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Passover Ruminations

April 4, 2010

April 4, 2010

By Juneau

Seder plate

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?

Matzoh

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,

Juneau

Juneau writes about neuroscience, physics and whatever else attracts her peripatetic attention. She is co-author with Xena of On the Meaning of Adam Lambert, and co-hostess of this Salon.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2010 9:38 am

    This is a beautiful and insightful interpretation of our passover tradition and there seem to be many parallels with Buddhism and ‘enlightenment’ in these aspirations. All roads lead to freedom of spirit and away from oppression, both external, and more specifically, internal!

    With regards to our mutual connection to the phenomenon who is Adam Lambert, I am inspired by him to cast aside the restrictions I have put on my own spirit and those I have allowed in from the outside. (I hope one day he discovers the positive effect he is having on people.)

    Who knows where my ‘Jerusalem’ will be next year.

  2. prgemgirl permalink
    April 4, 2010 10:05 am

    Very insightful commentary Juneau. In Catholic tradition, the concept of Egypt is meant to symbolize enslavement to materials, beliefs, places and even people who prevent us from following the path that God wants us to follow. We know it is not good for us but we are drawn to what is familiar, what is “comfortable” no matter that they are unhealthy, unsafe. Often, it is the path of least resistance. Thus, easier. It takes courage to break out of an Egypt in our life. It takes courage to let the light inside the musty, dark recesses of our soul and truly break free.

    • April 4, 2010 10:33 am

      How interesting. I don’t know much about Catholicism, but what you say reinforces what I feel about all the great spiritual traditions: at their core, they are all about a fundamental human yearning for connection and meaning. Too bad that human society persist in mucking it up by institutionalizing religion.

  3. April 4, 2010 10:26 am

    Ok, I don’t want to sound like I am copying Vivienne in the comment above but Beautiful and Insightful are exactly the words that came to my mind as well. Thanks again Juneau for making me think. I love this Salon and I love your book!

  4. April 4, 2010 11:52 am

    I love this. thanks, Juneau.

  5. Eowyn_of_Rohan permalink
    April 4, 2010 6:42 pm

    Well, Eowyn just returned from spending a long time in church (been to choir rehearsal Wednesday, sang Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and now Easter Morning)
    I just want to say: Wow!

    As someone who has lived both sides of these traditions (Jewish mom, Catholic dad, celebrated both sets of rituals) I read this post and thought “Bravo”

    If taken in the spirit originally intended, without the trappings of modern-day Biblical fundamentalist literalism, I have NO difficulties reconciling what is done during the Seder (Happy Pesach, dear Juneau) and what is re-enacted on Holy Thursday as we celebrate the Last Supper (Go in peace to love and serve the world).

    We are all on personal journeys away from our own forms of slavery – sometimes dictated by society, but often self-imposed. We can choose NOT to remain in “the narrow place” which is a very telling metaphor, isn’t it? Choosing to expand and broaden our viewpoints is a decision and a way of approaching life that is so beautifully embraced and modelled by our dear Adam.
    As for me, I have always LIKED Matzoh – so no affliction there, just the symbol of being in too much of a hurry to bake (well, that describes my life!). I have less affection for the taste of Communion wafers…

    As for pilgrimmages to Jerusalem, I will continue to seek the people, the music, and the words that set me free from bondage.

    Thanks for providing them, Juneau, Xena, and above all Adam!
    E

  6. circe permalink
    April 5, 2010 12:18 am

    That was lovely, Juneau, thank you.

  7. katesistergood permalink
    April 5, 2010 12:28 am

    Lovely Juneau, Your interpretations are so very modern and yet so ancient and traditional. Joseph Campbell would appreciate the universal nature and transcendent ideas that you speak about.
    Although I am not a member of any religious group now I was raised in the catholic tradition and have many close jewish friends. The use and image of food as spiritual sustenance in both traditions is obvious, it is a symbolic prop we can all sink our teeth into, forgive the pun. In a totally secular way I have my own transformative experience this time every year. I make a traditional Italian Easter bread from a family recipe that has been passed down from Grandmother, Aunt, cousin, to me, which I have made for 35 years. When I make it I feel a strong generational connection, but even more, bread is a substance that is as elemental as you can get, whether unleavened, like matzoh, or painstakingly mixed, kneaded and let to rise … “it is what it is”, and has always been.
    While I feel I have freed myself from any doctrinal bondage, I still cling to a connection to those who came before me.

    As our muse has broken free to celebrate and accept that “he is what he is” his strong connection to his family and friends seems to be what is essential to him.

  8. April 5, 2010 2:02 pm

    My Dear Juneau!!

    Religion as well as tradition is something that you hold dear to heart – it is not about wearing the latest outfit to Synagogue so that you outshine the others and certainly not about how much you spend on a Seder dinner so as to keep up with Joneses. Religion has always meant to me what you believe deep inside your heart along with the convictions that you believe in wholeheartedly, so that at the end of any day, you have the ability to look in the mirror and are content and happy with the person you see looking back at you. Your thoughts are so inspirational and modern, yet touchingly old – fashioned, traditional and revered by Jews around the world. I, like Adam, am not religious, but I have become very content with the perosn looking back at me in that mirror – that to me is one very important aspect of religion – it is who you are inwardly.
    I have copied this article and am placing it in my Hagadah for next years’ Seder – I cannot thank you enough for enlightening me with your profound and beautiful thoughts – they will now become a part of my religion as well. If no one has said this to you, I will – you are truly a special human being and it really is an honor to know you.

    Love,

    DeeDee

    • April 5, 2010 11:59 pm

      Dearest DeeDee,

      I am touched and humbled. The greatest joy in all of this has been the opportunity to open up my world and befriend so many amazing, vibrant women. You are an incredible spirit, DeeDee, and I feel honored and energized to have gotten to know you.

      Love, J

  9. annehedonia permalink
    April 7, 2010 11:27 pm

    Thank you, Juneau. That was indeed beautiful. And there was a lot to chew on, metaphorically speaking. I intend to print it out and to read it again, and then again. I’m rather a Taoist-Pagan myself, and since your insights and observastions are so meaningful and thought-provoking to me (a bit of an odd duck), you can be assured that they must certainly be universal in nature.

    You & Xena are amazing & I am thankful to have run across your intellects and spirits, as well as the other thoughful souls who post here. And, btw, it’s thanks to You-Know-Glittery-Who.

  10. March 30, 2018 10:04 pm

    Reblogged this on and commented:

    Inspired by Adam then, and still inspired by him. Happy Passover!

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