I wish everyone good preparations for Pesach and the Seder nights. Once again, it’s a strange and complex time. But I hope that this year the Festival of freedom truly heralds coming out of lockdown and returning to the fullness of life for everyone. Each day until Shabbat I hope to send a letter with something reflective, something halakhic and something practical for the Seder, with contributions from the team at NNLS. Please join our services and activities, in person and virtual. Pesach is the season of solidarity; we all need to draw strength from our Judaism and from each other.
Something reflective – Who am I with this Seder night?
Every other night we’ve held Seders in our home for 50 or 60 people; last year there were just two of us. This year, I’ve spoken to people who’ll be with closest family only, and people who’ve told me they’ll be entirely alone. (I know, of course, that many will find modern ways to connect.)
Togetherness at the Seder goes back to its beginnings. The Torah teaches that the original paschal lamb in Egypt was eaten bemichsat nefashot, ‘according to the number of souls’. The Talmud explains this to mean that people must be ‘counted in’ before the animal is slaughtered. So ‘With whom will you be for Seder?’ is as ancient a question as it is perennial.
Last night I learnt a beautiful new way of creating togetherness even in lockdown. It’s undoubtedly both halakhically and Covid compliant. Reb Mimi Fagelson told me how last year she was entirely by herself, but not at all alone. It’s permitted to light candles on Yom Tov (so long as you do so from a flame already lit before the festival or shabbat begins.) So, she said, every few minutes I lit a candle for someone else I loved and imagined they were with me: friends, teachers, Hasidic leaders. I didn’t feel lonely for a moment.
On the one hand it’s a ruse. But it also goes to the heart of what the Seder means. I don’t think I’ll light candles for them. But I’m going to hear my father at the Seder, in the way he used to sing and the comments he always made (the same every year). I’m going to invite my father’s uncle, by reading from the letters he sent his wife every single day when he was interned on the Isle of Man in 1940.
In this manner, we summon the companionship of past generations, and current friends, and those who’ve striven for freedom through the ages, and become part of a great solidarity in defiance of space and time.
Something halakhic – How does one manage Saturday night Seder?
This year Pesach begins on Saturday night and the questions have been coming in: By when do we have to be rid of our chametz? What does one do about challah on Shabbat? Is anything different at the Seder? When is the Fast of the Firstborn (It’s Thursday, not Friday!)
For guidance, please follow this link. Don’t despair; it’s not complicated, and the great advantage of Saturday night Seder is that it’s not allowed to clean and cook on Shabbat. So one can have a rest and not get to the Seder exhausted.
Something for the Seder – family history
It’s easy to feel so pressured by shopping, cleaning and cooking that they pre-occupy us entirely. Make sure there’s some time and energy to prepare for the contents of the Seder.
Over the years, many of the most moving contributions to our Seders have been family stories and memorabilia: a letter from a grandparent in the war, a matzah cover handed like a blessing down the generations. I’m sometimes struck by how children don’t know their family history. Go back two or three generations; in very few families was everyone born in the UK.
Seder is the night of the story. Haggadah means ‘Telling’. So tell something of the family’s journey. There’s nothing more touching, for children and adults alike.