William Hamilton

Reclining and Dipping

“The thing about good advice is that it’s a lot easier said than done,” a buddy said recently. He added, “Life doesn’t hold still long enough for you to apply it.” “You got that right” I chimed in. “How often do I get to put my feet up. Mostly I’m just trying to get through the day.” 

Steady ground. Emotionally steady, that is. It’s hard to come by. Until now. That’s right, until this coming week when we make a practice of putting our feet up, of settling into our Seder for an unhurried roundtable of stories, songs, and tastes. They serve to remind us what it’s all for. That is, why we do what we do. Not specifically, of course. We all have self-interests. There’s nothing wrong with acting on them regularly. But self-interest alone may not accrue to the greater good.

The Seder invites you to fit your own life story into another story that’s larger and more lasting. It’s a story that’s also yours. And it’s a story that does have a bountiful history of accruing to the greater good. It sponsors hope and agency. And it has an impressive track record.

Reclining invites some sharing that’s pause-and-focus friendly. Dipping food is also featured at the Seder. Yet this hints at something much more useful and lasting than anything saltwater or Haroset can leave you with. I like to call it: dipping into the surplus of wisdom that the lived experiences of others can impart (zechut avot). 

You aren’t the first person who’s been in a tight spot. Your thirst for trusting companionship may not be as unique as it feels. Neither are your doubts over the future, nor your worries over roadside wreckage, nor your fears about the collision course up ahead. As real and vivid as all of these feelings are, you don’t have to face them alone. And because they’re human-fueled problems they require human skills, skills that are attentive to feelings and desires, which our ancestors actually specialized in. Dip not merely twice. Dip often, into your People’s surplus. 

The Prophetic portion for this Shabbat concludes with Elijah’s function of rotating the hearts of parents and children toward each other (Mal. 3:24). A hasidic comment understands the parents mentioned in the verse as an allusion to the surplus we can dip into for wisdom (zechut avot).

The Seder makes it seasonal to put your feet up and regain your footing. The first two of the Four Questions have to do with foods we taste. But the final two, dealing with reclining and dipping, may, after all is said and done, have the best aftertaste.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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