On Passover, we open our doors during the seder and sing kol dichfin yetei v’yechul, kol ditzrich yetei v’yifsach, anyone who is hungry, let them come in and eat; and anyone who needs, let them come in and celebrate Passover with us. We recite this “invitation” aloud as a matter of form and ritual, not really expecting anyone outside to hear us and pop in for seder. Maybe that’s what used to really happen in years gone by. Today, however, I believe this passage is really about creating an awareness of how we, as a community, are all connected to one another, and how the concerns of those whom we sometimes ignore should really be the concerns of all of us.
When I first became a rabbi, the focus on building a community started to gradually give way to the growing emphasis on the individual.
Organizations like B’nai Brith, and lodges like the Masons, began to erode. As this phenomenon became more and more prevalent in our society, people started writing about it in books like “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam, or observations of how our society has moved from “cakes” to “cupcakes.” Cake, you share with a community. Cupcakes, on the other hand, are all about the individual.
Passover reminds us that we are really supposed to be am echad, one people who feel intrinsically linked together. As the Talmud teaches: Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh (Shevuot 39a); All of Israel are responsible one for another.
Occasionally, we lose sight of that important value of what it means to be one people and one community. We love to sing hiney mah tov u’mah na’im shevet achim gam yachad; how good and delightful it is when we come together as brothers and sisters. But do we mean it? Our synagogues are supposed to feel that way, like a second home; a place where we don’t feel like a stranger in a strange land. When we come together as a community, we should make everyone feel that they are an integral part of something more, something greater than themselves. Passover is a time where we try to bring that vision of Jewish unity into reality.
Thankfully, people are now emerging from the pandemic and coming back to engage with community in greater numbers than they have in years. Our shuls are filled once again for Shabbat services and kiddushim, and it is a beautiful sight to see. Song fills our sanctuary and fills our souls once again. But the challenge I would leave you all with is to contemplate on Passover how we can live up to that holy vision of a community that delights in being together, and how, ultimately, we are all responsible one for another.
As we approach Passover, let us continue to be aware of everyone in our midst, and set a wonderful example of welcoming for everyone around us to follow. Hag Sameyach!
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman is the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative, egalitarian and inclusive synagogue in Dunwoody, Ga.