The Egg, the Matzah Ball, and Water

Change in the Face of Adversity: The egg, the matzah ball, and water

Rabbi’s Message – April 23, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Last year, 30 people gathered on Zoom for the Passover Seder.  In our household, Matt, the kids, and I attempted to navigate Zoom with Matt’s siblings and their children.  It was not the finest Seder of my life.  In fact, I was disappointed to be holed up at home, so accustomed to large holiday gatherings.  And now, here we are a year later, and my Seder is going to look just about the same – just Matt, the kids, and I, probably with some family on Zoom.  

Except, this year, it’s different because we knew it was coming.  This year, there are a vast number of digital resources, and using video conferencing software is an old trick for many at this point.  In culling through those digital resources, I found this one from The Blue Dove Foundation, which provides a mental health framework for Passover classics.  In this article, one thing that stands out is the description of the egg on the seder plate: “It’s traditional to roast or char the egg, leading to a fun interpretation – an egg, just like us, is resilient!  The hotter the flame, the tougher we get.  We aren’t weakened by struggle; we overcome it and become stronger.”  This interpretation reminded me of the lesson about what happens to a potato, an egg, and coffee beans when exposed to boiling water.  The potato – the biggest and strongest of them, becomes the weakest.  The egg, hardens, becoming perhaps stronger, as Blue Dove Foundation suggests, and the coffee beans, they change the water.  

We all respond to adversity in our ways, whether it be slavery in Egypt, a pandemic, or some other challenge. This Passover, the egg on the plate can remind us of how we can be strengthened by challenges – even if we get a little charred on the outside.  But maybe we don’t always become stronger, and that’s okay.  I also think of the matzah ball, that when cooked, becomes soft (and delicious), – unlike its unboiled original version.  Exposure to the hot water has changed not only the matzah ball, but the water around it has also become different.  What was once just plain water has become infused with the flavors of chicken and vegetables through the process of cooking and becoming soup.  The matzah ball and its environment have been forever changed.  And maybe we too, in facing adversity, changed the situation around us instead of ourselves – turning water into soup.  

We may be like the egg, the matzah ball, or the soup – stronger in the face of adversity, slightly softer because of it, or completely changed.  Each of these reactions are a part of who we are as individuals and who we are as a people.  And so, we will sit down this year and tell the story of Passover like we have for thousands of years.  Maybe we will reminisce over the seders that have been and fantasize the seders that might be next year, all the while experiencing the seder that is.  It’ll be different, but after all, isn’t Passover all about being different than other nights? 

Choosing Our Destiny

The Choices We Make

Rabbi’s Message – January 19, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This week we read from Parashat Bo, where we complete the narrative of the plagues in Egypt and receive the commandment to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the future.  (The Red Sea crossing happens in next week’s portion.)  In this generally well-known story, there are two verses that stand out, and are not usually part of the retelling.  Just before the final plague, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to “borrow” from their neighbors’ objects of silver and gold and that God would dispose the Egyptians favorably to them (Exo 11:2-3).  While seemingly out of place, Rabbi Reuven Greenvald in Reform Judaism’s commentary gives us some additional insight.  He points out that in early liberated life, the Israelites would need a little money to get started.  Some commentators attribute these verses as laying the groundwork to explain where the Israelites got precious metals from to erect the tabernacle and the Golden Calf.  Continuing his commentary, Rabbi Greenvald focuses on the relationship between these actions and the plague that follows.  But, if we look at the Israelites instead, here they stand on the precipice of a new life of freedom, with these precious metals in their hands, and a choice about what to do with them.  We know, as Rabbi Greenvald reminds us, that some of those materials will be used to make the Golden Calf – for purposes that are not ultimately to the benefit of the community.  We also learn that some of them will be used for the most sacred of uses – the service of God.  And I’m sure some were used for more mundane purposes as well.  

Life is full of transitions.  (We have talked about them a lot lately.)  The turning of the year, the upcoming transition of leadership in our country, personal changes and adaptations to our current pandemic life, and the evolving outlook towards hope on stopping this virus – to name a few.  Fortunately, we all have different tools to help us navigate these transitions.  What precious items will we carry with us – material or intangible – to lead us successfully forward?  Will we be like the Israelites who used their precious metals to construct the Tabernacle?  Or is there a Golden Calf in our future?  I will close with words adapted from last week’s blessing of the New Month, which seem particularly apt right now:

Our God and God of our ancestors, may the days ahead bring us goodness and blessing: long life, peace, prosperity, Torah and reverence for the divine, and may the longings of our hearts be fulfilled for good.