Friday, February 28, 2020 -
Print Edition

On this different night

Seder night is a complex one.

We are accustomed to thinking primarily of freedom when recalling the night.

Yet, as we sit in a circle around the table, this different night from all other nights takes us on a complex and honest journey through Jewish history.

From slavery, 10 violent plagues and liberty, the miraculous splitting of the sea, an earth-shattering revelation at Sinai, the wise teachings of rabbis from temple times — to the bitter, tearful, experience of slavery, the anger and desire of wanting revenge on our enemies, and ultimately, how we have persevered and carried on as a people — we adhere to our tradition as survivors of the vicissitudes and the catastrophes.

“B’chol dor v’dor . . .” In every generation, we say, we must view and re-experience the exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt, as though we ourselves are going through this passage. And so we do. Every seder night is a passage experience. From slavery to freedom. From shame or criticism and onto praise — “mi-genai l’shevach.” We begin at one point and travel somewhere new, different.

Indeed, it is a transformative passage as we embrace a night that is strange, different, replete with contradictions.

And so the matzah we eat is a symbol of this passage. On the one hand it is the bread of affliction; on the other, it is symbolic of our hastiness, our rush to freedom, without enough time for even the simple staff of life, the simple daily bread that sustains us, to rise.

And so on this night we dip bitter spring herbs into salty water, like those bitter salty tears that trickled down the cheeks of our ancestors, yet we also recline like kings, free and majestic.

We re-enact, in order to re-experience, so many different emotions, a sense of true passage.

We invite all who are hungry to come and join us — “kol dichfin . . .”

We reach out, open the door to our home and hospitably invite friends and strangers inside. We pour four glasses of wine, symbolic of the hopes and redemptions we experience and seek to experience. Are you hungry? Not for food, but are you hungry in life? Now is the time, on this Passover, to feel it and follow it. Open the door to where and with whom you can nourish yourself.

Because on this different night, a door is opened. And it frames a moment when we are all huddled at the open door, touched by the quiet night air — by now it is long into the night as we are greeting Elijah the Prophet, harbinger of redemption. We honestly lash out, expressing our fear and anger, wanting to see G-d pour out His wrath on our enemies.

It is a night of conversation. A night of storytelling. More than anything else we tell and re-tell, talk and discover the story of who we are as a people, how we react to tragedy and challenges, how we cope with catastrophes. And who we are individually, as human beings, as well.

We also learn how it is that we close doors, when, where and why. Who we do and do not let in. Yes, by the end of the night, we open a door. Do we open it with hope, fear, anger? Do we open it with reluctance — or fling it open, easily and widely? Do we close a door by feeling defeat, constriction or anxiety? Or is a closing a relief, a self-respect? Or do we open the door with trust and confidence? With compassion and care?

On this different night we walk all the passages and cross all the thresholds.

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

Leave a Reply