Bitter herbs as in horseradish root, and the way that nibbling its slices can make the sinuses and the back of the throat burn.
Bitter herbs, maror, which we eat on matzah -- combining the taste of slavery with the humble traveling-bread of our freedom.
Bitter like the hardships of slavery. Bitter enough that we cried out from the depths of our hearts, and those cries aroused divine mercy for us.
Bitter like fears of loss, like fears of rejection. Bitter like the fear that I could've done more, should've done more, and didn't, and now I can't. Bitter because sometimes it's too late to change the story we've already written.
Bitter because even in our moments of greatest joy, somewhere in the world there is sorrow. Sometimes in our moments of joy there's sorrow in our midst, too. It's a bitter pill to swallow, remembering that even at seder, some of us, somewhere, are grieving.
Bitterness is part of the journey. But thank God, it's not the whole journey. May there always be sweetness to balance the bitter. May the maror in our lives be startling but not painful. May it be bitter like arugula, like dark leafy greens, like bitter melon. Noticeable, but never the only flavor.
The taste of maror can wake us up. It's the springtime analogue to the sound of the shofar which awakens our souls as Rosh Hashanah approaches. Sleepers, awake, wake from your slumber! The time of our freedom is at hand. Take stock of who you are, prepare yourself for change and for rebirth.
When we leave the constriction of this Narrow Place, when we enter the wide-open spaciousness of freedom, we'll move to a diet of manna and gratitude. But we'll keep the hint of bitter in our story, in our seder, in our remembrance. Like the bitters in a cocktail, bringing life's sweetness into fuller form.