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L'chaim, to life! 

04/07/2022 04:36:25 PM


Rabbi Kelly Levy

Numbers are a funny thing. While they have often given me great anxiety in my life (there is a reason I became a rabbi!), they also have special significance in Judaism. We often see them repeated throughout important texts, suggesting that the number has special meaning. For example, the number 7 shows up multiple times in reference to the days of creation, the number of times a wedding couple circles their partner, the number of days in Sukkot and Passover, etc.

We also assign numerical value to the letters of the alef-bet, the Hebrew alphabet. Each letter has its own number attached to it, which introduces us to the concept of gematria. Through this ancient practice, we can ascertain the significance of certain words in Hebrew, specifically linked to their numerical value.

The word chai provides us with the perfect example (and no, I’m not talking about the tea). The two letters that make up this word, chet and yud have a combined value of 18 (chet is 8, yud is 10). Because the word chai means “life,” we often associate special moments in our life with the number 18, or multiples of 18.

This week, I turned 36, which is double chai. It is a blessing to remember all that I have accomplished in my life to this point, and an even bigger blessing to consider what the future holds for me. As I think about what comes next, I am reminded that there is so much left for me to explore, so much more for me to experience, so many stones unturned, so many avenues to walk down.

As we approach another Passover, a time of rebirth and celebration of freedom, I am cognizant of those who are currently living in fear for their lives, fear that their freedom will be taken away at any moment. I am thinking of those who have fled Ukraine in order to seek refuge in a neighboring country. I am thinking of those who are waiting to celebrate their 18th birthday, their 36th birthday, their 54th birthday, and all of those in between. I am thinking about the people who are desperate to sit with their communities at a Passover Seder, clinging to the hope that their homes will still be intact when they return.

On this Passover, join us in thinking about those from Ukraine who continue to struggle and suffer through these acts of violence. And, consider the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s suggestion of adding a beetroot to your seder plate:

The World Union is urging its 1.8 million members around the globe to add a beetroot to their Seder plate this Passover to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s most famous national food is borscht, for which the main ingredient is beetroot – making this a symbolic way to express support during the festival.

The Liberal Jewish Synagogue’s Rabbi Igor Zinkov, Co-Chair of the WUPJ / EUPJ Ukraine Emergency Support, who has family in both Ukraine and Russia, said: “The story of Pesach is the story of freedom – and we will all be praying for those in Ukraine to be free this Passover.

“Many of us feel helpless in the face of what is happening, but millions of homes placing a beetroot on their Seder plates is a powerful symbol of solidarity.”

The Hebrew for beetroot is selek (סלק), which resembles the word for retreat, yistalku (יסתלקו).

It is suggested that people eat the beetroot at the point in the Seder after the bitter herbs are consumed and before the main meal, saying the following prayer: “May it be Your will, Eternal God, that all the enemies who might beat us will retreat (yistalku), and we will beat a path to freedom.”

May we all soon taste the sweetness of freedom, of peace, of a world united in justice, equity, and kindness for all.

Mon, December 11 2023 28 Kislev 5784