that without them we cannot “win the game”).
  3. Burn all the leftovers of the Chametz.
  4. Say “good bye”, for 7 or 8 days (depending on where you live), to any kind of leaven.
  5. A Roman banquet – yes! This is what we do; with many different dishes depending on your ethnic Jewish identity, we eat reclined, and drink at least 4 cups of wine!
  6. We follow the reading of a text, the kids are the main characters of this night, we play games. In the middle of the table there is a plate full of weird things.
  7. We leave the door open, expecting that Elijah the prophet may visit us, and of course we keep a cup of wine for him too!
  8. Once the dinner is over, we start to fret about how to deal with not eating leaven, which is part of many of the products we are used to consume, including even soy sauce!


Are you left with any doubt that this is a mega-activity??! … But what for? Have we said Ma Nishtana? What has changed?

Ma Nishtana is probably one of the first things coming to our mind when we think about Passover. It is the 4 questions which target the difference between “this” night and the rest of the nights of our life. These questions are those who carry the “mega-message” of the celebration.

One of the biggest challenges that we confront, or in many occasions we avoid, is that of capability to change. Changing frightens and inconveniences us. But changing and the capability to change are essential to our lives. Changing doesn’t mean dissociation; on the contrary – it can mean connection. Not changing is similar to not breathing. Despite that, often we find ourselves focused on the attempt to keep things as they are. We don’t want to play and of course we want to avoid taking risks.

Passover convokes us to re-evaluate our tendency to keep the status-quo in our lives as a sublime value. The idea of freedom is the trigger for that reminder, we can recreate and rethink ourselves, we can treasure things, we can keep things, we can… We happen to this possibility by internalizing “awareness of change”.

The most remarkable symbol of this call is the Matzah, flat and with a neutral taste. As opposed to that, our life is inflated, full of nuances and tastes like the bread.

Nevertheless it is the neutral taste which allows us to incorporate new flavors and to re-choose those that we would like to keep.

In the meanwhile we continue being immersed in the “carnaval” – Mega activity  with all the assignments that the celebration entails and (again) what for?

In order to through the “game” live a different experience and to verify tangibly that changing is possible!

You may wonder about the theological argument for what I am saying. I don’t believe that God is found in (or cares about) the details of what we do or do not do in Passover, but I do believe that renouncing a life committed to the “search of meaning” (everyone from his own perspective and difference) is also to renounce God.

So this year when you hear the words Ma Nishtana , commit to the search of meaning. Translate and ask yourself what needs to be changed, what it is that I should change

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