“Thirty days prior to Passover, the laws of the festival are reviewed and studied.” Thus the Halachik (Jewish legal) tradition enjoins us to prepare for the proper observance of the Passover holiday, given the multiplicity and complexity of procedures, practices and laws that constitute the Passover celebration.
Yesterday I met with my Tuesday morning “Bible and Bagel” class. The title is somewhat of a misnomer for two reasons. With the exception of one or two sessions, cookies accompanied our coffee, not bagels. Two, with the exception of our beginning few meetings, out topic of discussion took us far a field from a Biblical focus.
As we gathered around the library table, students were brimming not with biblical concerns but with deeply felt and experienced dilemmas of how to be meaningfully Jewish in today’s rapidly changing and confusing world.
The question posed yesterday was intimately connected with the struggle of families to maintain “Shalom Bayit”-peace and harmony in the home, when differences of Jewish opinion and practice prevail under one roof. It became evident to me that the group, on anticipation of the approaching holiday of Passover, felt emotionally compelled to consider this challenge. Soon the family would be sitting around the Seder table. Would there be warmth and harmony, expressions of love and gratefulness for the reunion of loved ones, or would our Seder tables be tarnished with simmering antagonisms and unresolved tensions?
How does one arrive at compassionate compromise while remaining loyal to one’s commitments? The spiritual task of Passover entails more than the telling of a narrative, the precise amount of wine drunk from the four cups or the meticulous measurement of Matzah by which to fulfill the mitzvah! Do we lose sight of the praise=the words of Hallel- that should not only emerge from our mouths but should arise from our hearts as well? When we exuberantly sing out the refrain of “Dayeinu, “ do we pay sufficient attention to the melody’s spiritual meaning, its message of being grateful for God’s endless gifts of goodness? Are we in fact grateful for those seated around our tables or do feelings of past hurts and misunderstandings stubbornly get in the way of gratefulness?
This discussion summoned the wisdom not only of the rabbi, but of each member of the study group whose life’s experience and struggles endowed them with the wisdom of life.
We shared our understanding, our sensitivities, our hopes and our personal wounds.
Were there specific, how-to answers? Perhaps not. Instead we allowed ourselves to openly listen and share, searching for ways to make the coming Passover one of greater meaning and spiritual significance.
As the problem of differences between husband and wives regarding Judaism and how Jewish identity would be transmitted to their children, if at all, was bandied about, I thought of a passage read from the Haftarah on Shabbat Hagadol, The Great Sabbath, the Sabbath immediately before Passover: “ I will send the prophet Elijah to you…he shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents…”(Malachi 3:23-24).
At the conclusion of our class, one woman whispered to me: ”Perhaps we should change the name of this class and call it “Jewish Therapy!” “
Perhaps, I thought. Not only prior to Pesach-Perhaps that’s what the synagogue is all about-a place to help Jews find gratefulness to God, to their loved ones and to their community and in this spirit arrive at the harmony, the “shalom bayit,” we so deeply desire.
A sweet and grateful Passover.