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Shayna Goldberg

Making ‘seder’

Seder plate/Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons

The last few days have been especially tough for those of us who thrive on a sense of order and control.

It’s kind of hard to feel in control when you know drones and missiles are flying our way. Suddenly that sense of calm that the house is neat and organized after Shabbat doesn’t seem to mean that much. Who cares if the dishes are put away when our very right to exist in THIS place is in question?

But Pesach is coming.

Our thoughts fluctuate between “maybe today will be my last” and “but if it’s not, I think we need more eggs.” And we note the absurd contrasts all around us:

Some people are selling generators, and others are busy selling their chametz.

I bring some extra clothing to the safe room and then buy some new yom tov clothing for my daughter;

The hostages need to be brought home, and all I can do is bring home their poster for our seder table.

I wash my face again from tears, and my kids clean and wash the car outside.

Booms rock our home from missile interceptions in space, and I jump from the sounds of neighbors moving furniture to check hidden spaces for crumbs.

It is not easy to prepare for the seder when things here are not quite b’seder – okay – at all.

There are so many things that need to get done every year. When we made Pesach for the first time, I developed an order for the way we do things. Each day, a different task. Something else to take care of and check off. Everything at its time. Calm and collected. I thought we had it down.

But this year, mixed in with the usual pressure, anticipation, emotion and excitement are other new and spontaneous thoughts and feelings. The familiar process is interrupted by moments of sheer terror, total panic, great relief and overwhelming gratitude. Each emotion so intense that it can be hard to remember ever feeling anything else.

Saturday night, we sheltered in our safe rooms. Sunday morning, we were out and about. Saturday night, we quivered with fear. Sunday morning, the cafes and beaches were packed.

Israelis excel at restoring a semblance of order.

Except that we are not really b’seder.

The hostages are not free. A wedding I attended began with noting the absence of the bride’s brother who was off fighting in Gaza. More soldiers have been called up. Flights have been cancelled. Holiday plans have been changed, and many families from the North and the South will not be celebrating at their own tables this year.

It is difficult to find order when there is still so much chaos.

And yet we are asked to do just that. We will make seder.

On Monday night, Jews around the world will sit down at the seder and attempt to make order of the craziness that surrounds us. The antisemitism, the hate, the atrocities, the death, the mourning, the tears.

And we will open the haggada and find that we already have all the tools needed to deal with our wide range of new feelings.

We will dip our vegetable in the salt water of our tears. We will tell the story of our persecution. We will remember that many have stood to destroy us and God has saved us from their hands. We will eat the matzah, which represents both our affliction and redemption. We will taste the bitter maror on our tongues. We will enjoy the delicious family recipes. We will sing to and praise God for His miracles and we will pray for the ultimate salvation.

We will process these last six months through an age-old story. We will navigate the current intense emotions through the ancient structure that will ground us. We will steady and center ourselves through the order that will provide the sense of stability and resilience needed to move forward.

This itself is the very beauty of the seder night.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes in the opening lines of his haggadah:

The word seder means ‘order’ and it is central to the Jewish concept of freedom. We become God’s ‘partners in the work of creation’ when we create order in society-an order that honors all persons as the image of God. If God’s presence is to be found not just in rare moments of ecstasy, but in the daily transactions of society as a whole, then it must have a seder, a set of rules we all honor. Order turns individuals into a community and communities into a people. The seder night reflects the order that binds us to other Jews throughout the world and in previous generations.

At the same time, the seder leaves room for spontaneity. No two seder nights are the same. Ideally each family, each year, adds new insights as we reflect on our birth as a people and relate it to the present.  ‘The more one tells…the more admirable it is.’ Pesah is a fine example of the Jewish counterpoint between structure and spontaneity. We all tell the same story in the same words, but we each add something uniquely ours. The rules are the same, but the commentaries and interpretations are always different. This is how an ancient story stays young.

This year, that ancient story needs no additional commentary in order to resonate. The ancient is also our present.

We just need to bring ourselves and be fully present. We will cry, we will mourn, we will sing, we will praise and we will pray.

We will tell our story. The story of the Jewish people. Ancient and more relevant than ever.

It will restore our order.

About the Author
Shayna Goldberg (née Lerner) teaches Israeli and American post-high school students and serves as mashgicha ruchanit in the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women in Migdal Oz, an affiliate of Yeshivat Har Etzion. She is a yoetzet halacha, a contributing editor for Deracheha: Womenandmitzvot.org and the author of the book: "What Do You Really Want? Trust and Fear in Decision Making at Life's Crossroads and in Everyday Living" (Maggid, 2021). Prior to making aliya in 2011, she worked as a yoetzet halacha for several New Jersey synagogues and taught at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck. She lives in Alon Shevut, Israel, with her husband, Judah, and their five children.
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