Passover begins on Saturday. This year, after a year enduring the harsh realities of the Covid-19, Passover has new meaning for me. The innumerable restrictions on our freedoms feel a bit like enslavement under an evil pharaoh. In unison, we lament. We pray to be free.
Passover reminds us that new life is coming. A promised land is ahead. But we still have a way to go. We will undoubtedly roam a bit in the wilderness before finding our way home.
As one of the most important holidays of Jewish faith, Passover commemorates God’s saving grace.
It also coincides with the beginning of the barley season. As such, it shares a common theme with the Spring Equinox and Easter. All three holy days are rooted in renewal, regeneration, and resurrection. New life. New beginnings. And finding our way home.
In the hero’s journey, there are multiple tests and trials leading to one significant death. Slaying a dragon, a dark night of the soul, trapped in the belly of a whale, relinquishing ego identity, or enduring Covid-19 – all are an end to the previous life we’ve known. But once we’ve done this, we still have a way to go.
New life takes time to sprout and grow. Reborn after our metaphorical death, it takes a while to adjust to our new skin, our new way of being. We are still in darkness, squinting to see. We stumble, we crawl, we fall. We move hesitantly and then with confidence, only to trip and be tested again.
Forty years wandering in the desert after escaping Egypt was much like this. Nearly sixty years after the Civil Rights Act was passed is like this too.
The journey to new life, to a new way of being, doesn’t happen instantly.
We still have a long way to go.
We will never be home until we recognize that the home which we left is not the same to which we are returning.
We have changed. (Without change, there is no hero journey.) The promised home, the home where we are headed, is new.
Even if you are not Jewish, I encourage you to pause on Saturday and meditate on what Passover means. For you. For you this year.
How have you been spared during this plague?
What is your promised land? The new future to which you are moving?
What is your covenant? The gift to which you commit in your new life ahead?
What ritual(s) will you practice to remember?
Rituals and remembering are powerful. They help us find meaning. They connect us to the past and provide a path to the future.
I was not raised Jewish. There is a good possibility that my mother’s family, two generations before her, were Jews, but I cannot claim this identity. Still, Passover is meaningful for me. And perhaps, this year especially, it may mean something for you too.
On Saturday evening, I will celebrate alone, just as I have spent most of this year alone.
If you feel inclined to recognize this holy day, here are my humble suggestions, completely unorthodox yet rooted in the spirit of this ancient story.
Clean your home. Really clean it. Spring clean it if you can. At the very least, clean it for guests (even if you are alone).
Set your dining table with your best china. A place for yourself and with a place that remains empty. The empty place is for the people who cannot join you. It reminds us both in justice and during Covid, none of us is free until we all are free.
Wash your hands before sitting down. Twenty seconds at least. Say a blessing. May the washing of your hands symbolize the cleansing away of all that is not healthy and purify your intentions and deeds.
Light a candle or two and say a prayer of blessing and gratitude.
Now remember your story. Your story is important. Then consider how your story connects you to the stories of all people everywhere.
Eat something bitter to remind you of the hardships you have endured.
Eat something fresh and green in celebration of Spring.
Dip the fresh green into saltwater to remember the tears you have shed.
Crush some fruit and nuts with mortar and pestle, if you have one. If not, with a knife, a fork, and a spoon. Anything will do. Almonds, pecans, cashews. Dates, apples, bananas. Add in some cinnamon and a little juice. Make a paste. This is the mortar of your life. It is the hard work necessary to make the bricks stick. The bricks with which we build a new path and create a new home.
Eat an egg to remember new life is beginning.
Eat matzah or saltines or any flat crackers. There is no time to bake bread, no time for yeast to rise. Crackers are all you will need on the journey ahead. They will sustain you. God will provide the rest.
Drink red juice or wine to remember the blood that has been shed.
Lift your glass and be happy. Call your friends and family. Celebrate the moment. Celebrate freedom. Remember those that have passed and give thanks for being passed over. Sing and laugh. Commit yourself to what lies ahead. The journey is not over.
This is not a traditional seder by any means and I hope my Jewish friends will forgive me. But this is a ritual of remembering.
Ritual is intention. Ritual marks the present by remembering the past. Ritual tells a story.
This year is a story worth telling. May this Passover be the beginning of finding our way home.