Each year, Chabad of South Dakota distributes hundreds of lbs. of matzah to the local Jewish community. Usually, we like to purchase these matzahs from a bakery in Israel. It's the eternal Jewish homeland, and the holy place we pray for every day. But this year, I will be giving every Jewish home in SD matzah. . . that was baked in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine.
Ukraine is home to a large Jewish population, by some estimates as many as 400,000 Jewish people. Today they are facing unprecedented war, hunger and a refugee crisis. And if the Midwest is known as America's breadbasket, Ukraine is Europe's breadbasket. So I was not surprised to learn that Ukraine also exports some fine matzah.
There is also very significant historic and spiritual relevance to matzah from Dnipropetrovsk. The Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878 – 1944), was the chief rabbi there for over thirty years. As the leader of the community, he unapologetically stood up to the communist regimes, and risked his life to ensure that even under their oppression the matzah baked in Ukraine would be kosher to the highest standard. His ironclad commitment to his people and faith, led to his persecution and arrest at the hands of the KGB. He was imprisoned, tortured and interrogated and eventually died in harsh circumstances while in Soviet exile. Years later the KGB would apologize.
This year, as we celebrate our freedom, and the blessings we are fortunate to have living in America, let us remember our brothers and sisters in Ukraine who baked these matzahs. Let us hope and pray that they too, will be able to enjoy their matzah in true freedom.
Maybe this will also stand as a testament to the dedication and ultimate self-sacrifice of the Rebbe's father, and the original Ukrainian matzah.
Last year, at the conclusion of the Passover festival I turned on my phone and saw I had a voicemail from Ross Lerner. He lives in a town some 160 miles away from Sioux Falls with a population of about 3000. He is the only known Jew in the town. In his voicemail, he thanked me for the matzah gift, that we proudly deliver or ship to every Jewish home in South Dakota.
That every Jew be able to celebrate Passover, and have matzah for the holiday, was something very important to the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. He distributed matzah himself, sending to Jews in under-served communities like those in the former Soviet Union and Morocco, or a lonely Jew in Tyler, Texas, or Dakar, Senegal, and always encouraged rabbis and communal leaders around the world to ensure everyone in their communities had as well.
Each of the boxes we gave last year contained 3 matzahs, the prescribed portion for a traditional Seder. The Kabalistic masters teach how matzah is the “bread of faith” that strengthens our faith in G-d and reminds us of His protection at our Exodus from Egypt. Many have told me how this is especially meaningful for them. Without it, there are simply no options for matzah in South Dakota. It is not something you can just pick up at a local Hy Vee or Costco. Authentic kosher matzah can also be pricey, sometimes costing $30 per lbs, before shipping.
But Ross didn’t just call to share his gratitude. In a choked voice he said that to his surprise, the box only contained 3 matzahs. “Rabbi, how could you let me down like that!?” And he was right. A person really needs 6 matzahs, 3 for each Seder on both nights of the festival. Ross went on to say that he did some research and discovered that matzah is made of only plain flour and water - just like our ancestors had when they left Egypt - and that it must all be baked within 18 minutes. Then he continued, and I will never forget what he said next “I realized I have flour, and I have water. So I cleared out my oven and made matza so I can have it for the second Seder.”
That’s it. That’s the story.
Somewhat dumbfounded and awestruck, I immediately called him and told him how precious his matzahs must be in the eyes of G-d. In other places where Jewish amenities are abundant, some might spend weeks deciding on their preferred matzah vendor, and pay a premium for the finest matzah baker. But it was his homemade matzahs that actually carried with them the tears, love, joy and feelings of our beautiful tradition. If only we could all eat our matzah with the same sincerity and fervor.
Several months later I repeated this story to Barbara & Larry Ellberger, and their children Aliza & Ruven, and Eytan and Shai, friends from New Jersey who generously helped sponsor the matzah for the South Dakota Jewish community for several years. They were so moved by this that they immediately decided to increase their contribution to ensure that every Jew in South Dakota can have enough matzahs for two Seders.
This is the Jewish spirit. This is the meaning of “mitzvah goreres mitzvah,” one good thing leads to another, and the reward for the Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself.
So this year, as we celebrate Passover, let us take a bite of the bread of faith, with true faith and determination. Let us be proud of our heritage and traditions. Proud of the beauty of our holy Torah and its commandments, and let us live them better on a daily basis. L’shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim!
