You Open For Him

Rabbi Eleazar HaKappar said:  Do not be like a lintel overhead that no one can reach; neither, be like a door beam that injures faces, nor like a raised threshold that bruises feet. Rather, be like a low threshold that everyone crosses easily. In the end, the entire building might disappear, but the threshold will remain in place.

(Click here for Talmud in Hebrew and English)

Lintel from Golan Archaeological Museum, Israel

Lintel (Golan Archaeological Museum, Israel)

With the soul of a teacher, Rabbi Eleazar HaKappar animates the doorway of his academy. The door, like the teacher, has to be generously open, presenting no obstacles. The lintel must be high enough to test but not frustrate the reach; the threshold low enough to assure the step and the stance.

How ironic and fitting that the lintel of Rabbi Eleazar’s academy survives! The black basalt lintel with two eagles stretching a ribbon and wreath between them announces:  Zeh bet midrasho shel l’rabbi Eleazar HaKapparThis is the academy of Rabbi Eleazar HaKappar

Lintel with Kapar insription BW

This is part of the doorway that Rabbi Eleazar has created in his own image, from the lintel-not-beyond-reach to the threshold-humble-and-accessible.

For the Israeli poet, Rivka Miriam, as for Rabbi Eleazar, the doorway is both symbol and solid. For Rivka, the doorway offers learning hinged on the language of the Passover Haggadah:

You open for him
when he is too small to open
you lift him to your shoulders
and soothe him with “don’t be afraid”
open for him slowly, he is unaccustomed to openings
‘til now he imagined that everything was open
the  walls, he imagined, were as open and transparent as the breeze
the walls, he imagined, as were as open eyed as a patient plain, yawning
he recognized neither lintel nor doorposts
neither hinge nor door
you lift him so that he rubs his sides against the doorposts
so that he bows his head beneath the lintel
gently you set him on the threshold
so that he is surefooted, not like a refugee
standing on the threshold.

(Click here for the poem in Hebrew and in English)

You open for him, is the Haggadah’s instruction for engaging the last of the four children who together represent the Passover table community. Each of the other three children has a (door) frame of reference:  wise, skeptical, or simple. The fourth does not know how to frame a question. For this one with no per-spective—nothing to see through—the tradition says, you open the conversation for him.

Don’t be afraid is the only word spoken. After that, the doorway itself—post, lintel, and threshold—is the learning.

You open for him, lift him up, and he learns the touch of something beyond reach.  You open for him the expanse from side to side, and he feels the fact of the doorframe. The world is not, after all, endlessly open and patient. One must respect the solidity of the doorpost and learn to avoid collision with what is overhead. You open for him, so that he might take a knowing stance in the doorway, assured and surefooted on the threshold.

This entry was posted in Holidays, Passover, Poetry, Talmud. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to You Open For Him

  1. (Comment from Israeli poet Rivka Miriam as translated by Rabbi Steven G. Sager)

    Dear, dear Steve,
    You moved me-
    I am not familiar with the words of Rabbi Eleazar HaKappar that you brought, and I think that they are wonderful. And the connections between them and my poem touch me very, very much and bring me to another place- Once again, as always, you have a wonderful way of bringing everything together to Torah, to poetry, to life. You are a creative artist when you weave your compositions and build worlds from them.

    Thank you—enjoy a happy holiday with much good for all of you.

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