Finding Joy In Passover

Most of us spend our Passover energy worrying about getting our home ready and eating right so that our Pesach is pesadikah – kosher for Passover. But that shouldn’t be our entire focus. Like all rituals, the hope is that they lead us somewhere. The vast majority of Jewish people, whether they affiliate with a congregation or not, whether they do anything Jewish the rest of the year or not, participate in a Passover Seder annually.

And I am sure you do too. So I am not too worried about whether your Passover will be pesadikah. No doubt you have your own family customs and you will eat what feels right to you. There is an abundance of information available if you need it.

The 19th-century Chassidic sage, Rabbi Yechezkel of Kuzamir, was troubled by the greetings we use on Purim and Passover. The traditional greetings are that your Purim be freilich and joyful and that your Passover be kosher. He feared that on Purim we tend to be so frivolous that we ignore the need to act in a kosher and proper manner, but that on Passover we tend to be so strict that we lose sight of the need for joy.

Passover is about remembering our foundational story and making sure that our kids know the details so they can grow up and teach their own children. It must be freilich and joyful or we’ll lose the kids’ attention…let alone the adults…and the whole thing will be for naught. In fact, we are supposed to be silly. It is the silliness that leads our children to ask their questions. Those of us whose families descend from the Ashkenazi tradition can take a page from the Sephardic tradition who have built fun symbols into their seders, such as holding the seder plate on each other’s heads like a crown or playfully whipping the person next to you with a scallion to recall being a slave in Egypt.

We need the children to ask those questions of “why” so that we adults can also be drawn into reconsidering this chag and what we should take away from the experience.  

Pesach is about the past and how our past makes demands on our future. We have to remember that our ancestors were slaves in Egypt and were liberated so that we can truly appreciate our own freedoms and be liberated in our own right. We are to feel as if we ourselves experienced that oppression and were freed from it with great miracles and faith. And that should lead us to action in the year ahead. What will you do in the coming year to honor our freedom from Egypt?

Whether you believe that the Israelites were truly slaves in Egypt or not…whether you can picture yourself subjected to the harsh reality of forced labor under Pharaoh or not … everyone has an Egypt from which they that need liberation. Egypt is a dark and narrow place … a place where we cannot be whole. Passover is a time to remind ourselves that we can be made whole again … and in so becoming … we need to make others whole. A Jew cannot recline comfortably when others suffer. We sit down at our Seder tables to remember dark places and we rise up ready to bring liberation to those who need it.

We were freed. We were delivered. We were redeemed. We are God’s people. May it be a freilich Pesach. May our seders be fun and full of laughter and questioning and inspiration. May “Next year in Jerusalem” not only be an expression of hope that we might find ourselves physically in Jerusalem, but may it also mean that we become “shalem” in the year to come, may we overcome all our Egypts and be “shalem (whole and complete).”

Rabbi David Locketz is the senior rabbi at Bet Shalom Congregation