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March 31, 2023

“All Who Are Hungry, Let Them Come and Eat” - A Reflection on the Passover Table

Hilly Haber

This transcript was edited and formatted by a third party and may vary from the live sermon delivered at Shabbat.

"All Who Are Hungry, Let Them Come and Eat" - A Reflection on the Passover Table
Rabbi Hilly Haber


Shabbat Shalom,

Tonight is Shabbat HaGadol, the anniversary of our last Shabbat in Egypt. Though the bodies of our ancestors were still ensnared, their eyes were set on freedom.

At our Passover tables next week, we will tell their story, beginning with an invitation to the broader community to sit with us: "All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Passover with us."

Our sages offer several interpretations of what this invitation could mean. Some, like Rav Huna, understood this line literally: Seder participants are inviting those at the city gates to share their meals.[1] Others, like Rav Matityahu Gaon, a ninth-century rabbinic authority, interpreted it metaphorically as a call to ensure that everyone in the community had food in advance of the Seder, so that no one would be hungry on Passover.[2] Still others say it means that all of us should come to the Passover table hungry, ready to enjoy a full meal together.

"All who are hungry, let them come and eat.”

What would it look like to actually invite those who are hungry to the table? I want to offer two images from our work as a Central community to hold alongside the image of a Passover celebration.

[CUE 1: Community Fridge Image]

Over the last six months, members of Central have been working in partnership with the NYCHA Holmes Towers Tenants Association and Grassroots Grocery to sustain the first community fridge on the Upper East Side. From the nursery school to the LCLJ students, and Wednesday afternoon sandwich-makers, our Central community is working to keep the fridge stocked with healthy and fresh options for the entire neighborhood.

This project isn’t just about food. A theology of mutuality and partnership, shared responsibility and common cause flows through the community fridge. It is a place of agency, exchange, and dignity that blurs the boundaries between those who are hungry and those who have food to give. It is a place where at one time you can drop off sandwiches and the next day pick up an apple for the walk home, a public space for neighbors, students, local business owners, and religious communities to insist that abundant and fresh food is a right of all communities and the foundation for a safe and healthy New York for all New Yorkers.

[CUE 2: Emmaus House Graduation Image]

Over these same six months, members of our Central community have traveled together to Emmaus House of Harlem each week for community meals with their partners in the Coming Home Program. Created by Dr. Dawn Ravella, Coming Home was designed to ease the social barriers of reentry for people who have been incarcerated, to help them heal from past experiences and build relationships across New York communities.

Crossing great social distances, Coming Home participants sat together every week at a common table, sharing their joy, their pain, and their longing. Over the course of the program, they built something enduring, something lasting, shaping a community of purpose, of common cause, of aspiration. In a country at war with itself, they came together and testified to the power of grace, of relationship, and of transformation.

Here they are at the graduation ceremony this week, a community formed and transformed over an open table.

"All who are hungry, let them come and eat.”

Paired with the story of the Exodus, the choreography of our Passover Seder offers us quiet acts of memory and connection, resistance and protest, inspiring us to set ourselves to the lifelong tasks of solidarity and liberation.

Our Haggadah imagines an open Passover table, a place of radical welcome which expands our circles of concern and connection. Theologian M. Shawn Copeland calls “the inclusion of new and other bodies at the table” an embodied practice of solidarity meant to disrupt the “map(s) of economic discrimination, social hierarchy, and political differentiation"​​​​​​​[3] that demarcate the invisible boundaries in our cities.

As these boundaries ease, an egalitarian spirit takes root at the Seder. Everyone’s voice is heard. Everyone is invited to recline.​​​​​​​[4] Everyone is welcome to the four cups of wine.​​​​​​​[5] These customs, born of the Greco-Roman world and once reserved for property-holding citizens, were transformed by our Sages into radical acts of subversion and inclusion performed by everyone around the Passover table.​​​​​​​[6]

Even today, the customs and choreography of the Passover Seder disrupt and subvert the world outside of our homes. They point the way to a future unencumbered by hierarchy, a practice of holding resources and material goods in common—a new horizon in which policies of empires turn into practices of solidarity and oppressive conditions give way to a life in the community.

"All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Passover with us."

Every year we are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and to see ourselves in that story,​​​​​​​[7] to revisit a past meant to inform who we are in the present and transform how we imagine ourselves into the future.

With only the memories of the signs and wonders of Egypt, the plagues, and the parting sea, our road to liberation begins at an open table, where our stories and the stories of those sitting with us collide with the story of the Exodus, illuminating the path we must walk together toward that Promised Land.

So many of you sit at these tables, inviting all who are hungry to eat: the Central Breakfast Program and sandwich-makers, the Community Fridge Steering Committee, the Coming Home Program, Mentors Matter, English in Action, The Central in Action leadership team, the PS 188 Thanksgiving volunteers, and the Central Welcome Project who just expanded our communal table by two with the arrival of a wonderful couple from Venezuela. Our table is wide, and there is always room for more.

All who are hungry, let them come and eat. Together, let us expand our circles of concern, and our lines of community. Let us topple empires and imagine the world anew, care for one another through life’s wildernesses, and build a land overflowing with Promise for all of God’s people.

 


[1] BT Ta’anit 20b
[2] Abudarham, Pesach, The Haggadah 5
[3] M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom, 61.
[4] Tosefta Pesahim 10:1
[5] Tosefta Pesahim 10:1
[6] Tosefta Pesahim 10:1
[7] BT Pesachim 116b

 

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