I used to love Passover. The politics of freedom, the story of courage and redemption, the miracle of the Red Sea and the great songs — all wonderful. We had nursery school matzoh covers that the kids had made, lots of stories and family and friends around and a general great time. Once each year. And then the holiday was over. There was no preparation beyond the cooking.
But that was then.
Now that we are living our kosher, observant life, things are pretty different. And exhausting. In the first place, the holiday is two days long at each end with, I think, five days in between. This year, it started Saturday night at sundown, with the first Seder (the word means "order" and it’s a ritual meal telling the Passover story). There are services Sunday then many people have company for lunch. We went home to crash because that night there is a second Seder! This year, since Friday night is the beginning of the Sabbath, that means that from Friday night until Monday night we couldn’t use computers, read email, drive, turn lights on and off etc. There are reasons for it; honoring the commandment to celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people is a wonderful privilege. It’s just so much work!
If you’re Orthodox you have to clean the house (well, we’d probably do a spring cleaning anyway) to get rid of any crumbs or other chometz (bread-related stuff). The toaster has to go (crumbs = chometz). The coffee machine has to go (to be replaced by one that has used Kosher for Passover coffee only.) You have to swap out all your dishes and pots. I’m having artichokes on one of the meals I’m serving and just realized I have no ramekins to put the dip stuff into because they are used the rest of the year. Gonna have to figure that one out…. And I haven’t even told you about all the food that’s not legit and how you need special spices labeled Kosher for Passover and they don’t make Passover curry powder or tarragon or even decent mustard.
Anyway it’s a pain. I began this post in a snit but now it’s three days later, the first days are over, everything is done and I feel better. The last thing, the hanging pot rack, is covered by a sheet (so scenic – here it is.) Here’s why: all the non-Passover stuff has to either be isolated or out of the room. It’s really tough, and heavy, to take all my fancy Calphalon pots off the racks and down to the basement so this is the solution I’ve come up with. The other stuff not in the basement is in cabinets that are taped shut . The remaining kitchen storage is jammed with Passover-ready tools and foods. What’s not in there is piled on the counters because there’s no place else to put it.
I’m in a real work mode so it’s been doubly tough to pay respectful, thorough attention to this this year — only our second living in a kosher home as observant Jews. But it’s done. And now, I’ve just been struggling to get past the prep anxiety that was waking me up at night and into the holiday itself. OH and not end up obsessing about where we’re invited for lunch and who’s coming to our house and….
Even so, I can still summon the thrill of remembering the remarkable past and recovery the Jewish people experienced – leaving Egypt and so many times since. (if you don’t count that pesky Golden Calf thing.) And remember that it’s our tradition to honor freedom and tell the story every year – like Camelot.
Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Even more than Arthur’s though, our story is informed with a moral depth that can be obscured by all this crazy kitchen-cleaning. Think of the Ten Commandments – the second time they appear.
“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord
your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your
daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or
your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within
your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as
well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.*
That’s how it gets me. At each Seder, Saturday and Sunday nights, we read the story of the abuses against the Jews and the miraculous escape – and are reminded that, as we deal with others, we must never forget that we once were slaves too – particularly in our dealings with those who work for or serve us. Beyond that, concern for others informs the entire service. This appears near the beginning:
This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land
of Egypt. Let all who are hungry, come and eat. Let all who are needy,
come and partake of the Pascal lamb. Now we are here; next year may we
be in the Land of Israel. Now we are slaves; next year may we be free
men. You could, of course, complain about the "free men" phrase but that was thousands of years ago, and the sentiment, in my view, transcends gender.
So there you have it. It is an honor to live with such values and messages even though, my friends tell me, the aggravation arrives every year, with the Seder. Like so many parts of this still-new life we are living, there’s much asked of us, not only spiritually but also logistically. But, like so many parts of this still-new life we are living, what emerges amid the crankiness is a sense of pride, and meaning, and peace.
*Thanks to my friend Aliza for this insight – she is a true thinker and teacher.