Ma Nishtana……?

The seder service is renowned for asking four questions related to the pilgrimage Festival of Pesach. It is customary for the youngest child present at the seder table to ask the questions and to await the response.

This year it is I, the 84-year-old “child” who is entitled to ask. Why is this year different from the past 56 years? And I answer my own question. In all the other years my partner, my wife, the light of my life was with me at the seder table. Platters heaped with foods that she and my two daughters cooked and prepared, the cakes they baked together, graced our seder table.

And while we will not lack for delicious meals this Pesach, the taste will not be the same. And the brightness and sparkle of Rahel’s beautiuful face will be missing. The light has faded and extinguished but the treasured happy memories continue to light my life and will do so until I lie beside her in my grave.

My daughter, Liora, will help her older sister Sharona in the preparation of the seder meals with sufficient food for the duration of the Peach holiday. They will follow exactly the same recipes they’ve used for years – some of which were Rahel’s, some of which were from Rahel’s family, and others which they’ve adapted; but each year, a menu planned and approved by Rahel. In that way, Liora will continue to feel her mother’s presence. It will be a comforting reaction to the deep pain which she experiences over the death of her adored mother.

At the seder we do not eat the usual vegetables. On Pesach it is the maror…the bitter herbs. For us it has been bitter herbs since Rahel died in September, one week before Rosh Hashanah, and nothing seems to take the bitterness away.

Perhaps there is a reason for eating the Hillel :”sandwich”. We take the charoset mixture and add to it the bitter herbs. It is to teach us that life is both bitter and sweet and we must accept both. We tend to rejoice in the sweetness and complain of the bitterness but yet when they are joined together on two pieces of unleavened matza, we do neither. We simply follow the tradition as recorded in the Haggadah and pass the Hillel “sandwich” to those assembled at the table.

It has been my custom to place more charoset and less horse-radish on the matza in order to wish one and all more sweetness and less bitterness.

I recall the sedarim of my childhood and youth in my parents’ home. Between 25 – 30 guests were seated at the table. Every prayer in the Haggadah was chanted to a family melody past down through generations. Each guest was invited to read aloud a portion of the Haggadah in the Hebrew. My father would explain the reason for the various customs. And we sang and sang until midnight. All the familiar melodies were passed down to my brother and to me and from me to my three children and to my son’s three children. Precious melodies of precious memories.

But ma nishtana? Why is this year different? It is because one voice is forever silent, a voice which never uttered a bad word, which never gossiped nor slandered, which never bore a grudge, which spoke only of love and the sanctity of shalom bayit…family unity and peace. That beautiful voice is heard no more.

At the head of our table, next to the Shabbat and festival candlesticks, the flame of the candles casts a glow upon the framed photo of our beloved wife, mother and grandmother. Liora and I look daily at her photo with tears flowing from our eyes and we understand that she is with us in spirit but not in body.

Pesach was always the most joyous holiday in our home. Ma nishtana? This year there will be much less joy but our love will continue to be eternal. And hopefully the sweetness of the charoset will overpower the bitterness of the herbs.

Zman cherutenu….the time of our liberation from Egyptian bondage. It may not be the happiest Pesach for us but for all our dear friends we wish a very zeesen Pesach…a Passover of light, sweetness, happiness and blessings.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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