Zack Rothbart

On Passover, our welcome should spill over to include the unexpected

What if we really meant it when we invite all who are hungry to come and eat?
Dutch poster, 1921. (Rijksmuseum / Public domain)
Dutch poster, 1921. (Rijksmuseum / Public domain)

If you invited a stranger to come into your home from the street, yet the door was closed so that he couldn’t even hear the invitation, would he come?

Among the very first words in the Passover haggadah, we say, “Whoever is hungry, come and eat, whoever is in need, let him come and join in celebrating the holiday of Passover!”

Yet how many really mean it? How many say those words with their heart in it and with the door open?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1761-1837) was one of the most brilliant and influential Jewish scholars of his time, a master of the Talmud and other core Jewish texts, and a preeminent authority on Jewish law, whose rulings and teachings are still widely studied.

Rabbi Eiger was born in Pressburg-Bratislava, which is in modern day Slovakia. He spent most of his adult life serving as a communal rabbi and mohel. For nearly 25 years, he was in the town of Märkisch Friedland and then about two decades in the city of Posen (Poznan), home to a Jewish community dating back to the 13th century, and the apparent birthplace of another luminary of Jewish thought: the Maharal of Prague.

Talmud scholars are perhaps not generally imagined to be the warmest of people, but Rabbi Eiger apparently was. In fact, he and his wife were renowned for their strict fulfillment of the commandment to invite guests into the home. On Shabbat and holidays, the Eiger family would welcome many guests, always making them feel comfortable and honored. 

Indeed, the story of one particular Passover seder has made its way down to us across the centuries.

That year, like others, Rabbi Eiger, his family and guests were seated around the seder table recounting the story of the Exodus in great detail and with great fervor and passion. There were, of course, all types of delicacies on the table, as well as wine glasses filled to the brim.

Perhaps out of excitement, or simple clumsiness, one of the guests accidentally knocked over a glass, spilling all over and definitely ruining the tablecloth. 

Without missing a beat, the distinguished rabbi quickly knocked his own cup of wine over, exclaiming:

The table must be unstable!

Passover is a holiday full of historical and experiential resonance, and perhaps this year more than others, the seder itself can and should be seen as a metaphorical template for a healthier and better Israeli society, Jewish community, and world at large:

  • where we actually open the door to invite people to the table, as opposed to leaving it closed.
  • where we address the questions and concerns of those who don’t speak, alongside the simple, the clever, and even the “bad eggs” among us.
  • where we know that wine will be spilled and yet our reaction is to instinctively knock over our own glasses and blame it on the table legs, rather than censuring and humiliating the others with whom we are destined to share that table.
About the Author
Zack Rothbart is a Jerusalem-based writer and publicist. He is currently Senior Strategist at Concrete Media, and previously served as the National Library of Israel's international spokesman. Zack tries to learn something from everyone, and lives with his endearing and thought-provoking family, for which he is grateful. Feel free to email him via the "Contact Me" link above.
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