The holiday of Passover approaches. You can feel it in the hot bursts of spring air – sharav as it is called in modern parlance in Israel. You can feel it in the stores – extending their hours to accommodate harried shoppers. You can feel it in your home – as you search for something between spring cleaning and removing all traces of anything leavened. You can even feel it in your nose and your stomach – as those traditional smells and tastes fill your senses.
But as we are busy feeling the holiday in all these other ways, all these sensual ways, sometimes we forget to feel Passover with our emotions. This year in getting ready for the holiday, I am trying to focus a bit on what it is about Passover, and specifically the Seder (festive meal) on the first night, that WORKS. The Jewish people have been more or less celebrating this ceremony for at least the last 3300 years or so, and even in today’s mostly secular Israeli society, Passover Seder is still celebrated
by the vast majority of the country’s Jews.
So what is it that WORKS?
The Passover meal has many components: wine, matzah, symbolic foods, family, and story through the recitation of the Hagada. This story that we tell at the meal is not a simple “Once upon a time” but a complex of many different elements. But I believe that the many different ways of telling the story – through talmudic discourse, parable, songs, and all the different forms which exist in the Hagada, all have some common threads. They are meant to inspire us, to give us hope, and even to nudge us in the right direction.
Inspiration might seem passe in today’s world. We are all so sophisticated – we know that behind every success lies a lot of hard work and even a lot of sadness. We have been jaded by the people we admire having really sad lives – movie stars who get involved in drugs, politicians who get caught breaking the law, religious leaders whose personal lives are devoid of religion, athletes who abuse their own bodies.
Even our own children and their peers are not exempt. Youth was once the symbol of endless possibility, but now is more likely to be associated with trouble, gangs and unplanned pregnancy. Young adults today report that although sexual taboos have been erased, they are severely short in the falling-in-love category. It really hit home when I was walking with a man aged 23 who told me, “I will never be really, really happy.” Shocking that at age 23, he had already given up.
The Hagada comes to change all that. Once the Jewish people were at the bottom. The very bottom. The 49th level of despair (out of 50). The Hagada comes to share the success story.
And to inspire us.
Not just to inspire us to climb out of whatever pit we are in, but also to inspire us to gather positive energy from our own stories. Every person has an inspiring story. Our stories make up who we are, where we have been, and our outlook on where we are going. We don’t often take the time to articulate those stories, elaborate on those stories and even tweek them a bit to make them better stories (we will probably claim that actually, that is the way it happened….). Sometimes, sadly, we even forget that we have those stories.
This year at the Passover Seder, ask the person next to you to share their own personal “Hagada”. If they are shy, wait until they have had a glass of wine or so. Life is good and there are amazing stories of blessing and persistence, survival and overcoming hurdles. And they are jumping in the waves with you, walking around the store with you, cleaning your house with you, sitting next to you at your Passover seder – just listen and share. Life is good.