Jewish Journal

“Welcoming Guests” for Passover, Handy Hazzan Style

by Cantor Harris Shore, The Handy Hazzan

April 8, 2011 | 12:32 am

Cabinets Finished!

I am pleasantly obsessed with the coming of Passover…. and Elijah… and all of our guests for second-night seder.  I see everything that needs fixing as one more bit of chumetz to chase from our home before we can welcome everyone in less than two weeks!  There are so many little fixy things around the Shore Shack, our humble Craftsman abode.  Moisture from the rains has expanded just about anything made of wood, and one of them is the deadbolt lock on our wooden front gate.  The cylinder won’t move through the strike.  I have to remove the strike, slip it back over the bolt (extended), reset the screws, and then put the strike back on.  We may include it among our photos next week.

There are ten other things to do as we strive to make our home especially inviting to those who will be joining us the evening of April 19th,  as we retell the Passover story and how our ancestors “were strangers in the land of Egypt. “  Hachnasat Orchim (Welcoming the Stranger) has become one of the most emphasized Jewish virtues, technically as a sub-category of chesed– which is Hebrew for caring.  And it has come to mean hospitality to any guests, whether they are strangers or not.  The ultimate stranger we DO wait for on Passover is the Prophet Elijah.  While there are countless drawings interpreting Elijah as to how he might look…. most of them depicting a humble, bearded dude in sack cloth with a staff and sandals made in Y’rushalayim… many of our sages (and your humble Handy Hazzan) believe Elijah could appear in any persona.  So be kind to strangers.  You never know who she or he really might be.  This is very tricky to explain to our children.  I grew up in an age of innocence where we went out to play all day and our parents didn’t have to worry about us.  Yet they still warned us not to talk to strangers.  I can’t imagine permitting my daughter to talk to strangers, and would certainly forbid it unless Daddy were right next to her.

There is surely great merit in this virtue. Let’s investigate the origins of Hachnasat Orchim, which considerably predates the Passover story.  The Torah sidra, Vayera (GENESIS 18:1-22:24) is chuck full of powerful stories and lessons, including the account of how Abraham and Sarah received three angels who were visiting them.  According to the Torah text, Abraham was sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of the day when he noticed three strangers approaching.  They were angels, but he did not know that at the time.  As soon as he saw them, he jumped up and ran to greet them, offering them the hospitality of his home.  Though he had no idea of who they were, still he bowed down before them and treated them as nobility, calling them “My lords.”  He offered them a little food and then provided them with a feast of cakes and beef and curds and milk.  (Genesis 18:8) (For those who are curious as to why it was okay for Abraham to eat milk and meat together – some rabbis explain that he served the milk first, then the meat so it was okay – whatever - let’s remember that this episode occurs considerably before Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  And as this predates Torah, it brings on another question:  How can we call Abraham the first Jew if we did not yet have our Torah and our ancestors were not called Jews until they crossed over into Judea? Any takers?)

Rabbi Henry J. Carp in his recent D’var Torah explains, “The rabbis of the Talmud and the Midrash saw this story as being a very important one when it comes to Jewish life. They spoke about it extensively, and from it they derived one of Judaism’s most time honored and practiced virtues; the virtue of Hachnasat Orchim - the virtue of welcoming the stranger; of offering hospitality.  Abraham taught us how to behave when welcoming strangers.  We clean and fix up our homes to create an environment that will feel inviting and comfortable to our guests.  When I invite people over for Passover, Hachnasat Orchim takes on special significance, as we begin the journey from the degradation of slavery to the elevation of freedom and continue to the High Holy Days where we pray to receive and grant forgiveness to elevate ourselves to a place in the Book of Life for the coming year.  While I am consumed with thoughts of matzoh, bitter herbs, choroset, and the recipe for the chocolate and wine matzoh rolls I’ll share with you next week, I have more seriously gone inward to grapple with how to cleanse the chumetz from my soul and the souls of those I love and counsel.  This is the real Spring Cleaning. The physical realm can speak to my inner landscape.  I’d like to spend a week or two just throwing out and giving away all that “stuff” I no longer want or need.  It’s my experience that cleansing the external space can lead to inward cleansing.  I will be happy with even a small amount of clutter busting.  If you and I can remove JUST ONE PIECE OF CLUTTER, something we’ve been staring at for ages, it could begin the momentum to remove more.  You may observe how taking charge of one piece of clutter might quell your inner turmoil; how it creates a sense of freedom and space. The more we get rid of that which weighs us down, physically and emotionally, externally and within …. the more space we create for new life. Let me know how that process works for you.
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DO-IT-YOURSELF PLANNING: Here’s what I’ve planned as we prepare for Passover.  First: I plan to put up two window boxes for flowers later in the week. Passover signifies the coming of Spring, when all of the flowers locked up in their buds finally get to break free into blooms.  Window boxes brimming with Spring and Summer blooms have been decorating the exterior of houses for centuries.  Look for photos next week. I think the boxes will be very inviting for our guests.  Second: I’ll clean the leaves up from the flowerbeds.  It looks and smells nicer afterward, and wet leaves can rot the roots of plants. Third: (and can be difficult) We love our cat, Arnold; and yet he has decorated my favorite rug one too many times.  I’ve got the solution… and it comes in a red, plastic container manufactured by Nature’s Miracle.  I’ll let you know how it works.  Four:  Connect the new Whole-house water filter.  That’s something for which I’ll need professional assistance.  Five: Connect the ice cube maker in the refrigerator to water source.  I never got around to it and now I will!  Finally…THE GOOD NEWS: I finished the cabinetry in the basement – see the photo above. I may still swap out some of that chrome for the more rustic, black hardware.  I have this forum, “The Handy Hazzan” as granted to me by The Jewish Journal and all of my readers to thank for finally getting that project finished. Now I just have to clean the basement.  We are getting things done together …. in havruta. 

Next week, look for a step-by-step demonstration on how to make that Passover dessert!  (NOW ON UTUBE AS OF APRIL 10: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6KWdL_rEa4. If there’s time, we’ll talk window box details too. Thanks for tuning in.  Remember…. Tikkun Olam starts at home.  You can fix it! - HH

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CANTOR HARRIS SHORE most recently served as Hazzan for Hollywood Temple Beth El in West Hollywood, and for two years at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda...

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