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Jewish Chaplain

Keeping Perspective & Finding Resilience

Rabbi Neal Gold

King Solomon reigned in ancient Israel with great wisdom and extraordinary wealth. There are countless legends stories that are told about him. Here’s one:

Solomon once made a request of his trusted minister Benaya ben Yehoyada. He said to him, “I’ve heard rumors about a certain ring with extraordinary magical properties. It is said that if a happy person looks upon it, he becomes sad. And if a sad person looks upon it, he’ll become happy. Please find it and bring it to me.”

Benaya set off throughout Solomon’s kingdom on a quest for the ring. Spring passed, and then summer, but his search proved fruitless. After many months, he was ready to give up and return to Jerusalem, sorrowful but empty-handed. Before returning to the palace, he decided to walk through one of the poorest quarters of the city. And as fate would have it, he passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares.

“Have you, by any chance, heard of a magic ring that will make a happy wearer forget his joy and a broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” he asked the merchant.

The merchant thought for a moment. Then he took out a plain gold band and began to engrave it. He showed it to Benaya, who read the words on the ring and then broke out in a wide smile. He hurried to the king’s palace with excitement and humility.

“Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you discovered what I sent you to find?” Benaya held up the small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty.”

Solomon looked carefully and read the words that the merchant had inscribed: gam zeh ya’avor: “This, too, shall pass.”

So it is with us. Jewish spiritual wisdom encourages us to keep perspective, and to draw upon wellsprings of inner strength in times of struggle. Even as we find ourselves temporarily isolated and distant, we have the capacity to emerge stronger, wiser, and more empathetic for our experiences—if only we remain resilient. This, too, shall pass.

Passover

Rabbi Neal Gold

Passover is a major 8-day Jewish festival that begins this year at sundown, April 8. Passover is a celebration of liberation, as commemorated in the story of the Exodus which tells of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery to freedom in ancient Egypt.

Throughout Passover, Jews refrain from eating leavened bread products—foods made from grains that have risen during their preparation. The primary symbol of the season is matzah, unleavened bread. Matzah has a dual symbolism:  (a) it is considered the “bread of poverty”, reminding us of the brutality of slavery and to increase our empathy for all who suffer; and (b) it is the bread of freedom, as the Torah reminds us that when freedom came, it came so quickly that there wasn’t time to allow bread to rise for the journey ahead (Exodus 12:34).

The first night of Passover is marked by a meal called a seder. The libretto for a seder is called a Haggadah, describing the order of the night’s rituals and discussions. A seder involves a wide variety of symbols, songs, and readings that together interpret and expand on the story of the Exodus. The key is to personalize the story and make it one’s own: “In every generation,” the Haggadah tells us, “each of us must see ourselves as personally having come out from Egypt.” Therefore, the key to a successful seder is to interpret and spiritualize the story so that each participant will be able say, “I used to be enslaved, but today I am free.”

During this time of Coronovirus and distancing, Jews will have to be especially creative in conducting their seders. Members of the Babson community who are looking to participate in a seder, even online, should contact Rabbi Neal Gold, Jewish Chaplain and Hillel Director, for more information.

Passover Reflections

Rabbi Neal Gold

Every year Passover challenges us to think like entrepreneurs: to innovate upon an ancient ritual and to express its story in fresh ways. 

The first nights of Passover are marked by a ritual meal known as a seder. We celebrate freedom by telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and by interpolating our own lives into the story. My teacher Eugene Borowitz (his memory is a blessing) explained how the seder confounds our expectations about “religion.” It takes place at home, not in a synagogue; it is led by anyone, not a rabbi; and it emphasizes discussion and debate far more than reciting prayers. Formal decorum usually goes out the window due to the emphasis on engaging children—not to mention the focus on food and drinking four glasses of wine. The aromas of the food, the wine stains on the tablecloths, and the laughter of siblings and cousins are as holy as the rituals.

The seder is also about guests. In my family, we have a group of “regulars” every year, but we also annually welcome newcomers. And we love to host non-Jewish friends, since the seder’s message is at once very Jewish and quite universal: “Once we were slaves, but now we are free; next year, may the whole world be free.” For me, these words at the beginning of the seder are most powerful:

Let anyone who is hungry come and eat.

Let anyone who wishes to share Passover come and join us.

But this year will be unlike any Passover of our lifetimes. How will we do it at a time of physical distancing? How will we connect with people who have been part of every seder of our lives—let alone other guests?

Technology will help, although it will be strange to sit in our dining room with others Zooming in from afar. The seder always demands creativity, but this year it will really test our aptitude for innovation. I have no doubt that the entrepreneurial spirit of Babson will rub off, and we’ll find new ways of drawing closer to one another, as well as creative methods of celebrating freedom and its blessings.