I always get caught up in the details of Pesach. The recipes, the matzah balls, the groceries, the cooking, the haggadah, the psalms, the songs. I always want to create a perfectly meaningful seder: for myself, for my family, for my guests. I love this holiday so fiercely that I want to share that love with everyone. I want everyone to come away from the table feeling nourished in all four worlds of body, heart, mind, and soul. I want to experience the spiritual peak of being magically swept up to the top of the mountain with God at Pesach -- so that as I begin the long climb back up to the spiritual heights of Shavuot, I'm inspired and enlivened by knowing just what joys await me once I get there again.
In my haggadah there is a poem by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, who is now a friend and colleague but who was known to me only by reputation when I first discovered her work many years ago. That poem speaks of the process of bedikat chametz, removing the leaven from our homes on the eve of Pesach. (Here's a short ritual for bedikat chametz, which also includes that poem: BedikatChametz.pdf) After we read that poem, at my seder, we sometimes go around the table and share an emotional or internal hametz which we want to relinquish as Pesach begins. Often, what I need to relinquish is my fantasy of the perfect seder -- my fantasy that I can create an experience which will sweep everyone up into ecstasy, which will wholly connect all who are present with our ancestors and our community and our God.
This yearning for seder perfection, bumping up against the inevitable realities of the world's natural imperfection, is something I've wrestled with for years. And it is, if anything, even more true now that we are parents. I want to create the perfect seder -- and I know the odds are good that at some point during the evening, our three-year-old will have an entirely age-appropriate tantrum because his usual routines are disrupted, or because we won't let him watch cartoons during the seder, or because he's overstimulated and up too late. I want to create the perfect seder -- and I know that there is no such thing; that the childhood seders I've enshrined in memory weren't perfect; that even if I could fill my table with scholars and sages who love the tradition even more than I do, the seder wouldn't achieve perfection.
Far better to learn to find the perfection in what is, instead of wishing for a kind of perfection we can never attain. The seder isn't just about doing, although there are certainly a lot of things to do in order for the evening to be complete. (The fifteen steps from kadesh to nirtzah, the songs and prayers and psalms, the food rituals of hardboiled egg and matzah ball soup...) The seder is also about being. It's a chance to experience being free. To be in the moment, to be with friends and family, to be blessed by the light of the full moon of Nisan in 5773 which will never shine again after this night. It's a chance to be joyful even when the glass breaks, or the kugel burns, or the children don't pay attention. After all the flurry of work and preparations -- cleaning, cooking, studying, readying -- it's a chance to just be.
Chag Pesach sameach to one and all. May this holiday be whatever you need it to be.
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