Our Torah teaches: “Count the days from Pesach during which the grain offering was brought. And on the day after the seventh week is counted, the fiftieth day itself shall be a festival for the new grain offering.” On that fiftieth day, our ancestors camped before Sinai. On Shavuoth, they were ready to become the free people of God’s covenant. Every night, we count these fifty days as fulfillment of the mitzvah from Torah:
Hineni muchan um’zuman l’kaiyeim mitsvat asei shel sefirat ha’omer. See how ready we are to count the days of the Omer.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָּ אֱלֹ הֵֽינוּ מֵֶֽלֶךְ הָּעוֹלָּם אֲשֶר קִדְשֵָּֽנוּ בְמִצְוֹתָּיו וְצִוֵָּּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָּ עמֶ ר Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitsvotav vetsivanu al s’firat ha’omer. Blessed is the Eternal our God Ruler of the universe who makes us holy by commandments and commands us to count the omer.
Count in the evening of the first night (28 March / 2 night of Pesach): Ha-yom yom e-chad la-omer. Today is one day of the Omer. Continue every night until Saturday 15 May, the night before Shavuoth.
The first of the three weeks of the national lockdown has nearly finished, and we hope this finds you all well and healthy.
We understand that the circumstances have imposed challenges and hardships on many of you and observing the news nationally and internationally, we believe that we are only at the beginning of a longer journey until we will reach the end of this pandemic. Rabbi Schell has uploaded a series of daily video messages on our YouTube channel, trying to answer some of the questions you might ask yourself in light of this crisis: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfFI7bvb1yKllEMFutUri4A/.
Clayton Donnelly, one of our congregants, who lives in Israel, hosts a webinar on coping with the crisis by regaining one’s strength this coming Sunday (5 April at 11h00). Please see the flyer attached hereto for details.
Pesach is only one week away. Together with our sister congregations in South Africa, we have prepared for you several documents and handouts to prepare and celebrate a meaningful Pesach at home. Please see our website http://betdavid.org.za/pesach-in-johannesburg/ for the service schedule and materials – we will keep the page updated. Please find Rabbi Schell’s guide for Pesach 2020 hereand a letter by the SAAPR-Rabbis to all congregants with additional thoughts and ideas for your Pesach here.
The SAAPR (SA Association of Progressive Rabbis) finished the second draft of the new progressive Pesach Haggadah for South Africa. We invite you to open it virtually on your computers and use it for your sederim: https://bit.ly/2wNRDlM . For our Bet David Pesach seder, we will use a shortened version of the Haggadah, Download from here.
Diane, our cheder teacher, has prepared a Chocolate Pesach Seder Haggadah (please send an email to get your copy). If you like to join with your children our ZOOM children’s seder on Sunday, 12 April @ 11h00, please register with Diane (email@example.com).
Last, but not least, we invite all of you to join us again for our Shabbat services. All our services are being streamed on Youtube and on Facebook. For YouTube click here: http://tiny.cc/BD-YouTube and to follow on Facebook here: http://tiny.cc/BD-Facebook
Friday 03 April * Kabbalat Shabbat Service (18h00)
Saturday 04 April * Shabbat morning service (09h30)
Sunday 05 April Strengths Based Discussion Talk with Clayton Donnelly (11h00) Zoom Chat: http://tiny.cc/rxoamz
Based on the famous four questions we ask during the Pesach seder, Ma nishtanah ha-laylah hazeh mikol ha-leilot? – Why is this night of Passover different from all other nights of the year?, we, your rabbis, have asked ourselves in the past few weeks, if and how our Pesach seder will be different this year, compared to all the sederim we had in the past.
With the lockdown in South Africa, we can say, it will be different, very different, but not less meaningful for us and you. Perhaps, because we are able to look at Pesach from a very different perspective this year, we might even find new meaning in the words and rituals that guided so many generations before us in times of joy and challenges.
With the guidelines below, we want to help you to celebrate Pesach in your homes. We invite you to hold your own Pesach seder at home or to join one of us for the sederim we stream from our homes to yours.
Prepare for Pesach:
This day shall be to you one of remembrance: you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Eternal throughout the ages; you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. …. You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. No leaven shall be found in your houses for seven days. For whoever eats what is leavened, that person— whether a stranger or a citizen of the country—shall be cut off from the community of Israel. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread. —Exodus 12:14–20
The above verses from the Torah establish the holiday of Passover and command that we should eat matzah and refrain from eating chametz, leavened bread, for seven days. The Rabbis define chametz as five grains—wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats—that are exposed to water for more than eighteen minutes.
In a regular year, the entire household is thoroughly cleaned from any products that may contain chametz and often all dishes, pots, and utensils are switched to sets reserved for Passover use. While we usually recommend that all food products containing chametz are used up before the holiday or given to charity, we do not do so this year. Please do not throw any food away. If you have enough food at home for the coming days and weeks, do not go shopping only because you need “Kosher le Pesach” products. We consider that staying at home and by that, potentially saving lives, is of a higher priority.
