Pesach First Day: Why Marror? Mirror Neurons and Empathy.



Published 3/26/13

Passover seems to feed into the stereotype of Jewish suffering – Jews obsessed with their troubles. And frankly many Jews are turned off by the constant reminder of the persecuted and afflicted Jew.

Take the bitter herbs, called maror (which literally means “bitter”), which we eat at the Seder to remember the bitterness our ancestors experienced under Egyptian rule.

This custom begs a few obvious questions – klotz kashyes – questions so apparent that no one asks them: What purpose is there in us recreating the bitterness of our fathers and mothers in Egypt? It’s one thing to remember and recreate the Exodus, but why do we have to also taste the bitterness? And can we actually experience their true suffering by … tasting horseradish?! It may sting for a bit and perhaps cause us to lose our breath, but how can anyone compare that momentary experience to the horrible bitterness our ancestors suffered for over 210 years in Egyptian bondage with all that it entailed?! So what is achieved by this exercise?

The powerful and surprising answer lies in the reason why we place themaror at the center of the Seder Plate. The obvious location for maror(bitterness) is on the left side, the place of gevurah (severity). Why is it situated in the center – the place that symbolizes compassion?

Maror, as unlikely symbol of empathy, evokes us to explore the very nature and importance of empathy.

This sermon examines several provocative scientific perspectives and concludes with the Passover Seder’s approach, offering some penetrating questions designed to nudge us toward bonding with our fellows, for truly that is where salvation lies.

In the process we can dispel once and for all the long suffering (no pun intended) stereotype of the tormented Jew.


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