Time. Time is all we have. It is running out. The desert sands drop a grain at a time through the narrowness of the hour glass.
“Why, as the inventors of the world’s first fast food, Matza, do we eat it during the longest meal of the year, the Seder?”
As refugees to the United States, some of us still feel the heat of escape on the soles of our feet. Over the Seder, we recall exiles both near and far. Yet for most of us today, the slavery from which we try to escape is not externally imposed, but rather self-inflicted. The question we ask now is “To what am I a slave?”
In my practice, I see slavery in many forms. The elderly are slaves to loneliness. Young women are slaves to norms, constantly worried about their body image, too old and not yet married, married and not yet with child, the stretch marks of birth. Young men are slaves to banks, a mortgage that prevents a father from spending time with his daughter, a car whose payment demands work on the Sabbath, a status which necessitates putting on an outward show for those who would not notice if we went missing over the plea of a phone call from an elderly parent. Some are slaves to their zip code. Some are slaves to food. Me, to social media.
As free agents, we are under the illusion of having many choices. But our time is limited. One action sacrifices another. So, are we slaves to too many options? Are we free to postpone work for a friend in need? Do our children get more attention than the next dollar? Are we so rushed to pass over those who need our love? Deadlines make slaves.
Passover slows down time. A timeout! Not some vague spiritual retreat, husband separated from wife, but a real resetting of our priorities. The Seder reminds us that the acceptance of being a slave is worse than that which enslaves us. We must only surrender to God.
The Seder. We gather around a table with friends and family, young and old. We sing how blessed we feel. We wash our hands. We take time reenacting customs of our ancestors. We break Matza together. We drink wine. We tell stories of old. We don’t silence children; we beg them to ask questions as we intently listen to them sing. We don’t rush the meal. We drink more wine. We play hide and seek. We tell more stories. We listen to the elders. We learn from the wisdom of children. We thank God for our blessings. This is what life is about!
In a world that is constantly telling us that we are not good enough, we slow down time. We step off the planet and look at what is most important: The person in front of us, the person in our seat. Far in the desert, we see the mirage that is our material belongings- and relearn to love ourselves. The master owns his belongings, but the slave is owned by his belongings.
The Mystical. Walking in the desert is a wedding procession out of Egypt toward Sinai where we received our Ketubbah and God’s eternal promise of love. Moses is reborn, delivered out of the Nile. We are reborn through the parting of the sea. Now, we celebrate our wedding anniversary. No cake, just Matza. The Hagaddah is a book with no ending. It is a story of a people wandering. Life is a journey, not a destination. We write our own story with family, with community, with memory, with love.
The galaxy of the Seder has God at its center and each of us equally bright stars in His orbit. By sitting around the table, forced to look at the person in front of us, we are taught that we cannot love God and be indifferent or hateful toward human life. The path to God is through the human heart, through mending broken relationships, through asking for and granting forgiveness. We are masters of words before we utter them and their slaves once set free. Fewer words are needed to tell the truth than a lie. “I’m sorry” and “I love you” get us closer to God than all other prayers.
Conscious Uncoupling. Spring cleaning dusts off the illusion of significance from what really matters. We search each corner for what is necessary to sustain our physical body and uncouple it from what nourishes our souls. We untangle money from attention. We trade ego for togetherness. The lesson of freedom is that we are more than our jobs; we are more than our net worth. We are in God’s Image. How we spend our time defines our life.
Look around the table and remember those who are no longer with us. What would you say to them? How deeply do you miss them? Tell those who are here now that you love them.
In the deep of the winter as ice freezes all forms of life, love warms us and keeps desperation at bay. As the birds of spring answer the call of the cherry blossoms, we too, raise our voices of praise to celebrate all that is good in life. Freedom is not a price we pay but a mandate from God. Although our bodies have a beginning and expiration date, the spark God left in each of us is timeless.
The Hebrews wandering the desert sand left no archeologically discoverable traces. They knew that years later, it would not be things that they would be remembered by, but memories. So, next time you bite into a Matza and find the golden sand-like crumbs on your lap, know that although we left no artifacts in the forty years in the desert, the desert left the artifact with us.
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