breaking matzah

In my experience, Passover is a holiday that often fails to reach its potential to help us wake up to the power of transformation.   The form of the holiday is so overwhelming: the occasionally obsessive attention to food and cleaning; trying to find the right balance of keeping everyone engaged and interested at the seder; the joys and pressures of hosting and being hosted.

And yet, Passover offers an opportunity to explore transformation like no other holiday, not even the High Holidays.  The High Holy Days invite us inward, towards repentance.  Passover explicitly links our inner liberation with liberation in the greater world and does so in the context of love.

How so?

Passover first invites us into our actual experiences through the eating of the ritual foods, the karpas, matzah and maror.  For many of us, these foods are the only foods we eat mindfully all year!  The attention to sensation in the mouth (and sinuses, in the case of horseradish) brings us into this moment with full presence.  It invites us to investigate what is happening in the body now.

In addition to noticing the truth of our experience, the haggadah reminds us that in every generation we have the opportunity to see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt.  This can prompt us to pause and ask ourselves what transformation we are seeking in our personal lives.  There may be times at the seder itself that we experience constriction.  Perhaps it is around a strained relationship with someone at the table or connected to a religious or political struggle.  What would it look like to experience greater liberation in regards to that constriction?

Furthermore, the seder is filled with explicit and hidden references to redemption in the greater world, thereby linking personal liberation and liberation more generally.  For example, the story of the five rabbis discussing the exodus from Egypt all night until their students came to remind them to recite the morning prayers is actually a coded story.  According to some sources, the rabbis were so inspired by their reenacting of the Passover story that they planned a revolt against the oppressive Roman Empire, instructing their students to warn them with a cryptic phrase about the Shema if a Roman soldier happened to pass by. Our individual liberation is deeply linked to working for liberation in the world, towards welcoming in the spirit of Elijah and an era of greater justice and peace.

And perhaps most important of all, this whole story is framed in the springtime and the Song of Songs, the Bible’s sweet love poetry.  The imagery of blossoming and fragrance, beauty and intoxication, the playful hide and seek (and find!) of lovers in a spring time garden reminds us that even when the work of liberation is exhausting and discouraging, love is still available.  In fact, love is the foundation that allows the transformation to take place.

So in the midst of the cooking, cleaning, engaging, hosting and being hosted, may we all find a few moments to touch down into love, into mindfulness, and into the connection between personal and communal liberation so that we all may experience greater freedom and possibly even redemption.