Passover is THE holiday. It is the one where folks around the globe sit down for Seder- to tell the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) liberation story ever told. Passover is the time where spring has sprung – blooms blossom and a sweet scent fills the air. It’s the holiday where our neurosis really shines brightly – in various degrees, seemingly permeating so many of us. The fact is that Passover is the most observed Jewish holiday. The Pew Research survey of Jewish Americans found that 70% of the Jewish population attends a Seder each year, a practice more common than observing Yom Kippur or even lighting Shabbat Candles. Yes, Passover is the holiday.
Except I think I may differ from many because, while I do enjoy a good Seder, Passover is not my favorite holiday. The cleaning and the preparation (oy veh!) becomes an ordeal – physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The unnerving sense that my house may fall apart if there is a smidge of Hametz left in it! The many marital disputes over how much we must do in order to make ourselves prepared for the holiday: he (the much better cleaner) thinks a good scrub is good enough, and I (the less good cleaner but the one more mindful of Jewish Law and perhaps the more neurotic of us) think that we must do the whole thing – boiling water, tossing all of the hametz out, and placing foil and table cloths on our countertops. The energy that goes into the week leading up to Passover leaves very little left for the part that both of us crave: The Seder. The part that brings us back emotionally to our time as children: the familiar melodies, the story that is jaw-dropping fantastic (seriously, folks, a red sea is parted!), the re-living of the most pivotal moment in our Jewish story. Then there’s the internal work we get to do by asking what we must work on, the discourse and dialogue, the questions of how we can do better in the world. And there’s the opportunity to see family and friends in one place – present and engaged, the beauty of teaching our story to our children and seeing that they, too, will internalize the great lesson: “in every generation, each human being must see themselves as if they personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt.”
This year was harder than other years. Maybe it was because I was hosting for the first time, which meant prepping in all ways at once. Or more deeply, I feel that I have stepped into a new role – one that requires more responsibility – and sense a shift as I recognize that I am older than I once was. Maybe it is because there is a piece of me that is starting to question whether or not the carrying out of my neurotic sense of cleaning the hametz works anymore, and that my husband could possibly be right?
Last week as I was kvetching about how I was feeling to one of my colleagues and dear friends, he challenged me to think deeply about why I participate in the holiday in this way if it, in fact, does not bring me joy or liberation. I thought about his question and as I sat down for our seder I was able to take in the moment of seeing my loved ones gathered. I noticed the matzah cover we use every year – the one we spilled wine on and stained forever. I saw my children – who were simultaneously enchanted and restless – engage with the process. And I felt the most enormous sense of relief because I realized I had been doing it all wrong for a long time. It occurred to me that, in the clearing of the spiritual and physical hametz of our lives, we can create more space for this deep joy to come in. Passover is a holiday that has lasted on the top billboard list forever, not just because it is sweet and beautiful with a remarkable story, but because there is a deep obligation that compels us to do this work. And it can look different for each of us: sometimes this obligation can feel like a burden, and sometimes it can be the very thing that opens us.
We can take a lesson from the many greetings we use on Passover:
Zissen Pesach – Have a sweet Passover! (Yiddish)
Chag Aviv Sameach – Have a happy spring holiday! (Hebrew)
Chag Kasher Sameach – Have a happy and Kosher holiday! (Hebrew)
Moadim L’simcha – May your times be joyous (Hebrew, and said during Hol Hamoed – the days between the holidays)
I believe that these greetings mirror the exact goal of Passover. We must enjoy it for its sweetness, for the spring, for the obligation of kashrut, and for us to feel the possibility of deep joy from within. Finally, we ought to keep these sayings in balance, because if you are like me, and you focus on one of these lines too intensely, then we miss out on the depth that this holiday has in store for us.
Wishing all of us a Zissen Pesach, Chag Aviv Sameach, Chag Kasher Sameach and Moadim L’simcha– hoping that we all feel the joy of liberation in the way that we need.