Don’t be too quick to pack away your Pesach belongings and experiences.
by Rabbi Daniel Kraus
Weeks of cleaning and preparation, anguish and anxiety, stress and agita, have finally come to an end. For many families, the appearance of three stars, the onset of evening according to Jewish law, brings with it a tremendous sense of relief – Passover is over! The fridge liners, the foil-lined oven, the covered countertops can all go. Bring out the stepladder – the ugly and eclectic dishes can all return to their storage cupboard for happily yet another year. Passover is over! Many have the custom of choosing (and salivating!) over their first Chametz filled bite – a freshly baked bagel or donut, or an ice-cold beer. For many, the urge to return to a carbohydrate-filled diet of pizza, pasta and bread cannot come quickly enough.
In a New York Times article last year (The Family Story that Binds Us – This life, March 2013) Dr. Marshall Duke of Emory University suggested that “the single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” He shared that children who exhibit the most self-confidence are those who exhibit a strong “intergenerational self – they know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”
Recall for a moment that feeling we’ve all had after returning from a fantastic family vacation. Whether it was fun in the sun or an adventurous holiday with our loved ones, the one thing we want when we return home is to hold onto those feelings we felt on vacation. We enjoyed a work-free, hassle-free experience, we had the chance to reconnect with and rekindle sparks with our loved ones and catch up on much needed sleep and reading. Passover was the perfect oasis amid the usual hectic-filled over-connected lives. We would do anything to keep those feelings alive as we return to our ‘normal’ lives. Yet when it Passover ends, we race to undo the physical Passover around us – return the kitchen to its ‘normal’ state, store the Passover supplies again and restock the home with leavened goods. All too often, the physical conversion of our homes also represents a spiritual turnaround and change as well. We need to cure this post Passover syndrome.
For many, the Passover Seder experience represents an annual family reunion. Family in Jewish life is the engine of Jewish continuity. The Passover Seder, our most ripe teaching moment, does not take place in the school room or study hall. To teach and discuss the story of our Exodus from Egypt, the defining moment of our national identity, we sit at the dining room table, surrounded by family and friends, unique foods raising our four cups of salvation. To relive this watershed moment in our national history, we don’t flock to the Synagogue, we celebrate at home.
At our Seder tables just two weeks ago, we joyfully sang the Ma Nishtanah, “What makes this night different from all other nights?” For those of us who are blessed to be parents, perhaps our children were asking us the following. “Mom and Dad; why only on this night do you care so much about what I learn at school, teach me about my familiar history and heritage and elucidate for me how to lead a more enriching life? Why only on this night do you mentor me about personal and collective destiny and share with me about how I am vital piece in the story of humankind?” “Please, can we do this every night!?”
We put so much effort into making sure our Seder experiences touch the hearts and souls of our children. The content is catered towards them. We created games, bought silly props, sang funny mnemonics and songs because we want them to remember. Why? Because it’s important to us.
Thank God we have Passover. We sit together, united with our families, creating memories. These memories are created in the comforts of our homes. Don’t be too quick to pack away your Pesach belongings and experiences. Take from them, draw on them and remember them as we re-enter our Chametz filled lives. I for one, want to ensure these memories are not only forever etched in the minds of my children, but reinforced daily as I try and connect the beauty of our tradition to my daily life.
Daniel Kraus is a Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York where he serves as the Director of Community Education. He can be followed at @rabbidkraus