Passover: The Bitter and the Sweet and Moving Forward!

Passover Table 2, by April Killingsworth, from under Creative Commons 2.0 license.
Passover Table 2, by April Killingsworth, from under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

            This is a highly personal season, this Passover week. The readings in the Hagaddah, the Torah, and Haftara portions, I suggest, lend themselves to a sense of the transcendent and the possibility of transition and transformation. This is, after all, the festival that focuses on the major metaphor in Judaism, that of the Wilderness and, obviously, it is our own personal journey that is really being discussed. Alvin Fine’s beautiful poem/prayer of “Birth is a beginning and death a destination” reminds us that our challenge is to make the journey a “sacred pilgrimage”. This year, maybe more so than many previous years, that image is very meaningful.

            It seems that so much in our lives is in transition. From the political to the personal, change is all around, and much of the change is challenging. We are also changing, as we get older, we are becoming more and more aware of the changes, subtle and not so subtle, that we are undergoing. As such, we become more aware of the need to focus on the moments of meaning that we encounter. We remember the losses we have endured, and we are called on to celebrate the joys we share. Those real-life experiences are symbolized at the seder. The marror is really the symbolism of the bitterness of loss and disappointments that we have endured. The charoseth, with its sweetness symbolizes the joys we have in life, the experiences and relationships that are sweet. Each has its place. And then, we combine them in that famous “Hillel sandwich” that literally symbolizes what life is about, a mixture of the bitter and the sweet.

            Let me also suggest that this week also allows us to look at aspects of loss. After all, we conclude the festival with Yizkor, as we remember those and that which has been lost. No doubt many of you at your celebration noticed those who have been at the table but are no longer there. The Wilderness is also about loss and growth. The imagery of movement from slavery to liberation is really about each of us. It is about moving or letting go of the thoughts, relationships, ideas and the like that have “enslaved us” and having the courage to seek our own personal liberation. In her book “Necessary Losses”, Judith Viorst channels this festival when she wrote: “We will mourn the loss of others. But we are also going to mourn the loss of our selves—of earlier definition that our images of self depend upon.  For the changes in our body redefine us. The events of our personal history redefine us. The ways that others perceive us redefine us. And at several points in our life we will have to relinquish a former self-image and move on.” (p.265)

            This is a week that challenges us to move on. It is a festival of transition and, maybe, transformation. Once again, the choice is ours to make. Have a sweet, healthy, and joyful Passover.


Rabbi Richard F Address

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