It is a great joy to study Faith and Freedom: Passover Haggadah, With Commentary from the Writings of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits. In this Haggadah, not only do we find very interesting insights by Rabbi Berkovits on themes that relate to Pesach, but we also get somewhat of an introduction to his philosophy and unique halachic approach in general.
Some appropriately irreverent thoughts to…well, no, not to ponder on the occasion of Purim.
On Simchat Torah we begin reading the Torah all over again. Even the greatest Torah scholars once again come to the conclusion that they need to reread it, since they failed bitterly the previous year. After all, we only start reading the first words and already we get stuck, unable to understand the actual meaning; and we can never really get beyond that place. While in the non-Jewish world the whole point is to finish a book, in Judaism we are all just perpetual beginners.
Running our world by remote control has not been good for our souls; and walking on the moon has not helped us to know our next-door neighbor any better. On the contrary, technological progress has robbed us of our own humanness. It is therefore most meaningful that one item has maintained its constancy. It carries a text that has had greater influence in the world than any other we know of. It has changed the universe as nothing else has; it encourages people to move, to discover, and to develop. But it is written on parchment, by the hand of a person, holding a quill, as if to say: Be yourself. Don’t get run over by the need for progress.
The call of the hour on Yom Kippur is this: a full day is given to us to realize that our lives are undeserved. Life is only great when it is earned through a dignified response.
It is Divine humor that tells us to live with absurdity, and supreme holy witticism that asks us to live with laughter. We are asked to enjoy the journey and realize that there is no arrival.
Every ordinary act should be turned into a kind of mitzvah, a spiritual challenge, making it a dignified encounter with God. On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we are reminded that our deeds must redeem God’s presence and rescue Him from oblivion. In doing the finite we must be able to perceive the infinite.
The Temple whose destruction we mourn on the 9th of Av has no inherent value. It is only a means to something that no physical object can contain. On Tish’a B’Av, we do not mourn the loss of the Temple but rather the loss of its message, which we no longer seem to grasp.
Why do we use karpas—a green vegetable—dipped in salt water at the beginning of the Seder? Could it have something to do with the other meaning of karpas—fine woolen cloth? There is a lesson here, hidden in plain sight, about causality and Divine Providence.
When we read the text on the Seder night, we should be aware that it only provides the opening words. The real Haggada has no text. It is not to be read, but is rather to be heard. And, just as with the Torah, we have not even begun to understand its full meaning. We are simply perpetual beginners.