Pondering Pesach

Passover is a time traveler’s holiday. We skip over the surface of memory, constantly bouncing into the future, then back to the past, then into the present, over and over again. Our Passover journey through the spacetime continuum is a group venture, fellow explorers floating around a table.

And yet, the seder is also a profoundly personal pilgrimage. Each one of us has intimate recollections that push us back and forth through time. The same rituals that bind us together engage each one of us at the very core of our souls. That engagement, or lack thereof, determines the meaning of this experience.

This realization may be at the core of the harsh response to the wicked child, as described in the Haggadah. This child expresses a disconnect from the experience. They’re not interested in exploring it from their soul. They say, “What does this holiday, this journey through time and space, mean to you?” rather than acknowledging that it belongs to them, too. If you don’t immerse yourself in the happening and won’t own it, it’s all for naught. It’s not that the wicked child would be left behind in exile. Instead, it’s the wicked child’s decision. It’s not abandonment. To travel this path requires actual agency.

Over the course of two seders, I was with my parents and siblings on Highview Terrace in Middletown. I was there for the “let’s eat right after the Four Questions” moments. I was in Jerusalem in 1973 at a Yemenite seder, seeing rice on the table and freaking out. I journeyed to Pittsburgh, where I had at least one seder in my grandmother’s apartment – stifling hot, crowded, and noisy. I was in my own home, looking around the table, missing those who used to join us and are no longer present in body but certainly in spirit. I was astral projecting to see my grandchildren in their teens and twenties. I even saw the table without me. It wasn’t morbid – it’s just a part of Passover.

The Passover story is about transformation and change, about an ongoing struggle to wend our way around and through obstacles and impediments to find our true self and calling. It’s about how we, as Jews, have sought to make meaning through ritual and communal celebration. Most of all, Passover is an ongoing gift of memory. It is a reminder that time is the ocean in which we swim, following the waves as they ebb and flow, carrying us out to see and back to the shore over and over again.

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