Telling our Story
11 Nissan, 5772
April 3, 2012
"Why is it so dark?"
"In the beginning, it is always dark."
-Michael Ende, the NeverEnding Story
themselves emerged from Egypt" is challenging. We tell the story with passion, becoming more and more familiar with its textual and metaphoric messages year by year, but do we truly see it as autobiographical? Do we cringe and cry when we experience Maror's bitterness? Do we hold our breath with anticipation when we open the door for Elijah? If not, can it truly be said that this is our story?
How might we truly enter the story, and not have our deeper visions disturbed by the physical turning of a page? We might glean a lesson from the tremendously important book by Michael Ende, "The NeverEnding Story", in which Coreander, a great lover of books says to a younger reader:
"...this is book something special. ... Look, your books are safe. While you're reading them you get to become Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe, but afterwards you get to be a little boy again. Listen, have you ever been Captain Nemo, trapped inside your submarine while the giant squid was attacking you ? ... Weren't you afraid you couldn't escape? [The boy says, "But it's only a story," to which Coreander replies:] That's what I'm talking about. The ones you read are safe."
Perhaps feeling a bit less safe, a bit less secure, is a way in to the story. Perhaps allowing ourselves to become vulnerable in the telling of our own story, intentionally forgetting the "good ending" so that we can experience the narrative tension, would provide an inescapable experience, and would result in a gratitude only possible for an 'insider,' a character of a story. Hallel is a different experience when you've been personally released. (Consider what Pesach will mean for Gilad Shalit this year, for instance...)
Every Seder in my childhood memory includes my Sabbah z"l reciting one word: "LeSaper -- to tell." We reflect, within the flow of the Hagaddah, on the very act of telling our family's story. My grandfather might not have understood the Hebrew words, but he participated in the ritual with gusto. The last time I saw my Sabbah alive was Pesach 5761, and since then my personal Pesach story has evolved over and over but has never passed without noticing his absence. The egg yolk and salt water soup he once made into soup is now a cherished part of my own Seder ritual, and the flavor somehow reminds me of him.
I share this aspect of my personal Pesach story because, as I truly begin to get ready for Pesach in these days Pesach, a million tunes for Seder are playing in my mind. My mother singing Yehoram Ga'on's "Kadesh Urchatz", my father's voice chanting the special Pesach melody for Kiddush. I find myself smelling old smells, feeling like a child again, ready to enter (and unwilling to depart) the tapestry of combined images, tastes, and sounds. To become lost in multiple times. And during each complex time-blurred moment I look at the faces of my children and wish for nothing else than to be right where I am, right when I am.
But to get there, I have to let my guard down. In order to be truly grateful for when and where I am, I must swim through time and encounter the moments - both frightening and elevating - that got me here.
May this Pesach find us surprised by at least one new smell, one new sound, one word of purpose, a hint of a free, redeemed world. Who knows? Perhaps this is the year Elijah and Miriam will be waiting when we open the door. Let's do our best to sing that dream into reality.