Faith in Action: Imagine breaking matzah with a special seder guest, Pope Francis

www.bethyam.orgMarch 21, 2013 

With the election of Pope Francis, the world's Catholics have good reason to hope he addresses long-standing issues within the Catholic church. But other religions have a vested interest, too: the hope that he extends his hand in friendship and demonstrates respect for their faith teachings. Pope Francis can play a vital role in showing that people of faith can work together as equals and collaborate on how best to serve humanity. He is in a good position to model how learning about other religions can enhance one's own faith.

Just imagine for a moment if there was a rabbi somewhere in the world who knew Pope Francis before he became pope and invited him to his house this year for Passover seder. Maybe it would be one of the rabbis from the vibrant Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Argentina? If not, I would be happy to extend that invitation to the pope myself. I can think of no better experience to introduce someone to the soul of Judaism than the ancient ritual of Passover, which consists of the seder (the evening meal in which families tell the story of the Passover, the exodus from Egypt) and partake in the ancient meal with delicacies that symbolize the historic narrative of Exodus.

I would, of course, give Pope Francis the book of all the stories and commentaries that have accumulated over the centuries that make up the Passover story. It is called the Haggadah or the Narrative. Then I would point to the famous seder plate, with its ornate decoration of all the symbolic foods that tell the story of Passover.

I would show him the matzah unleavened bread. Pope Francis took his name from St. Francis, who was all about serving the poor. Surely, the pope would smile when he learns that the unleavened bread, or matzah, is called "poor bread." I feel confident these words from the narrative would resonate with him: "This poor bread -- let all come and eat that bread that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. This year in the land of Egypt -- next year in the land of Israel,"

By dipping the parsley in the salt water as part of the Passover ritual to commemorate the bitterness of the tears of slavery, spreading the hot and bitter horseradish upon the matzah and saying the blessing over bitter herbs, Pope Francis would see how Judaism is very much dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poor, as well. He would understand better that Catholics and Jews have a common heritage in which we all have a commitment to remember our spiritual history.

There is one more ritual I think Pope Francis would like. On the seder table we have a special, beautiful wine cup called Elijah's Cup. Toward the end of the service -- once we have told the story, sang songs, ate delicious foods and discussed the issues of the day -- we turn our attention to this cup. Our tradition says that before the Messiah, consistent with Jewish theology, comes the biblical prophet Elijah will arrive and tell the homes of the Jewish people that the Messiah is coming. So the custom developed that children go to the door of the house and open the door to welcome Elijah into their homes, and he will drink a sip of wine.

Of course, the pope would enjoy that discussion -- not just about the differences between who that Messiah will be, but he would be fascinated when he listens to the dreams of the Jewish people for a world of peace not only in Israel, not only for the Jewish people worldwide but for the entirety of all humanity. And for this I feel the pope would smile serenely.

Pope Francis will leave that seder meal not only satiated, but also with a sense of history, reaffirmed to his religious roots in Judaism and to his connection to the Jewish people and faith today. He might see himself as if he too went out of Egypt like the Israelites. I hope he goes to a seder this year. He has an open invitation to my house.

I wish all in the Catholic community blessings on the selection of Pope Francis. I wish all Christians a spiritually uplifting Easter season. And I wish to all members of the Jewish community in the Lowcountry a joyous Passover.

Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter, @rabbibloom.

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