It’s that time of year, when all South Dakotans have their eyes on one thing: Spring. The winter with its crisp air, and peaceful whiteness, can also have a long uncomfortable side to it, which makes the upcoming spring even more appealing.
In nature, spring brings forth to the surface the natural forces which were hidden during the winter. Blossoms, and all forms of plant life, sprout anew.
A basic foundation of Chasidic philosophy is that everything we see and hear, indeed everything we encounter, must serve as a lesson for us individually in our lives and our behavior.
So when thinking of Passover, and the meaning of its spring season, it seems we can apply this concept to the human experience as well. We each know all too well that winter feeling, that state of apparent un-productivity in the life of a person. Those days or weeks that we are just feeling dull, and can’t seem to shake it off, or maybe we feel constrained by emotional baggage we carry, and see no way out of our metaphorical “winter.”
It’s times like these that we must remember that this state of “winter” can easily and suddenly be changed into “spring” - just as it happens in nature. And that yes, blossoms will very soon come forth.
We will become productive, energized, and hopeful again. Indeed, behind that dull feeling we may experience, is the power to reveal the potential renewal. It absolutely is there, beneath the wintery soil.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson taught that the significance of “springtime” in Jewish life is suggested by the festival of Pesach which we will soon be celebrating. As indicated in the Torah, “You are going forth (from Egypt) this day, in the month of spring.” For two hundred and ten years the children of Israel lived in Egypt, in physical and spiritual slavery, stagnating in the abominations of Egypt. It did not seem that there could be a revival of Jewish life. Yet, there came the Exodus in the middle of the spring, and the children of Israel were quite free, so free in fact that in a very short time they became worthy of receiving the Torah—the zenith and completeness of the entire universe.
This idea, to move from a “winter” - a time of relatively less productivity, to “spring,” is one we can apply in our personal lives. It is also something we very much look forward to at Chabad as a community, as we begin to explore ways of springing forward and expanding our operation in Sioux Falls and across the state.
It will be a journey we are excited to be taking with all of you. There are many good things to come!
Mussie joins me in wishing you and your family a Kosher and Happy Passover, with good health, peace and happiness, and that we all merit the true meaning and celebration of Passover, also known as “a time of freedom” – free from all worries, concerns and personal limitations.
Passover begins this evening. And we will celebrate it for the 3332nd time. But this year will be different.
For the first time in our lives my wife and I will be having a Seder alone just with our daughters, without the company of other friends or family. And we are sure you are also having your Seder on your own.
But the truth is, we are not alone. None of us are ever alone. We are always in the presence of Almighty G-d and connected with each other through our shared history, faith and humanity.
So as we ask the four questions this evening, let us also ask our Father in Heaven why He made this night different from all others, and beg Him to bring an end to this global pandemic, healing all those suffering, and protection to all the wonderful doctors and nurses standing on the front line.
The Seders this Passover will be remarkably similar to the first Passover Seder our ancestors had on the eve of their Exodus from Egypt, when they were instructed to remain in their homes, and each have a Seder on their own. Just as G-d delivered His people then, let us pray that He brings deliverance to all people this Passover season.
Mussie joins me in wishing you and your family a Kosher and Happy Passover, with good health, peace and happiness, and may we all merit the true meaning and celebration of Passover, also known as “a time of freedom” – free from all worries, concerns and personal limitations.
The months of Adar and Nissan are packed with Jewish holidays and history. At Chabad
we strive to ensure that every member of the Jewish community has an opportunity to
participate and feel welcome experiencing our sacred heritage. We look forward to inviting you to our Purim and Passover celebrations.
On Purim we commemorate the overturning of the plot by the wicked King Ahasuerus and his viceroy Hamman to annihilate us. We celebrate by reading Esther’s Megillah, hosting a festive dinner, sharing gifts of food with friends and giving charity to the poor. This year we invite you to join us for a “Purim in the Shtetl ‘’ themed celebration, featuring our own Klezmer band.
And just four weeks later we will be celebrating Passover. In Jewish homes across the country and around the world, families and friends will gather around the Seder table, the same way we have been doing it for more than 3,500 years since our Exodus from Egypt. It was at that very moment when we became an essentially and completely free people, with our only subservience being to G-d Himself. Today in America, we are free citizens, able to live as proud Jews. But perhaps we may be confined by our personal Egypts, those barriers, often artificial, that stand between us and our indulging in Jewish experiences. What better way to celebrate this Passover, than by experiencing true Jewish
freedom and committing to do another good mitzvah deed, strengthening the link in our chain of Jewish tradition and ensuring its continuity for future generations.
