Friday, April 6, 2012

How Do You Observe Passover?

At the Passover seder, we meet to celebrate the freeing of the Jews from slavery to the Egyptians.  We read, discuss, sing, and perform rituals as set out in the Haggadah, a book assembled by The Rabbis between 170 and 300 CE.

Near the beginning of the seder, we find the passage beginning Ha Lachma.  We point to a plate of matzah and read:

This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt.  All who are hungry, let them come and eat.  All who are needy, let them come and celebrate the Passover with us.  Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.  Now we are here; next year may we be in the land of Israel.

For many years, we focussed on the line, “Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.”  Each person would discuss the way he or she is still a slave, or whether they are more free this year than last.

At one point, we switched from slavery to “Now we are here; next year may we be in the land of Israel.”  Each person would consider what it means to be here now.  We asked, "Where or what is your promised land?"

At Passover, we must get rid of chametz, which is bread and other foods containing yeast.  The chametz can also symbolize anything in our personality that is puffed up or arrogant.  One year we asked,  “What is the chametz in your life?  How can you get rid of it?"  The next year we asked, "Have you got rid of last year's chametz?"  Year after year our conversations deepen as we become closer to one another.

This year, I mentioned to my mother that it might be interesting to consider "All who are hungry, let them come and eat."  I was thinking about our willingness or unwillingness to be charitable, but my mother said, "Yes!  Let's ask, 'What are you hungry for?'"

There is much to be hungry for.  Some of the guests will say, "Food!  Let's eat now!"  (We tend to go on for hours before the festive meal is served.)  Others will think about the oceans of complaints and restless longings for love, connection, and understanding.  We may talk about our hunger, but a little later we sing "Dayanu" which serves as a reminder to appreciate what we have.

I might retreat to my original interest in discussing charity.  I found this quote from 19th century rabbi, Yisrael Salanter.  He said,  "We must prioritize spiritual matters over our material desires, but other people’s material needs are our spiritual concerns."

Passover is also a time for me to remember to stop thinking about other people's flaws and develop more compassion and resourcefulness.

          "In depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."  - Albert Camus

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