I wrote questions on 3×5 cards, one for each person, and positioned them at each place setting. A way to deepen our understanding of this story we tell every year, a way to make it personal, to connect to our tradition here and now.
The beauty of the Passover Seder is its focus on the questions. It’s not about having all the answers; it’s about having the strength to ask. Caring enough to want to know.
Last night, my parents, my sister’s family, and our lovely family of six, gathered around our dining room table. All the seder plates held the roasted egg, the shank bone, pieces of celery and cucumber, leaves of romaine, the strong-smelling horseradish and the sweet combination of apples and nuts and wine that we call charoset.
Every year, we dig out the stack of books called Haggadahs, and set our tables to retell the story of my people’s liberation from freedom. And every year, we are supposed to tell the story as if we ourselves left Egypt.
We are asked to imagine what slavery means to us today, how we are enslaved, how we are free.
Can we connect with the tradition? Isn’t that the ultimate question?
As the seasons cycle in and out, we go through the familiar observances, the rote traditions put upon us by virtue of our birth and lineage. But do we really access their meaning?
Last night, I was so delighted that we did. The questions on the cards m
ade it fun. All the kids across the table made the little green plastic frogs jump from one side to the next.
We sang songs, led by my lovely eldest son, and we thanked God, over and over again, for the virtue of our freedom.
What does it mean to be free, really? As Americans we live each day with this distant knowledge that we live in a free society, but by virtue of our class, we either truly have freedom or we are still enslaved by the system.
The freedom that I cherish is the freedom to direct my time. When I can choose what to do right this moment, then I am free.
We look at vacation as the only time we are truly free – free from the obligation to rise at a certain time and pack children off to school before the bell.
Free to eat breakfast leisurely, to walk on the beach, to actually notice the sound of the wind and the color of the sky from sunrise through its progressions of day.
That freedom comes only occasionally. The other kind of freedom, freedom of spirit, comes when we embrace who we are.
Some people do the Passover Seder because they are supposed to. Because, as good Jews, we continue the tradition of our grandparents, and set the table, and eat only matzah, and sing Dayenu, not really meaning that it would have been enough for God to do only a few of the miracles in the Exodus story.
In recent years, only recently, I have embraced the Passover Seder anew. It is my chance to impart to my children why I love being Jewish, what it means to me, and hope for a minute that they will grow up to feel the same.
We are born into tradition, but we do have the choice to continue to accept it or to move on and find our own. Most people do what they’ve always done; it’s the easiest way.
It’s not my way, though. I’ve traveled the spectrum of Jewish observance and come to the conclusion that I don’t need to fit in anyone else’s definition of observance.
An identity is a personal thing, and it’s mine to own as I see fit. I am Jewish, in all its complexities, and I choose to be Jewish each and every day. With each observance, with each prayer, whether I go to synagogue on a Saturday morning, or choose a yoga class – both can be true to my tradition.
Freedom, for me, is the power to live this life in the most meaningful way possible to me – not because someone else wags a finger or shakes their head, but because I know in my soul that I am doing right for me, and my soul sings with the arc of the morning birds, flying free toward the clouds.
Last night, my husband read a new understanding into the 4 sons – the wicked one, in particular. His Haggadah pointed out that the wickedness of this particular child came from his asking questions. The others were compliant, and thus, the rabbis in those interpretations saw them as “good.”
Is it wicked to ask questions? Or is it, as I believe, our obligation – as Jews, as people. Be the asker. Then seek the answer.