April 4, 2010
Here are some thoughts I wanted to share at this time of year when we reflect upon the spiritual transformation and rebirth signified by the holidays of Pesach and Easter. As some of you know, I’m a student of the Torah. The Passover Seder is an important occasion in our family. I find it incredibly weird and cool to have a ritual centered on a meal, using the food as symbolic props to re-enact an ancient story. It blows my mind that Jews have been doing this yearly for more than three thousand years.
There are countless versions of the Haggadah, a text quilted together from the Book of Exodus and commentaries, embroidered with threads drawn from the diverse cultural roots of Judaism. The Four Questions, traditionally asked by the youngest child, borrow the structure of Greek Socratic dialog (thought Xena would like that!). My own dialogs with the insightful rabbi with whom I’ve been studying have led to my own Four Questions, which I thought might be interesting to put forward here. Maybe you’ll see the connection to the Meaning of Adam Lambert.
What does Egypt signify?
Egypt represents slavery, of course, but of what kind? Archeologists have failed to find evidence that Jews were ever enslaved in ancient Egypt. So perhaps the literal truth of the slavery story is irrelevant to the meaning of Passover. If this story is not about physical emancipation from slavery, what is it about? In the Torah, Egypt is called Mizraim, which means “the narrow place.” Narrow place. A place where the spirit is confined. In what ways do we all live in Egypt today?
What is the bread of affliction?
The Haggadah states: “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Mizraim.” Usually it is the matzoh that is equated with the bread of affliction. But in Exodus, matzoh is the bread baked in haste by the Jews to take with them as they flee slavery. So consider the possibility that matzoh is the bread not of bondage, but of freedom. Matzoh consists simply of water and flour that must be mixed and baked in under 18 minutes. It represents the bare essentials to sustain life. No yeast, no butter, no sugar, no chocolate. Spiritual freedom requires stripping away those goodies that are, after all, not essential. What is essential in your life?
Why is the haroset sweet?
One of the foods served on the Seder plate is haroset, a nubbly paste traditionally made from finely chopped fruit, nuts and wine. (I have a killer recipe made with hazelnuts, walnuts, apples and oranges.) It’s delicious. Haroset symbolizes the mortar used by the Jews to build the Egyptian storehouses. It represents slavery. Huh? Why is the symbol of slavery sweet? Here’s a clue: the Jews don’t want to leave Egypt. Moses has a hell of a time persuading them they need to go. As slaves, the Jews are housed and fed. They know who’s the Man. If they flee, they will end up out in the desert where who knows what dangers await. The things that bind us are often tasty. Chew on that.
Why do we say “next year in Jerusalem” to mark the end of the Seder?
It’s the human condition to fall into habits, overindulge, get caught up in the race for status and worldly goods – to get comfortable with the boxes we put ourselves in, and to lose awareness and appreciation for the things that truly are essential. The search for spiritual liberation never ends. Jerusalem is that state of spiritual balance, where our souls are wide open to the Universe and life is sweet. No visas or airline tickets needed to get there.
Shalom, and Love,