Featured in local papers on Thursday, April 17, 2003. Copyright 2003 by Yosef Y. Polter.

Passover - A lesson in relationships
Passover, which began last night with the first Seder, is one of the better-known Jewish holidays.  Despite all the work involved in preparation, it is still anticipated with great excitement.  Most of us know the reason for the name "Passover:" G‑d passed over the Jewish homes, on the night that He smote the Egyptians with the tenth and final plague.  But why do we call it "Passover," and not "festival of Matzos" as the Torah does? 

The answer: matza (or unleavened bread), which the Jewish people made hastily as they left Egypt, represents their faith in G‑d, as they followed Moses into a barren desert.  Torah - G‑d's word - in calling it "festival of Matzos," is praising the Children of Israel by highlighting their courageous faith and trust in Him.

We, on the other hand, want to emphasize G‑d's benevolence in saving us from the angel of death the night before our exodus 3,315 years ago.  Therefore we call it "Passover," even though G‑d calls it "Festival of Matzos," because the mere mention of the name "Passover" evokes a thankfulness and closeness to G‑d, even so many years later, for His great kindness to us.

This attitude - that we recall G‑d's kindness, by us calling it "Passover" and that G‑d recalls our faith, by Him calling it "Festival of Matzos" - characterizes a healthy and long-lasting relationship, whether between ourselves and G‑d or between ourselves and those around us.  Too often, we're so quick to point out faults in others and, worse yet, to constantly recall them.  And, while there is a time and a place for addressing shortcomings, doing so incessantly is a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, finding the positives in others is a lost art today.  Reports of human deficiencies fill the media and dominate conversations.  Rarely, if ever, do we hear about the kindness and the merits of others.  And, when by chance we do, it's instantly forgotten, whereas the negative gossip seems to carry on endlessly.  This only creates overall domestic and social disharmony and might also contribute to physical illness.

Indeed, human nature seems to feed on the negative, but it doesn't need to be that way.  We can change our natures and thereby live happier and healthier lives.  In fact, this is what G‑d expects from us. (A tall order, maybe, but not impossible.)  It is also well documented today that, with effort, we can refocus our thoughts and our conversations to attain a level of peace and happiness we never imagined possible.

May we internalize this message and improve our relationships with our spouses, children, neighbors, and, of course, with G‑d, Creator of heaven and earth.  This will, in turn, improve the world from the inside out.  After all, society is the sum of many parts.  When those parts become healthier and stronger then, by definition, society as a whole becomes healthier and stronger.  We can change the world one family at a time.  Best wishes for a happy and healthy Passover and spring season.

Rabbi Yosef Polter is director of the Chabad Center (where strong relationships are formed and nurtured), located at 148 Great Road (Rte 2A) in Acton.  The center serves the greater local area.  (978) 929-2513 or 758-8994  www.chabadofacton.com