Rabbis occasionally get cool nicknames. The Talmud tells us about two such rabbis. Rav Yosef was called “Sinai.” Rabbah was called the oker harim, the “uprooter of mountains.”
Neither nickname had to do with their prowess on the basketball court. Instead, these rabbis received their monikers because of their approaches to Jewish law and innovation. Rav Yosef believed that Jewish law was an unbroken chain going back to Sinai: it could not be changed. His foil, therefore, was Rabbah. Rabbah understood that at times, it was necessary to “uproot the mountain” in order to preserve tradition.
In every generation, our world has polarities like Rabbah or like Rav Yosef: Rabbis Kaplan and Heschel or Justices Bader-Ginsburg and Scalia. Yet during a pandemic, binaries prove impossible. How can we be free in a time when we are less free than years prior? How do we preserve our tradition when we must break our tradition in order to save it?
I am reminded of the Conservative movement’s “The Feast of Freedom” haggadah that depicts the four children of the seder not as singular entities – wise, wicked, simple, and unable to ask question — but as aspects present within each one of us. It is possible, this haggadah reminds us, to be both Sinai and uprooters when it comes to our connection to our tradition.
This Pesach, I will feel a little “wicked” using Zoom for seder during the yomtov, but also somewhat wise because my family will have found a way to celebrate Passover together. My Pesach this year will no doubt be simple, and yet so complicated, with questions that I am still not entirely sure show to ask about the meaning of freedom in a pandemic.
We can all be Sinai and uprooters of mountains. It is in these sacred choices, where this year, we will find our freedom.
Rabbi Daniel Dorsch is the senior rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim.