Looking at the calendar, it is very hard to believe that Pesach (Passover) is less than one month away.
When my wife was alive, preparations for Pesach began immediately after Purim. Cabinets were emptied of dishes and utensils, leaving only those necessary for us before the arrival of the holiday.
Closets were emptied, boxes piled up on the floor of a spare bedroom, and newly bought Pesach foods were stored in sealed boxes. 10 pounds of matzot. Oh, rachmanut (mercy) on my intestines.
As the days before Pesach arrived, our oven was cleaned and lit to burn all remnants of chametz. The stove was scrubbed and burners were covered with new aluminum plates. When remaining chametz in the refrigerator had to be eaten, the now empty refrigerator was dis-assembled, doors, hinges, screws all soaked in boiling water lest a single crumb should be found, God forbid.
Two days before Pesach we ate our meals in cafes and restaurants. As the holiday approached, my wife would rise up from her bed at seven o’clock in the morning and would work cooking and baking and stacking Passover dishes and utensils in special cabinets. She seldom went to bed before midnight.
It was back-breaking labor for her but she was glad to have the help of our two daughters. I was banned from the kitchen. “There is no room for you in the kitchen. The soup is boiling on the stove, the matza- meal kneidlach are cooking, three chickens are roasting in the oven, the gefilte fish is already in the refrigerator, the girls are making the charoset, the lamb shankbone has been roasted, two dozen eggs have been hard-boiled, so why don’t you sit down, rest or read a book”?
She could have made a recording to be repeated, word for word, every year.
As a child we always had 25-30 people at our seder table. When I married and we had three children we could sit comfortably 8-10 people. Following the traditions of my father and of his father before him, the entire Haggadah, telling the history of the ancient festival, was read aloud in Hebrew, chanted to melodies stemming back more than 150 years. We still sing those melodies and cherish the memories of by-gone years and larger families.
Pesach was (and is) the most difficult of all the Jewish holidays. It lasts for 8 days and requires many days of cooking and baking foods which are permitted. It is exhausting for householders who follow the festival laws faithfully. But it remains the most joyous of our Jewish holidays.
This year, for the first time, the number of people at our table will dwindle. My son, his wife and three children have decided to spend the Passover week in a kosher l’Pesach hotel . It leaves only me and my two daughters and possibly a cousin from Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh to enjoy the Passover seder.
My son asked why we do not wish to join them at their hotel. “Never in my life have I been away from our family table on Pesach. Home is where I belong. And besides, if we were away from home, how would the prophet Elijah ever find us? He always looks forward to the wine in a special goblet set in the center of the table especially for him”. My son smiles, nods his head, and makes no reply.
As laborious as the Passover festival is, I cannot imagine our lives with anything less. As I tell my children and guests, “I was a slave in Egypt and I was beaten and oppressed and I cried out to my God to help me. And He sent His faithful servant, Moses, to redeem me from oppressive slavery and to lead me to freedom in our Promised Land. God did all this for me. Not for my ancestors, but for me. I suffered the pains of slavery for 430 years and now, thanks to a loving God, I am free.
Eved hayiti paam b’Mitzrayim v’achshav ani ben chorin. Once I was a slave in Egypt but now I am a free man.”
It is vitally important to remind those assembled that God intervened for us because He saw our pain, He heard our cries of affliction and He showed us His love and mercy.
So I look forward to the calendar date which signals the arrival of zman cherutainu, the festival of our freedom.
Hopefully I won’t have to hear the cry from the kitchen, the cry of distress from one of my daughters:
“Abba, get out of the kitchen. You have placed a milk spoon into the draw containing meat utensils”.
“Oops”, I reply. I attribute the error to old age. God has not redeemed me from that agony.
So I turn back the page of the calendar for the month of March. It’s February once again. And I can rest.
Elijah of Tishbi, I am here. Your wine goblet awaits you. L’chayim! To life!