It’s Passover time. Approximately. I just celebrated the holiday by creating my own seder plate from what I had around the house that could easily be interpreted as seder items. I got the salt water part perfect.
Every Passover, the youngest person present has four questions to ask, each with its given answer. Here they are:
- Q: On all nights we need not dip [our food] even once, on this night we do so twice.
A: The salt water reminds us of tears shed during the years of slavery in Egypt. The act of dipping also signifies freedom, as the dipping of food represents luxury.
- Q: On all nights we eat chametz (“regular” bread) or matzah, and on this night only matzah.
A: Matzah, being devoid of leavening, is the bread of the slaves and the poor. It also represents that the Hebrews had no time, due to their impending freedom, to allow their bread to rise.
- Q: On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, tonight only bitter herbs.
A: The bitterness of the vegetables serves to remind us of the bitterness of slavery.
- Q: On all nights we eat either sitting or reclining, and on this night we all recline.
A: Reclining while eating is a symbol of the luxury of royalty.
I like the idea of remembering the bad times in order to better understand the good. Personally, I was not a literal slave. Genetically, my heritage has not been one of literal slavery. It’s taken me some time to figure out what these questions mean to me, what I can learn. I looked for, and found, the lesson.
- I’ve spent my adult life as a poor person. Financially, I’ve been a slave to circumstances I couldn’t change while continuing to contribute to the world in the best way I know how. I have cried countless tears in worry over my state in life, personal and financial. I cannot forget that. No matter how good my life is at moments, nor how it may improve in the future, I am only here, I am only me because of those tears. They have forced me to accept my present and work towards a better future. The good times have only been good precisely because of those tears. Otherwise, I doubt I would appreciate my life nearly as much.
- Again, to remember. To observe what poverty is, was, will be. Not merely to me, but to others with whom I share my life, and the others who share similar experiences. Also a good reminder that no matter how busy you are, no matter what you have going on, it’s important to eat. I may not have the food I want, I may not have the best options, but I still have food to eat. Many others do not, and I do what I can to alleviate their hunger in my own ways.
Hunger comes in many forms, though. We can also hunger for companionship, time, meaning, and purpose. We can hunger for the things we really want to do, not merely the things we must. Hunger is simply our desperation for something better. And sometimes we run out of time while we’re chasing our satiation.
- Too many of use carry our bitterness around with us like armor. We can be so focused on the negatives, on the things that enslave us, that we forget to notice all the wonderful. But maybe we can restrict our bitterness. Not to forget; never in order to forget. Instead, rather than dwell on the negative, maybe we should set aside time to remember. When it’s pertinent, remember. When there is potential danger in letting the negative recur, remember. When life is so good that you start to feel invincible, remember. It’s not always smooth sailing, it’s rarely easy. Remember the bad times in order to avoid the same mistakes, remember them in order to appreciate the good times.
- Remember to take some time to chill. It’s all well and good to be focused and intentional, to keep your goals and ideals high. And it’s also important, whenever possible, to treat yourself to something nice. A good pair of pants, a night out, a vacation, a good book. No one should feel pressure, from within or without, to be constantly working. Luxury, relaxing, spending time with friends and family. These things are important. There’s no amount of stressing over an issue that cannot be at least somewhat alleviated by taking a moment just for yourself. It’s important.
This is what this holiday means to me, at least for now. As with all holidays and religious practices that involve interpretation, it will evolve. But the questions will remain the same. Not merely to Judaism, not merely to me, but to people everywhere. Remember the bad stuff and appreciate the good things in comparison.
Never forget. Never stop striving. Always find your best way. Don’t pass over life, but let the things you don’t need pass over you.