This past Friday night, I took part in the most bizarre Passover seder I’ve ever been to. For starts, it wasn’t actually Passover. Passover starts this Friday. A minor quibble. But the menu included pork ribs, bacon, scallops, and matzah ball soup. Instead of charoset, we had apples and honey. And the herbs present were not the bitter kind. I did, however, manage four cups of wine.
By all accounts, this was not a seder. It was a Judaism-themed Friday night banquet/cocktail party. But it ended up taking a place among the more profound seders I’ve ever participated in.
See, in my experience, seders are all about tradition. The traditions of the foods we eat, the prayers and readings we chant, the tradition of small children standing up on chairs to sing the Four Questions.
So why was this seder different from all other seders?
Our host opened the night discussing the modern applicability of the story of our liberation. Perhaps we can identify current Syrian refugees as our placeholders in the story? Perhaps we can allude to our own personal freedom from the things that hold us back.
Yet, in every generation, we must regard ourselves as having escaped from Egypt.
Instead of reading the same book we always read, eating the same food in the same order with the same prayers, we did something different. We talked. We talked about our own bondages and what freedom means in the 21st century. We talked about what it means to be a modern Jew in a world that is astoundingly, some say only momentarily, accepting of our existence and flourishing.
I’m endlessly fascinated with Judaism and Jewish identity. I believe that we, as a people, are an eternally growing jigsaw puzzle that can only be understood from afar — or else, intensely personally. I believe that each of us seeks to understand our role in the larger picture. Some of us huddle inward, safely ensconced in our communities, guarded against outside influence and danger. Some of us hover near the periphery, feeling little allegiance to the greater community, preferring to sample the other ones. And then there’s everyone in between. And yet, we’re all a part of the same story.
Much like the four brothers in the Haggadah, and the questionable parenting techniques demonstrated to them, we have our differences. But we are strong together because of them, not in spite of them. The story of the four sons is based on the premise that our differences define us, but it unites us in the process.
So you can tell me that what I went to wasn’t a seder. You can tell me that a seder needs charoset and maror, two different washings of hands, three pieces of matzah, and at least one extremely bored child waiting for the brisket and longing to search for the afikoman,
And maybe you would be right.
But what I felt that night was the closest I’ve come to that simple promise, that we see ourselves as having personally escaped from Egypt. That we experienced freedom, humility, gratitude, and perhaps even a spark of something ineffable.
If we could always have seders like that? Dayeinu, it would be enough.