For me, it is the delicate scent of dill filling my kitchen from the big pot of chicken soup simmering on the stove. It smells like springtime, fresh and green, with the promise of new beginnings, but it also smells like my Grandma’s kitchen, and then my mom’s, and now mine. It smells like Pesach.
Passover is the holiday that surely evokes that ineluctable mix of old and new, of tradition that reaches back to a long line of Seders past even as it thrusts us forward towards Seders now and those yet to come. It is infused with enduring memory as well as an arresting anticipation, as the symbols on the Seder plate remind, the salt water and maror of slavery, the round eggs and sprightly parsley of renewal and redemption.
So it is each each year that we gather to retell the story of the arduous journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, that we look back as we look ahead, that we hew to the traditional narrative, its structure, its rituals, its symbols, even as we seek to invest it with new significance as we gather around the table. For even as the age-old story is laden with age-old meaning, so too is its contemporaneous telling resonant today.
Just a glance around the holiday table, we recall Seders past, the family and friends no longer with us, the new little and not so little ones that now fill the chairs. The new haggadot that enliven or deepen the narrative and inspire new questions and new responses along with the old wine-stained favorites. The innovative ritual objects added to the array of traditional ones, the orange to represent inclusion of those who may have been excluded before, the extra cup for Miriam to recognize her role in the story. And the old ones, the shank bone, the matzah, the cup for Elijah and the continuing promise for a better world to come.
Past inscribes present and informs future, for even as the holiday is filled with jubilation and celebration, so too, it is imbued with responsibility and obligation, for not only are we to tell the story, but to re-imagine it and re-live it. It is as if each of us were among the ancient Israelites fleeing slavery to traipse through the desert for forty long years to an unknown destination, sustained only by faith and trust. So each year we add to our recounting, and reclaim the story as our own, to re-commit ourselves in remaking the world by remaking ourselves, by remaking our relationships to others, by remaking our relationship to God.
And so, the Seder asks us to look inward, outward and upward, and as the Seder changes along with the passage of time, as do we, it still remains the same with its message of divine power and human possibility, of promise and hope, and the abiding Jewish imperative to forever be impelled onward.