Familiar sounds of Passover
Heron among the flowers near Kibbutz Be’eri, in southern Israel. (photo by Aliza Reshef via PikiWiki)
There is something about Passover that speaks to almost every Jew. In 1840, in a book titled Der Rabbi von Bacharach, Heinrich Heine wrote: “Jews who have long drifted from the faith of their fathers are stirred in their inmost parts when the old, familiar Passover sounds chance to fall upon their ears.”
Although my family was not Orthodox, we always held a seder in Australia, and the singing after reading the Haggadah (and eating lots of knaidel and drinking the cups of wine) was very spirited. As a child, I loved the lively “Dayeinu” and the last song, “Chad Gadya,” which we sang in English, “Only one kid, only one kid which my father bought for two zuzim….” The words seemed very funny to me, until the mood suddenly changed at the end – when we began to sing about the Angel of Death, I remember my mother’s eyes used to fill with tears.
Many years later, when I became observant and began practising mitzvot that, at first, were strange and unfamiliar to me, the seder was like coming home. No one had to explain it to me, or tell me what to do. Etched into my consciousness were the memories of the seder table … the three matzot arranged between the folds of a white cloth so that no two were touching; the dish of parsley with the bowl of salt water; the bitter herbs, the shank bone and the roasted egg.
I remember helping to make the charoset, a delicious mixture of apples and almonds moistened with wine. Passover is so rich in ritual and, that is, after all, the Jews’ survival system.
Without the seder, there’d be no reason for the family to come together at this time. Not every family is religious but, at Pesach, most are traditional. There is a special feeling about the snowy tablecloth with new dishes, the big cup of wine for Elijah, the opening of the door for the prophet to come in, and sweet children’s voices chanting “Mah Nishtanah,” like it’s a favourite pop song. “Memories are made of this”!
In Israel, Passover is a spring festival. After the cold, rainy winter, the air becomes a warm caress. The almond flaunts its white blossom and all the trees are bedecked with new green lace. Cyclamens and wild violets peep shyly from crevices in the rocks, while purple irises and scarlet poppies dot the fields. The cereal harvest season has begun.
However, Pesach is more than a link in the agricultural cycle of
Israel. Its true significance is historical, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and our release from slavery. The matzah symbolizes the unleavened bread, which did not have time to rise in our hasty flight from Egypt.
The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, the root of which is tzur, meaning narrow or constrained. To say that we must leave Egypt is to say that each of us must struggle to break out of our own narrowness to obtain our full potential – spiritually, emotionally, psychologically.
The main lesson of Passover is freedom. At Passover, we celebrate it on three levels: seasonally, as we mark the release of the earth from the grip of winter; historically, as we commemorate the Exodus; and, on a broader human plane, our emergence from bondage.
In Judaism, events transcend the moments of their happening – they are part of a continuous process that involves not just a single generation, but all who went before and all who follow after. The cycle of the Jewish year is also the cycle of our survival.
May the old, familiar sounds of Passover be woven into the consciousness of you and your family. And may you truly consider the possibility when you conclude your celebration with the words: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Dvora Waysman is a Jerusalem-based author. She has written 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, which was made into a movie, and her latest novella, Searching for Sarah. She can be contacted at [email protected] or through her blog dvorawaysman.com.