My Theme For This Passover: What Allows You to Hold On and to Move?
For those of you who don’t celebrate Passover, please forgive this aside, it is the one holiday I put a lot of thought and effort into, so it is the natural focus of my blog. I hope this proves to be of interest to you.
Every year I read over the passover service as explored in the books of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and the wonderful picture book The Four Questions by Ori Sherman and Lynne Sharon Schwartz. The Hartman books are by now covered with sticky pads and flags from sections I hightlighted in previous years, and I’ve seen my boys grow up with the Sherman-Schwarz — once Sasha looked at the pictures, now he can read the questions (more or less) in Hebrew, while Rafi is using visual prompts to memorize what he is going to ask. In other words, Passover in its very annual repetition is about memory and family — which are also some of the themes of the ritual.
For those who don’t know Passover, you are supposed to prepare for it long before by removing every scrap of bread from your home. You are making your home into a kind of temple. We don’t do that, and yet yesterday as I was polishing the bronze seder plate that was my grandfather’s, I did feel some of that mood of ritual purification. And that helped me to focus what I am going to say tonight. We’ve never done this before, but you are supposed to read a passage from Deuteronomy (26) about wandering — Abraham and Jacob both left home, meandered, wandered, in search of their destimed home, their promised lands. And that, too, is the central story of Passover — how the Jews fled Egypt, fled slavery, to wander, and then find a Promised Land. But what allows a people to wander yet hold together? What is that Promised Land?
I realized that the service itself — a time of sharing stories and memories, of family and guests (explicitly non-Jewish as well as Jewish), a place with an open dooor where questions are explicitly enouraged and all are invited to think, talk, debate, question, express, expound, sing, eat, rest in leisure yet share stories of both struggle and triumph — it is that center, both open and defined, which allows a person, a family, a people to go anywhere in the world, yet have a center — the home as temple is itself the Promised Land, wherever it is. We are all slaves to our own weakness, we all have the chance to find our freedom to sharing our struggles and triumphs — our stories — together.