Posted in Rabbi Marchuck's Blog, on March 28, 2013

With an Outstretched Arm


Wow – aren’t the Passover sedarim amazing! Each home has been meticulously cleaned; the freshness in the air is only compromised by the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen. The table is set with the finest dishes. The silver is shined and sparkling and the fluffed pillows are prepared around the table waiting for the royal family to arrive. After kiddush has been recited and the four questions are asked, we expound on the words of the haggadah, the words highlighting our redemption from Egypt as consistently monitored by the one who always has our back…The One and only—Hashem!

Today, as a father leading my family seder, I observe my children’s development from year to year. Their comprehension of the on goings of the seder and haggadah. Their questions, answers and Torah thoughts that they share overwhelm me. My youngest daughter stood with pride as she recited the mah nishtanah in multiple languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, Italian, French,.  Even a Dr. Seuss version was offered and passed on at the seder, but shared graciously the next day at our day meal. It’s a great piece—here is a taste of one of the questions:

`Cause on all other nights we may eat 
all kinds of wonderful good bready treats, 
like big purple pizza that tastes like a pickle, 
crumbly crackers and pink pumpernickel, 
sassafras sandwich and tiger on rye, 
fifty falafels in pita, fresh-fried, 
with peanut-butter and tangerine sauce 
spread onto each side up-and-down, then across, 
and toasted whole-wheat bread with liver and ducks, 
and crumpets and dumplings, and bagels and lox, 
and doughnuts with one hole and doughnuts with four, 
and cake with six layers and windows and doors. 
Yes– on all other nights we eat all kinds of bread, 
but tonight of all nights we munch matzah instead. 

I have a feeling that this is not the version that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah recited in front of Rabbi Akiva, but the Marchucks sure enjoyed it!  

At the seder, as my daughter, named after my grandmother, said the mah nishtanah, I reflected about my teenage years when I was sitting at the seder table and looking at my grandparents, survivors of the Holocaust, as they sang and sometimes cried during the seder. I thought of what their view of their great-grandchildren, who are being raised in freedom, might have been; a generation of children that are being raised with a Torah lifestyle, singing and rejoicing about Judaism and their relationship to Hashem. What would my grandparents’ perspective be, in light of all that they lost and suffered through in the Holocaust?   

A few days before Passover, I received a note with an accompanying picture from Rabbi Jon Green, Director of NCSY Camp Sports. It read “I just received this picture sent to me from the father of David Brsytowski, a boy from Warsaw who was in camp this past summer. It was his brother's Bar Mitzvah and he was helping him put on tefilin for the first time!”

This story about a couple of Jewish boys putting on tefilin in Poland, made me think about the words in the Haggadah, Avadim Hayinu, “we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but Hashem our G-d took us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” I thought, wow, this would be my grandparents’ perspective. They survived the Holocaust so that there would be another generation far from the destruction, far from the darkness. They only survived because Hashem took them out of “Egypt” with His mighty hand to continue their family, a family connected to Torah and mitzvot. Then I thought about the dvar Torah that my son shared with me with me at the seder a few years back. The haggadah says “in every generation they rise against us. But the Holy One, Blessed is He, rescues us from their hand.” Their hand, meaning they set up their own downfall. Moshe grew up in Pharaoh’s house, he was raised as Pharaoh’s own son, and Egypt’s downfall was led by none other than Moshe.  The Brsytowski boys are standing in Warsaw, their home, with their “outstretched arms” putting on tefilin, this is the land that raised them and tried to destroy our people, this is the ultimate slap in the face to Poland and Germany! This is the hand of Hashem.

As we celebrate and enjoy Pesach we bridge the calendar to Yom Hashoa. The ultimate sign to ‘Never Forget’ is to keep stretching out our arms to domitzvos and live as a Jew!


Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck