Something Practical – On Pesach Shopping
I visited one of the large ‘Everything you could possibly need for Pesach’ shops last week and found the experience sociologically interesting. Next year I want to write a feature on how couples talk to each other while they shop:
Wife: ‘No, not that one! I said “The Telma soup”!
Husband: aside ‘Who does she think I am? A prophet? How’m I supposed to know which variety is which? He finds the product. Lucky I’m not short-sighted.
Another couple in the next aisle:
‘We’ll have two of those kind’ ‘Yes, darling’. ‘And three of those’. ‘Yes darling’.
Shopping for Pesach can be stressful and very expensive. The only connection with the subject of freedom may be the sense that it liberates one of a fair amount of money. So here are two thoughts:
- People often worry about what they really have to buy specially for the festival. The guide at this link lists which products absolutely require a Kosher lePesach label and which do not. Please note that there is greater leniency regarding what we buy before the festival commences.
- Pesach is about difference. We don’t need three kinds of breakfast cereal and five kinds of cake or chocolate. Yes, Pesach is a festival and the tradition is to celebrate with special recipes. But the most important food is the matzah, which represents simplicity. It’s a chastening reminder, a counter-balance to profligacy. Traditionally the most important food we pay for is the ‘Pesach flour’ we give to those who would otherwise be unable to afford a Seder.
Something about the Haggadah – on the imagination
‘Everyone is obliged to see themselves as if they in person had gone out of Egypt’: this line from the Haggadah goes to the heart of the Seder. ‘”As if” belongs to the imagination, that wild terrain governed by no obvious rules’, writes Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in The New American Haggadah. ‘Tonight we are asked to take this faculty of the mind, so beloved by children and novelists, extremely seriously’.
The art and essence of the Seder is to read the story of the Exodus not as what happened to others long ago, but as what matters to us now. What kinds of tyranny do I struggle with in my world, in the inner world of my own being, in the society, country, continent in which I live? What the Egypt we left long ago was really like is a less important concern than the metaphorical Egypt of an unredeemed world in which many suffer vast injustice and indignity this very day.
For that reason it’s not enough to think only of ourselves as leaving Egypt. What about others? It’s remarkable how much of other peoples’ realities we don’t notice, even when we live alongside them. I often read about events in Germany, or Jerusalem, which my father lived through and in which he was closely involved, and say to myself ‘I never even thought about what that must have been like for him’. How much more true may must be of people in our community and neighbourhood, of people whose names and moral struggles we may have heard about but on which we have never reflected. And what of those whom we may have seen or passed in the street, or heard about generically, who belong like the last of the four children to those who lack the know-how to ask, whose questions never reach us?
The Seder is the great goad, to care about human dignity, and suffering, and to commit ourselves to some corner of the struggle for greater justice and compassion. It is also the night of hope, that we will succeed in travelling together from slavery to freedom, to a world which is redeemed. For commitment to the journey is the beginning of redemption.