Moonshine – Passover Thought 2021 (adapted from prior years)
Our Seder plans, recipes, programs and the conducting of the Seder can be complex, especially in the current COVID climate. I find it useful in complex times to remember the essence. Strange things are seen on the table, and someone says, “What’s going on?” Then the explainer explains what happened in Egypt, in a variety of ways. Add to that thanking God, eating the meal, more thanking and fun songs. Eat matzah – don’t eat bread.
I am not sure if most children ever cared much for history, and most won’t ask questions if they know what comes next is a long lecture. Most of the Jews I know have trouble thanking God for deliverance from Egypt. The God that acted that purposefully in history then does not seem to have been paying much attention ever since. Eating, we are okay with. Also singing. We may have the same traditions, but we have different questions and different answers from previous generations. That is actually how a living tradition is supposed to work.
So, many people have liberated themselves from the old Seders and Haggadahs. Most of the Jews I know put lots of energy into telling the story in an interesting and enjoyable way, unique and updated, with some depth and some fun. Poetry, readings, stories from other places and times. The main things is to ask questions, any questions, remotely dealing with freedom (and what we do with our freedom), redemption and human resilience. We should ask about ideas and beliefs we live by that might enslave us, and other beliefs and ideas that might free us.
In addition, in the past few decades, Passover seems to have become a time for liberating humor, the term loosely defined, fitting every brow, from highbrow to lowbrow to raised brow.
We want to make to make our Seders not only meaningful and traditional but also fun and interesting. We put things on our table that invite query. We have, for example, have carrots to remind us to care for one another. We have placed art-ichokes on the table to remind us to cultivate artistic endeavors that choke us up.
Many Seders take on current themes of liberation – pointing to and discussing all who seek redemption, all those threatened, pushed aside, marginalized and vulnerable. We ask how we can lend our might and our outstretched hand in their redemption.
The worst thing a Seder can be is boring.
My favorite moment is looking at the full moon. Let’s say (as I do believe) that there was an Israelite slave revolt about 3300 hundred years ago at this time of year. Those terrified and determined slaves looked up at the same full moon that we see, maybe thinking it represented a great spiritual light in the midst of darkness. I then think of all the oppressed and suffering, righteous people, terrified and determined, looking up at that moon, throughout the centuries. I think of generation after generation of the house of Israel looking up at that full moon on this night, observing this tradition. I think of the future generations looking up at this full moon, wondering if they will remember us.
I wonder if the moon soaks up all those wondrous stares and stories, and stores them up, and when you look up there, you start to see faces of those in the past, looking upon you. And the stories stored in moonlight speak to you, and you can hear them. And then you speak your deepest yearnings for your liberation from the suffering you certainly bear, and you think of the suffering of others, some palpable and measurable, and the suffering of other people, barely conceivable. A crystal moment of moonlight settles in your soul.
What can we put on our tables to represent this moon?
I am thinking about Kosher for Passover moonshine (tequila works) and moon pies (start with gluten free graham crackers) for this year.
Wishing you all a happy, entertaining, informative, inspiring and transportive Passover.
Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Ohr HaTorah Synagogue