The work that we do in South Dakota mirrors what Chabad does in thousands of other centers across America and in another 100+ countries. Just a few weeks ago, world Jewry marked 70 years since the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson assumed to the leadership of the Chabad movement on the 10th of Shevat, 1950.
At the core of his teachings, is the idea that this world is truly G-ds home, and each human being here on earth is personally tasked with making it feel so. In the ensuing seven decades, the Rebbe’s one time radical and urgent message of meaning and moral purpose has become increasingly mainstream.
Today there is not a Jewish community in the world that has not been positively impacted by the Rebbe’s teachings. Even now during the Coronavirus, the only Rabbi still in China, faithfully serving the needs of the local community, Rabbi Sholom Greenberg who together with his wife and children run Chabad in Shanghai.
So as we sit at our Seder tables this year and read the passage of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya “I am like 70 years old” let us infuse our life and Jewish observance with the vibrance and meaning the Rebbe began teaching us seventy years ago, allowing us each to fully live our own personal Exodus and even experience a taste of the future redemption.
The evening of March 30 begins the Jewish holiday of Passover, commemorating the Israelite Exodus from Egyptian Slavery 3,330 years ago. It is also referred to as the “Time of Our Liberation.”
The holiday will be observed by the Jewish community, with friends and families gathering together for the traditional Seder dinners, the main components of which are first mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Exodus. Most well known is the refraining from eating leavened bread and instead, only eating matzah, a simple cracker made of just flour and water, reminiscent of the simple bread our ancestors ate as they fled Egypt.
But today, we are blessed to live in a free and open society, in the most benevolent country to have ever existed. We have never been trapped in Egypt, nor have we experienced actual slavery. So other than continuing tradition, does this holiday have any real relevance to us in 2018?
It does and it is profound.
Although the slavery and Exodus took place many millennia ago, in a distant land and foreign culture, its meaning is as pertinent today as it ever was.
Every person encounters boundaries and limitations they do not wish to face. Whether it be financial stress, strained relationships, or personal insecurities not allowing us to reach our full potential. Far too often we feel trapped and despondent. But the Passover Exodus teaches us there is always a way out.
Obviously, if we have wronged someone and that is the cause of our anxiety, we must personally seek that person and make amends. But more often than not, when we feel trapped, a little soul searching will have us realize that we are the builders of our own barriers. And when that is so, it is up to us alone to liberate ourselves of our limitations and self-imposed boundaries.
Perhaps we are too wrapped with ourselves and with our own feelings and aspirations. The solution then is that we must stop being concerned with just ourselves. By looking outwards, rather than just inwards we can get away from ourselves and think of others. We should play a more active role in society; we should give and give generously. The opportunities are many and the need is great. And in South Dakota, we have so many options to choose from, whether it be social work, charitable or scientific.
What’s more, once we have managed to free ourselves, we will become bastions of hope and be empowered to liberate others as well, with a ripple effect on the entire world.
This universal message of Passover reverberates today more than ever. We are blessed to live in a country and era of unprecedented freedoms and educational success, yet so many feel a lack of direction and purpose. Far too many people, especially young people, feel trapped.
Recognizing these challenges, the great Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, taught that education, in general, should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and preparation for a career, rather the educational system must pay more attention, indeed the main attention, to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values. To live life with the awareness that the creator made us, so every positive action can have a profound impact on our universe.
On March 27, millions of Americans, once again, marked Education & Sharing Day, USA. This day was established by the United States Congress in 1978 and signed by the president each year on the Rebbe’s birth date, in tribute to his commitment to teaching the next generation of Americans the values that make our country strong.
This day serves as a call to all of us to pause and recognize our responsibility in ensuring that our young people have the foundation necessary to lead lives rich in purpose and fulfilment. I am proud that Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a proclamation designating March 27 as Education and Sharing Day, South Dakota.
As we celebrate Passover this year, I wish our elected leaders and all my fellow citizens in South Dakota, merit the true meaning and celebration of “a time of freedom” – free from all worries, concerns and personal limitations.
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog and Mussie's Musings
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.