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Thursday, 6 April, 2017 - 6:42 pm

At a dinner celebrating 50 years of service for a rabbi, a guest speaker paid tribute to his many wonderful qualities: his dedication, wisdom, hard work, and foresight. As he sat down, the rabbi leaned over to him and said, “You forgot to mention one thing.”

“What was that?” the speaker asked.

The rabbi replied, “My humility.”

A Jewish mystic, commenting on the significance of the Four Cups, said: We read in the Zohar that when the Jews were in Egypt, the power of speech was also in bondage–a slave cannot express his thoughts and feelings freely. In the Exodus, the power of speech was redeemed together with the people.

Speech comes into being by using five instruments: the lips, teeth, tongue, palate, and throat. After having been in bondage, these five organs used for speech were set free at the first Passover. Therefore, to celebrate the redemption of the teeth, we eat the Matzah, and for the liberation of the other four parts of the mouth, we drink the Four Cups, using our lips, tongue, palate, and throat. Thus, symbolically, we affirm that to be free means having the ability to express our thoughts and feelings in words.

Ben Zander, the well-known conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, recounted a story he heard from an Auschwitz survivor that expresses this point, and reminds us that the words we speak to one another are incredibly powerful.

A girl was sent to Auschwitz when she was 15 years old with her eight-year-old brother. Years later, having survived the camp, she told Zander, “We were in the train going to Auschwitz, and I looked down and saw my brother’s shoes were missing. I got angry and said, ‘Why are you so stupid, can’t you keep your things together for goodness’ sake?’”–the way an elder sister might sometimes thoughtlessly speak to a younger brother.

Unfortunately, it was the last thing she ever said to her brother because she never saw him again. He did not survive. When she came out of Auschwitz, she made a vow: “I will never again say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.”

Can we do that? Probably not. We’d make ourselves miserable if we tried. But it is an ideal to hold onto, and something to consider as we celebrate our freedom. Pesach reminds us that because we are free, we have the power to choose our words. We can choose them carefully, and choose to use them to lift others up.

Chag HaPesach Kasher V'Sameach,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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