The majestic holiday of Pesach has come to an end, I think to myself with a bit of sadness, as I pack away my Pesach dishes. So long till next year in… Melbourne? New York? Hopefully in Jerusalem or, wherever that may be… God is the best travel agent and He always plans lots of surprises for all of us.
My relationship with Pesach is contradictory, though. From a very young age I was immersed in the world of Pesach. My dearest childhood memories relate to our family Seder in Moscow where my parents and grandparents always united together to celebrate the special day of Jewish redemption with matzah, wine, gefilte fish and lots of questions and answers (Was Moses a Zionist? Who picked such bitter chrein? Do you think it’s time to move to Israel, chevrah? and so on), lots of the Torah insights, Yiddish songs and bitter-sweet jokes about the Jewish nation.
I loved to observe how my grandfather, dressed up in his best clothes, was retelling the mystical story of terrible slavery and the miraculous salvation, commenting on the Haggadah text and giving turns to other relatives and guests to join in. I was an obedient ten-year-old who dipped the onion in the salty water, bravely chewed on burning horseradish and tried to find silhouettes of my enslaved ancestors in the silver goblets overfilled with purple wine. Ah, the majestic Pesach!..
Today, though, my attitude to Pesach has unfortunately changed: I became too materialistic to focus on the spiritual part of the holiday and do get overwhelmed about the idea of extensive cleaning, cooking from scratch and, most importantly, overstepping my deeply engraved procrastination habits.
I start thinking of Pesach already on Purim – a month in advance – ignoring the joy of Shalach Manos delicacies which contain mostly Chometz – the leavened products, forbidden for use on Pesach – and regard those as hostile crumbs I would have to clean throughout the house in the very near future. Paranoid? Maybe a little ))
Every year I promise myself to start getting ready for Pesach earlier in order to avoid extra stress and have a positive attitude, and obliviously it never happens. Am I the only one who always gets tons of assignments and exams the week before Pesach, as well as annoying sicknesses and unexpected trips, leaking roofs and major renovations?
Getting hysteric does not help. After all, we don’t choose our circumstances, and no matter how scared we are, the holiday starts on time. So I buckle up and go straight into the season turbulence with a strained smile on my tired face.
Pesach goes hand in hand with lengthy preparations, the Haggadah-long shopping lists, and last minute’s shopping sprees for that missing box of matches, gloves, salt or clear tablecloths – you name it! And of course, I can’t forget late nights of acrobatic tricks on the kitchen arena (We all look forward to spray our kitchens with strong chemicals and thick cleansers prior to DIY heavy-duty taping of builder’s foil all over the counters and stove walls as well as using gas burners to kasher the sinks, right guys?))
The quintessential idea of Pesach is the miraculous redemption from slavery; and the Torah teaches us that we shouldn’t consider the story of Pesach as history, but it should rather apply to everyone of us, modern people, living in XXI century in the civilised world. And guess what? I definetely feel the slavery part before the holiday starts. And once the preparations are finished, it is a true redemption to enter my sparkling, foil-covered kitchen, take out the Pesach dishes that were stored away for a year, and start preparing the geniune Thanksgiving feast – the Pesach Seder.
This year we had a lot of guests for our Seder meals, and I was busy cooking, trying my best to be creative, considering the fact that we don’t use most of the processed foods for the holiday. Hours later, I finally sat down with our guests and the Seder began. Soon enough the time for the Four Questions has come and my son, aged 3, had asked to sing the Ma Nishtanah all by himself. We were stunned and mesmerised: My little one was singing the traditional, ancient song in his soft voice. His eyes were sparkling, and he looked proud and shy at the same time.
As the holiday progressed I’ve seen both of my children, aged 3 and 2, sincerely reliving the Pesach experience: They played Pharaoh/Moshe dress-up games, sang Pesach songs, explored the colourful Haggadah illustrations and munched on crunchy matzah with joy.
They taught me to focus on what really matters: the unique, rich heritage of Judaism and not the exhausting preparations. Inspired by my little, yet wise teachers, I went back in the kitchen with a happy smile on my face, ready to peel, cut, puree, bake and fry my Pesach masterpieces for the family to enjoy. I didn’t use sophisticated sauses and spices packed with food additives – Pesach food is meant to be natural – and maybe it took longer to prepare, but that’s the way our grandmothers cooked their yummy and nutritious meals.
Pesach is about traditions and reconnecting with our roots, I thought to myself while making my grandfather’s matzah babkah pancakes for the last night of Yom Tov. The babka tasted simply delicious, infused with the aroma of my childhood nostalgia; and my kids loved the mouth-watering pancakes, accompanied by my memoirs of their great grandfather in snowy Russia.
And now the holiday has finished, I realise to the full extent, as I take off the last piece of sparkling builder’s foil from my kitchen wall. It looks normal again – time to unpack cereals and bread. But, for some reason, I don’t feel excited. I miss the intense spirituality of Pesach already. And I will continue doing so until next Purim… and hopefully even later.