Apr 22, 2011

Post-Seder Questions

Post-Seder Questions
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Every learning and ritual moment we share evokes something greater than the self, a connection to our own past, the past of our People, the hopes of the world.

The power of ritual to evoke memory, to bring the 'I' into a 'we' sensation, is profoundly cosmic.  One moment I'm running upstairs to put on my kittle and get the Seder started as quickly as possible, the next I'm returning downstairs with a feeling of mystery, of resembling my father at my childhood Seders, of recognizing that one day I'll be buried in this garment.  In one moment I am filled with hope that my child will ask about this garment and dread at the fulfillment of that very hope.

The Seder table is an altar, filled with symbols at once strange and familiar.  Miriam and Elijah suddenly co-exist, a relic of animal sacrifice nudges a very modern orange. Shmura matza, carefully packaged in styrofoam, skirts the orbit of a soy-based baby formula, itself a test of Pesach-kashrut boundaries.  Where are the lines drawn?  Seder is a child-centered moment, and yet we begin when it's already dark.  Adults struggle to evoke questions instead of answering them.  We wonder if we are as wise as our children as we grapple with our own abilities to ask holy questions.

Do we see children as separate from ourselves, granting them the right to stand out or blend in - as they choose?  Can we sing with purity?  With pride?  What is different about this night?  Are we the same when the Seder is complete?  (And is completion a holy goal?)  

JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen writes that ritual is 'the means through which the "Jew within" steps outside the self (The Jew Within, p. 9)."  But do we consciously do this?  Are we prepared to be other-than-self for any duration?  Do we knowingly enter new roles that our parents and grandparents once did (or did not)?  Or must it be an unconscious process we only discover in retrospect?  Can the revealed-ness of the Afikomen be enacted through our claiming our places in the stream of Jewish destiny?

Is the Seder a performance, or is it an immersive ritual - or is it both?  "The problem," as Rabbi Daniel Greyber quotes the great Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel z"l as having said, "is whether we obey or whether we merely play with the word of God (Shefa Journal 5766, p. 52)."  Are we empowered to do both?

Can we open our doors to a day when God will be a source of Love and not wrath?  Do we say "Next Year in Jerusalem" with yearning?  Are we willing to see ourselves as both having emerged from and subjected to the constricting pain of Egypt?  Do we permit ourselves discomfort?  Is birth something we're willing to re-experience Are we willing to give of our souls, of our means, to build a sacred home our ancestors never dreamed possible?  Can meaningful renewal occur any other way?

Can we continue asking these questions the day after Seder?