Sunday, April 10, 2011

How is This Pesach Different?

Ma nishtana, ha-laila ha zeh, mi-kol ha-leilot!

How different is this night from all other nights!
On all other nights, we eat chametz or matzah,
but on this night only matzah.
On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs,
but on this night, only bitter herbs--maror.
On all other nights, we do not even dip once,
but on this night, we dip twice.
On all other nights, we eat sitting up,
but on this night reclining."
--The Four Questions of the Haggadah

I have been making Pesach in my own home for more than 20 years, and with the exception of a few years, I have had a first night Seder each year as well. Over the years, I have developed a rhythm for doing the spring cleaning, and for turning the kitchen over, and for making the Seder. This rhythm has carried over from apartment to rental house, from rental house to my first house, and to two homes with the Engineering Geek.

But this Pesach is different from all of the other Pesachim I have made. All my previous moves have occurred either after Pesach--meaning that the packing and spring cleaning accommodated one another, and after the Seder, the move could begin in earnest. This year, is different. The protracted move to the Ranch was supposed to over long before the cleaning began. And although this year, I was not expecting to make a Seder, I did expect to be settled in one place. Instead, I have been wandering in the wilderness, with some of my things here, and others there, with the things that are there needed here, and the things that are here needed there.

This is most disconcerting, as I had carefully nurtured my routine for Pesach, and I took comfort in the yearly process that led me physically from Chametz to Matzah, and spiritually from slavery to freedom. Pesach seems to have snuck up on me this year, and I am not ready. Everything is changing, including my relationship to my synagogue, my proximity to other Jews, and my predictable journey to Pesach itself.

It seems that through some choices and decisions that are good in and of themselves, I have quickly made changes that I was not at all prepared to make. Although I have felt that in a very strange way, guided through this process, as if each step was bashert, the messy way that some of this is happening--and not at all as I had planned, does not feel at all familiar or at all comforting. It doesn't feel at all as I think it is supposed to be.

I am not ready for this holiday. I just barely bought my Matzah before the store was out of it. And I was beginning to feel that sense of failure, of feeling that I am--as I often am--a day late and a dollar short.

Except, I realized that today, this year, I am meant to learn that Pesach is not about me being ready for it; it is about the holiday coming whether I am ready or not. That, as often as not, the joy of freedom can be found in the midst of the chaos of change.

And I think of all of the Jewish women, from Sinai until now--who by choice or perforce--also greeted a Pesach that was different from all other Pesachim that they had made; a Pesach that they did not make but that made them see the journey from Chametz to Matzah differently.

  • the women who put the dough on their backs, in order to flee the slavery of Mitzrayim in haste;
  • the women who wandered in wilderness, wondering whether manna could be matzah;
  • the women who prepared a Seder before crossing the Jordan;
  • the women who marched, chained, to the waters of Babylon, and made their first Pesach in the first Tel Aviv;
  • the women who made haroset in the quiet years of Babylon, who chopped karpas while their husbands argued the Talmud in Yavneh.
  • the women who fled the sacking of Jerusalem, wondering what to do with the lamb now that the Temple was gone;
  • the women of Lincoln, who made Seder but did not taste the Matzah, driven out as they were into another exile;
  • the women of the Good Friday Pograms, who were driven from their homes during the Chol ha-Moed, in Kishinev, in Odessa, with no time to take the Matzah;
  • the women who prepared the Seder in the sewers and bunkers of the Warsaw Ghetto
  • the women washing the plates on the way from Jerusalem to Rome, and from Rome to Spain, and from Spain to Morocco, to Greece and to the New World;
  • the women throwing Chametz into the waters of New York Harbor, --a harbor indeed!-- at the feet of the Lady Liberty.

Pesach is, like all of the Holy times and seasons, zichronot-- a remembrance. And each year--Halvai!--we remember differently, we experience differently, we are different. And although each year is different, some year stand out so that we say:
Ma-nishtanah--How different it is! How different is this year from all the other years!


Because, Pesach is about freeing oneself and allowing oneself to be redeemed. And when routines and way of being change, whether due to external or internal forces, we are called by the Eternal to come forth and to meet the future with all of our hearts, minds and strength of being.

Whatever that newness might be. For whether it be good in our eyes, or bad, whether we confront good or evil in the world, the Holy times separate us out from that, and give us the time to meet it with joy and purpose. For we do not control the times we are born to, but we do control what we might do with the times we are given.

In my Bat Mitzvah Torah portion, Shabbat Chol-ha-Moed Pesach, Moshe makes anew the broken covenant with the Eternal, going up the mountain once again with tablets he carved himself, asking for the the black fire of the ten words to be inscribed there anew. And Moshe worries about the enormity of the task he has been given, to take this stiff-necked people on the journey from slavery to freedom, and he says to the Eternal, there on Sinai:

Moses said to HaShem: "Look, You say to me: 'Bring this people up!' But You have not informed me whom You will send with me. And You said: 'I have known you by name and you have also found favor in My eyes.'
And now, if I have indeed found favor in Your eyes, pray let me know Your ways, so that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your eyes; and consider that this nation is Your people."
So He said, "My Shechinah--my Presence--will go, and I will give you rest."

--Shemot 33:12 -14

This year, I am--like many Jews before me--caught unready for the great passing-over from chametz to matzah, from slavery to freedom. But ready or not, the birth waters will part, and we will once again cross over, to encounter once again the meaning of our freedom, to come face-to-face with the stark choice: shall we be slaves to Pharaoh, and all that entails, or shall we choose service to the One who cherishes our freedom?

The task is enormous. And the way ahead and all its dangers and opportunities is unknown to us. We know only one thing about what lies ahead: the Eternal Shechinah--that part of the Eternal that dwells among us--will go with us.

I am going, like my sisters before me, this year that is not like all other years; this Pesach that is so different than all other Pesachim.
I am going, unready as I am, because:
Ready or not, here comes Freedom!