At five years old I rolled under the table with laughter at Passover after my thimble-full of wine. Passover was a time our family really enjoyed themselves together. And what always struck me as a novel passage in the Haggadah, the story that is read at the Passover service, managed to shape my life’s outlook: that while in every age, some new freedom is won, yet, “each age uncovers a formerly unrecognized servitude—requiring new liberation to set man’s soul free.” Participating in the Exodus was my training-ground for a career as a writer.
Today, as spring comes in 2022, it’s hard not to feel we are losing ground in human rights hard won in the United States. Democratic freedoms, the right to vote, civil rights, rights for women, for workers’ rights, the right to equal access to healthcare, to protection of clean air and water, all these rights are threatened today. And overshadowing all that now, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and now the invasion of the Ukraine and the threat of nuclear war. I am reminded of the lyrics to The Merry Minuet, written in 1959 by Sheldon Harnick (who also wrote the lyrics to Fiddler on the Roof) and sung by the Kingston Trio, which famously ends “What nature doesn’t do to us/will be done by our fellow man.” As a country, as a planet, we are struggling. But we have made progress. And as it is written in the Haggadah, “each age uncovers a formerly unrecognized servitude—requiring new liberation to set man’s soul free.”
This speaks to the cyclical, and timeless present of Jewish history. The story of Passover is the recitation of the Exodus, when Moses led his people out of Egypt. Passover is always celebrated at the beginning of spring, when budding leaves remind us there is rebirth, there is hope.
I have an apple tree in our backyard that has bloomed every year exactly at Passover. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, like in all aboriginal cultures, and which women’s menstrual cycles follow. Each month begins at the new moon. Passover is celebrated every year at the full moon, half-way through the month of Nissan, which usually occurs in March or April of the Roman calendar. Easter occurs the day after the first full moon following the spring equinox, the first day of spring, a solar event, when the sun crosses the equator moving north, so the holidays often occur near the same time each year. This year the first night of Passover was celebrated on Friday evening, April 15th, 2022 and Easter was on Sunday, April 17th.
My apple tree got sick over this last year and I didn’t know what to expect, we thought it had died, but this week one sprig has valiantly sprung out of a lower limb to show itself. We had planned to cut down the tree, but I can’t give up on it now. I have to find out if there is a way to prune and save it.
Sometimes we think love has died, hope has died. Spring is a time to look at the budding trees, the flowers coming up and blooming, and to feel our hearts awakening too. Passover reminds us of nature’s constancy. The ritual order of the Passover meal, the seder, helps us to liberate our minds from the dross of the past, and remind us there is always hope. We repeat the story of liberation from bondage every year, and it reminds us that we must continue to strive for liberation.
There are many kinds of slavery, and in this most modern of times, we recognize we may be slaves to consumerism, to debt, to addictions, to unfair responsibilities, to our own bothersome thoughts and feelings, to bad habits of all kinds. Perhaps we cannot solve the problems of the world, but we can always improve ourselves. As is often quoted from the oral commentaries, Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.”