my first baal teshuva pesach

At 25 years of age I have had my first Pesach. The real thing…foil and all. For the first time, after having celebrated Pesach every year since I was born, I have felt the power of Pesach. With the 2 seders past it feels like it’s nearly over and I haven’t had enough.

I wonder about the people who complain and find Pesach so hard and so torturous. Are they the same people who simply read the Haggadah and don’t look for meaning? Are they the same people who expect the Matzo to taste like fluffy sweet challa? The idea seems preposterous to me. Matzo is meant to taste like cardboard – that’s why it is matzo, the bread of affliction. That is what gives meaning to our Pesach in order for us to be prompted and ask the right questions. What are the right questions? I guess they’re different for everyone. Everyone’s curiosity is sparked in different ways, and maybe that is why there is such diversity in our seder ritual and the Haggadah itself. No matter what it is that triggers questions, it seems difficult in my mind for no questions to be triggered. You really have to try to make the seder dry. People are curious by nature and what better way than having so many seemingly odd things to read, eat, drink and do. Once again, the sages who designed seder night seem to be a lot wiser than we give them credit for. They knew the human psyche better than any psychologist or psychiatrist ever could.

Pesach can be made into a mundane and arduous task or it can bring meaning into the whole year ahead. The choice is ours. And for those who find making all the cleaning, cooking, organising and preparing difficult, there are so many options and so many sources out there ready to give help and advice. All you have to do is reach out. I’m lucky enough, with my G-d given nature, to be able to plan and organise well in advance. For me Pesach is a display of my organisation skills and having had my first real Pesach experience I am very thankful to Hashem for giving me these skills. As our Rabbi has said, the real education we give our kids and those around us is by making Pesach as fun as possible. If kids see stressed out parents, kids don’t want to do Pesach and they really won’t like matzo. On the other hand, Pesach can be so much fun. You can teach kids (and husbands) to love the whole process. When it comes down to it – you are making your whole place ready to experience true freedom and the humility of Pesach. It’s the time to bring out your most beautiful crockery and cutlery, tablecloths and delicacies. It also teaches everyone (including ourselves) that to really understand and enjoy you must first put in the hard yards. And yes, schlepping and mopping and cooking so much is hard. But, if you’re a half cup full kind of person the hard turns into love – a reality you can create and pass on to those around you.

At the second seder we had at home with my family I decided to read my grandmother’s memoir. In it she writes about Pesach and how they did all the preparations back in the shtetl days before the war. The efforts they had to go to were much greater than anything we do now and yet they loved it. The whole process brought simcha and my grandmother recalled it with absolute joy. As she writes in the book, the back-breaking work of making the matzo was done with the women singing and laughing as they rolled the dough. To me this is the meaning of Pesach. Freedom is a state of mind. We can have all the food bought from shops and the house cleaned by others and even use plastics so we don’t have to clean up, but all that can be too hard for some. That difficulty has no relation to the work itself for when work is meaningful, no matter how difficult it is, it will bring simcha. Real simcha. Not the type you buy. I think back to the shtetl days and the hardships they faced with growing the food, having enough money to buy kosher meat, making the matzo, etc, etc, and I feel so blessed that in our days we have it so easy. All we are responsible for now is to inject the meaning, feel the freedom, and acknowledge how lucky we are to have all the resources at our hands in order to concentrate on our minds.

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