Depending on how you decide to observe the Kosher for Passover rules, we suggest the following steps to prepare Pesach at home:
Put bread into your freezer or any other place you can store it for the week of Pesach
Oats, Rusks and such should be stored away with other products, not Kosher for Passover and not needed during the 7 days, into one cupboard of your kitchen and sealed (clear tape helps to not open the cupboard accidently.
Even though you might follow the traditional Ashkenazi custom of not eating kitniyot (corn, rice, beans and lentils) on Pesach, we recommend making an exception for this year. Kitniyot are acceptable food, also during Pesach.
Have a Pesach-Putz, meaning a cleaning for Pesach. The key is that spring cleaning is not Passover cleaning. You only need to remove actual edible chametz residue, not dust, and only from places where you could have conceivably put chametz in the first place.
If you use your regular dishes and cutlery, just rinse them an additional time before you use them during Peach. Please don’t use plastic – not because of corona, but because of the environment.
Print your Pesach hagadah (sent to you by email)
What supplies do I need?
Here’s what you’ll need for the Seder:
One is obligated to avoid chametz throughout Passover, but the obligation to eat matzah is limited to fulfilling the rituals of the first/second night seder alone. If you’re alone, three matzahs for the seder will cover you just fine. You should factor in an additional two matzahs per additional participant, as well as some extra for snacking during the meal. You can also make your own Matzah:
Every individual needs to drink four cups of wine or grape juice. If you have small shot glasses at home, a single bottle should just be enough for the seder.
Maror(bitter herbs, typically romaine lettuce and grated horseradish)
Each person needs to have two portions of maror (one eaten alone and one as part of the korech sandwich), each one at least a teaspoon. Preparing two teaspoons per person will have you covered.
Vegetable for dipping (karpas)
Many use celery, radish, or parsley as karpas, but you can also use carrots, onions or potatoes.
Zeroa or “shank bone” The zeroa is not eaten at the Seder. Some use a forearm of a lamb, or else a neck bone, leg of a chicken or an actual shank-bone. Whichever you use, it should be well-roasted. Not only vegetarians have started to substitute it with red beet
Charoset There are many recipes available in the internet, but here is one link to give you an idea:
One hardboiled egg per Seder plate is fine. Some have the custom for all participants to eat an egg during the meal. If this is the case, prepare one for every participant.
A newer addition to seder plates, originated by Suzannah Heschel, the orange represents our need to be inclusive of all who feel marginalised within the Jewish community. One orange per Seder plate is fine. Some have the custom for all participants to eat one orange during the meal. If this is the case, have one for every participant.
The seder plate shows the symbols talked about in the story of Passover as told in the Haggadah. If you don’t have a Seder Plate at home, use a regular plate.
There are two explanations for this: matzah is the food of poor slaves or there was no time for our bread to rise in our hurried escape from Egypt. Three matzot are covered with a cloth and placed under or next to the seder plate.
We dip the greens in salt water. This represents the tears of the Israelites, whose sons were taken from them by the Pharaoh. You may need minimum one bowl so all can easily dip.
Cup of Elijah
A large cup filled with wine is placed in the centre of the table for Elijah.
Cup of Miriam
A modern custom is to fill a cup with water and place it next to the cup of Elijah. Miriam, the prophetess, has many connections to water. She watched over her baby brother Moses as he floated in a reed basket in the Nile and led the women in song after the miracle of the splitting of the sea. A well is said to have followed the Israelites as they travelled through the desert because of Miriam’s faith.
Reclining while eating was a sign of freedom in the ancient world. The Haggadah tells us to recline when we drink the four cups of wine, eat matzah, the Hillel sandwich and the afikomen. Pillows make reclining easier!
Afikomen is the Greek word for dessert. Near the beginning of the seder, the middle of the three matzot is broken and only one part is returned to the plate. The other half is designated as the afikomen, the last thing to be eaten at the meal. There is the tradition of hiding the afikomen during the meal and to ask children to search for it. It is a wonderful tradition, whether that takes the form of a real hiding of the afikomen or an internet wordsearch or a Where’s Waldo?-style picture or a Wikipedia hunt.
In emulation of the ancient priests, ritual hand washing is performed twice during the evening. This may be done at the kitchen sink or with a bowl and pitcher placed near the table.
Eating Chametz during Pesach
We understand that the circumstances may not allow each and everyone to prepare for Pesach as one would do in a regular year. And while we recommend to not eat chametz in the week of Passover, it might be unavoidable to each and every one of you.
