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Drash on Chol Hamoed Pesach 2024

Rabbi Aviva Kipen

Progressive Judaism Victoria

The Shabbat that occurs in a week-long chag, Pesach or Sukkot, brings extra liturgical opportunities. Additional inserts into the Amidah for the festival, Hallel, more Torah readings that supplant the regular Shabbat reading and the special Haftarah for the occasion, all make for special drama in the week between Yom Tov days.

This year, as people of the galut (any location outside Israel) from our region made their way towards Israel in time to celebrate Pesach, many found themselves stuck. For some who were already well advanced in their itinerary, their planes remained on the ground in Dubai for 24 yours and passengers were confined inside the cabins. For those whose flights were to have taken off as the deluge overwhelmed Dubai’s infrastructure, their routing had them held on indefinite hold in Bangkok and other locations with connections to their eventual Tel Aviv destination.

With a day or two of stress and inconvenience, how many of those who were delayed, reflected on their experience as intrinsic to the original Pesach story? In a year of profound trauma, the events of the moment do find their place in landscape of global scale, but consume 100% of attention for those having their experiences at the time. Fatigue, discomfort, a lack of nappies for babies, of suitable food, of missed onward connections and disappointments are real. Those who made the first escape from Egypt would have had all the same discomforts while also being pursued from the rear by Pharoah’s chariots.

So the drama of retelling the Exodus plays out each year, against its current dramas. B’chol dor va’dor, in each generation we are instructed to have the experience of placing ourselves into the actuality of the departing slaves and the multitude that chose to depart with them. Sadly, for many reasons of the complexity of world events in 2023/4, the level of highly confronting realities rush in at every turn: displacement, conflict, tragedy, falling missiles and drone strikes stir the very hearts of all our families. Against the deluges of water and emotion, how do we then find space in the chol of the season, in particular on Shabbat? Translated by some as the “mundane”, applying the distinction between Shabbat and chol – the week days – that doesn’t capture the special elevated status of the days between the yom tov days that start and finish the chag.

Having prepared in earnest, cooked, cleaned, hosted or shared a seder as a guest, the point is to keep up the momentum during the much-less-dramatic days that are not yom tov, in order to successfully re-embed the demands of freedom, of crafting and maintaining the pluralities within our corporate identity, despite current pressures. As world forces gather to replicate our destruction, the challenge of the chol is not to reduce the intensity of our commitment, but to remain highly identified, to re-enact the drama of history so vivid once again. There is nothing mundane about this year’s chol, no matter how familiar its demands may be. Mo’adim le’simchah, may this be the Shabbat of rest in this season of seriousness and solace, of vigour and reflection, of joy in the face of reality. As my father z”l used to say, “the one who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist!”

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