Pop quiz: What do portobello mushroom-crust pizza, sushi rolled with quinoa, tri-color salmon pâté, and a chocolate fountain have to do with Pesach? Answer: Absolutely nothing. Unless you are a guest at one of the umpteen super-luxury Pesach programs dotting the globe and particularly concentrated in North America.
As an editor, in the lead-up to Pesach I was assigned a few pieces touting the delights of such programs – culinary and otherwise. The task left me with, shall we say, a bad taste in my mouth. To be clear, I’m talking here not about all hotels, but about a subset of pricey Pesach programs which slavishly promote conspicuous gashmiyut. The almost religious devotion to material pleasures that is the raison d’être of these uber-extravagant programs leaves guests with little headspace for spiritual reflection or appreciation of the actual meaning of the holiday.
I confess that years ago, I was a guest (part of a large family group) at one of these ultra-fancy programs in a sunny vacation hotspot. It was amazing, and the round-the-clock indulgence would have made for a fantastic getaway at another time of year. But was it a fulfilling way to fulfill the mitzvah – the many mitzvot, actually – of Pesach? In a word, no.
Of all the chagim, Pesach is the most future-focused. The event which united us as a people – transforming us from a band of brothers into Klal Yisrael – forged a bridge between our exodus from Egypt and our future redemption. Our Sages tell us that the ultimate geulah will likewise take place in the month of Nissan. But regardless, the festival of Pesach is supposed to sharpen what my father aptly calls “geulah consciousness.” We relive that first exodus from slavery while at the same time anticipating with longing our ultimate redemption and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Do theme night dinners, non-stop entertainment, and a how-can-we-outdo-ourselves-and-others mentality in any way connect to or enhance that project? True, even these hedonistic programs offer lecturers by prominent speakers on Torah topics, but I don’t think that aspect goes far in tipping the balance toward spirituality. The context is simply all wrong.
It’s not a crime (or an aveirah) to enjoy life and a bit of pampering, but the pursuit of excess, shiny as it may be, leads us far from the golden path that we are enjoined to follow.
Wishing a happy and kosher Pesach to everyone!