While we want to underline that the situation of today is in no way comparable to the curse that our mothers and fathers had to endure during the Shoah, we included the following prayer which can be recited before eating chametz, written or at least dictated by Rabbi Aharon Bernard Davids, leader of the Dutch community of Rotterdam in Holland, for their communities who had been interned first in the Westerbork Holland transit camp and then sent to Bergen Belsen concentration camp:
Before eating Chametz say the following with intent & devotion:
Our Father in Heaven, it is revealed and known to You that it is our desire to fulfil Your will and to celebrate the festival of Passover by eating Matzah and by observing the prohibition of Chametz. But, on this our hearts are pained, that the captivity which prevents us, and we find ourselves in danger of our lives.
We are hereby prepared and ready to fulfil Your commandment „And you shall live by them“ and not die by them, and to be careful with the warning of „Guard yourself and guard your life very much.“ Therefore, our prayer to You is that You keep us alive, and sustain us, and redeem us speedily, so that we may observe Your laws and fulfil Your will and serve You with a full heart. Amen.
Let all who are hungry come and eat
Last but not least: No seder is complete without honouring the holiday’s essential command: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”. We understand that we cannot open our doors this year, as we did in the past years, however, we encourage everyone to donate to organisations that are doing vital and lifesaving work amid the crisis – only a fingertip away. Please consider the feeding scheme of your Shul, the local Chevrah Kadisha, Keren be Kavod in Israel, or the initiative of President Ramaphosa:
Many of us know that Passover takes place during the Hebrew month of Nisan. In contrast, most of us do not know that the month of Nisan also includes another observance which begins on the second day of Passover. In ancient times, as set forth in the Book of Leviticus, our ancestors would start bringing a ceremonial measure of barley, called an “omer” to the Temple on each of the 49 days between the 15th of Nisan and Erev Shavuot (the 6th of Sivan). The number 49 has special significance in Jewish tradition because it constitutes a week of weeks (7×7), a significant number in the story of creation and in the beliefs of the Jewish mystics. According to the rabbis of the Talmud, these 49 days also represent the length of the journey from Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
According to Jewish tradition, the “Counting of the Omer [Hebrew: Sefirat HaOmer ]” represents a spiritual journey from slavery to freedom and from chaos to the giving of the law. In the absence of the Jerusalem Temple, many Jewish communities have sought to imbue the counting of the Omer with daily spiritual significance. We at Bet David have adopted the Kehillah feeding scheme as a way to mark this time in a significant way.
I believe that education is one of the major ways to empower all parts of our society and to fulfil the dream of Nelson Mandela of a better South Africa. However, we have seen that many families still struggle on a daily basis to put food on the table because education is expensive and, too often, after paying the school fees there isn’t enough money left for a decent meal for those learners.
Several years ago, a former student of our own Mitzvah school started a feeding scheme in Alex, in an attempt to combat this situation. By providing one full, hot meal a day for more than 200 children, she managed to take away some of the burden those families have to carry every day.
With each parcel donated, we bring a little bit of healing (Tikkun) into our world. Please support Kehillah also this year generously. May we, on our journey from Pesach to Shavuot, bring some additional light into the world.
Chag Pesach Seamach – Rabbi Adrian M Schell
Bet David Kehillah’s Omer Project
Counting of the Omer begins on Sunday, 21 April for 50 days in support of Kehillah’s Feeding Schemes. Place your name and those of your loved ones on the list to donate one day’s food parcel for only R100 to Kehillah. Sign up on the sheet on the notice board in the Bet David Gallery, or call the shul office. Please EFT to Bet David Sisterhood, Nedbank Sandton Account 1970476214, branch 197005.
At Bet David, we have found an additional way to give meaning to the traditional way of counting of the Omer. When we count the omer, we give 50 days of hope.
I believe that education is one of the major ways to empower all parts of our society and to fulfil the dream of so many for a South Africa with an amazing future. Our Mitzvah school is the living proof of our efforts to implement this dream into reality. However, I have seen that many families still struggle on a daily basis just to put food on the table. Education is unfortunately very expensive and, too often, after paying the school fees there isn’t enough money left for a decent meal for the families and the learners.
Several years ago, a former student of the Mitzvah school started a feeding scheme in Alex to combat this situation. By providing one full hot meal a day for more than 200 children, she managed to take away some of the burden those families have to carry every day.
Bet David’s Kehillah – with the help from many of you – has financed and carried this feeding scheme since its inception. Nevertheless, Kehillah still need your support for this programme. They need the best we can give, our money. Please join me and become a sponsor of one or more food parcels for the feeding scheme.
Add your name and those of your loved ones on the list of supporters. One day’s food parcel has the value of only R100. Sign up sheets can be found in the shul or contact Glynnis during office hours. EFT to Sisterhood, Nedbank Sandton, Account 1970476214, branch 197005, and send your proof of payment to firstname.lastname@example.org.