Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rite of Spring

It's spring again, and that means my favorite holiday, Passover, is almost here. Last night, even though Passover has not yet started, the synagogue's Women's Connection held its women's seder.
A seder is a meal, among other things. At this event, women contributed food (my contribution, unfortunately, was 2 dozen hard boiled eggs, which I couldn't get the peels off properly) and other kinds of efforts.
But besides yet another excuse to eat, the main feature of a Passover seder, though such seders take many different forms depending on the nature of the group holding them, is the retelling and symbolic re-enactment of the freeing of the Jews from Egypt, known as "the narrow place" in the Torah, and their 40 year Exodus in the wilderness.
Jewish texts stress that although the events of the Exodus happened thousands of years ago, and in fact, probably never happened at all, since there is no evidence of the Jews ever really being slaves in Egypt (though they were slaves in Babylon),
we were all present when they unfolded, and witnessed the giving of the law at Sinai.
The seder is a particularly effective way of making ritual directly relevant to our own lives. It is not just theoretical, but entirely practical, requiring us to ask questions of each other and of the tradition, to tell the old stories. And this is why Passover is my favorite holiday.
In this particular seder, the Haggadah (the book used to lead the seder) stressed a particularly psychological Egypt, the narrow places of psychological isolation and bad habits that trap us all at one time or another. This resonated with me particularly this season, and released me from the fit of low spirits that has overtaken me recently.
I looked around me at the faces of women I had known for years and women new to me, and I realized that I had never been as alone as I had thought. It made me grateful once again for the support and companionship of the people all around me and made me wake up from the long winter's freeze and want to reach out.


liz said...

wow. very impressed with the ritual description and spring as the visible magic wand with powers to change many a landscape; that helped me. "Psychological Egypt" is not a good stay-cation plan.

Robbi N. said...

Thanks Liz. You're right. Eygpt is a no-go!

marly said...

Did I say that I went to a messianic seder? Was great fun, and the food was quite good. Wonderfully long...

Robbi N. said...

Seders can be quite long. When I was really little, my uncle, who was Modern Orthodox, used to make them last till midnight. Everyone at the table, including little 6 year olds, had to drink 4 cups of wine. No grape juice. After my thimblesful, I'd be under the table sleeping it off.
Everything was in Hebrew, which I didn't understand. But it became comfortable and familiar after a few years. I've no doubt that many a Catholic from the old days of Latin masses could say the same.
But in my progressive synagogue,everything is bilingual, non-sexist, etc. Very welcoming to newcomers.