one of the most fascinating parts of the passover seder—one of the most eminently quotable, as well—is the narrative requirement that you envision yourself as someone who was taken out of slavery. in many ways, this is a call to action, to social justice: we are tasked with remembering the oppression of our people, and we must look around the world and see the oppression of others. we may not close your eyes and enjoy the victory of freedom: we must mix celebration with sorrow, taking wine out of our goblets with our fingers when we remember the plagues wrecked on the egyptians. this requirement shapes many sedarim all over the world, and i think it allows us to emerge as better people from the eight days of passover, hungry for the thick lushness of bread, for complicated meals and flavors and tastes. for the simplicity and comfort of routine.
but this requirement and call to action is not the only part of the passover seder that instills us with the promise of change. and while a lot of people—including myself—like focusing on the mandate to justice almost exclusively, this year i’ve found myself thinking much more about the happily ever after, about the gift of the ten commandments, the burden of freedom, and that elusive land of milk and honey. this year, for a number of extremely personal and emotional reasons, i’ve been thinking about the way passover is a promise of the future, not just a mandate of the past. the way passover creates a template, tabla rasa, for the year to come. the way it’s a beginning, the way it instills hope, and the way it creates structure for the year to come.
this year i’ve been thinking a lot about after. not just about dayenu (”it would have been enough,” we say, noting our liberation from slavery, our release into the desert, the gift of the torah, the gift of god’s presence), but also about the moment moshe looks over into the land of israel, forward and onward and into the future. the moment the children of israel cross into the land, the moment they put down roots and call themselves tribes of judah, reuven, binyamin. the moment they find names for themselves, find homes, find places where they can plant crops and expect to see them sprout. the moment we, as a wandering, placeless people, put down roots. the moment we become more than a faith–the moment we become a people. the moment we stop worrying about yesterday and today; the moment we can start worrying about tomorrow.
i’ve been thinking a lot about that moment. the apex of self-definition, of coming together, of community and of promise. not because it’s the end of the story, barely mentioned in the haggadah. but because it’s the beginning of the story, in a sense. it’s the moment we put down our history books, sweep away the remnants of food and wine, and talk to one another. it’s the moment we stop remembering, and it’s the moment we make plans. what will we do tomorrow? when do you think we’ll wake up? what time is it–do you think our seder was longer or shorter than anyone else’s? it’s the moment that i remember that my father is one of a few hundred heads of my family who have worn a kittel and stood at the front of our table and said we were slaves and now we are free with a voice that is terribly scratchy and getting older and fainter every year. one day i will stand at the head of that table with my partner, and it will be me making that proclamation of faith. i will be the next in the line of jews who celebrate, commemorate, and then continue.
the seder gives us the gift of reflection. it’s a memorial. it’s a lesson. but sometimes i think it’s more than that–it’s the promise that even in the darkest of times, even in the bleakest of moments, there is always an after. there is a the bed that awaits us after the seder, after we put away our plates and glasses and trudge into bedrooms cool, dark, and welcoming. after the matzah crumbs have been swept off the table, after our stomachs are heavy and our hearts are light with wine and wonder. there is a later. there are eight days of dusty crumbling meals, eight days of regret, eight days of difficulty. eight days where we are reminded of the lowest points in our history–of those people who are still at their lowest points. the mandate of social justice, the call to action, the requirement to see suffering and to address it.
but then there is the ninth day. there is the tenth day. there is the week after, the month after. there is the opportunity to begin again, to look at the body of law handed to us in the vast, empty expanse of desert, and say i will, i can, i must. it is the promise of an unbroken chain, of thousands of years of judaism stretching in every temporal direction. it is the memory that wherever you go, the roots of your story will follow you. you are not alone, and you will never be alone.
this promise of tomorrow is especially meaningful to me. i’ve been thinking a lot about freedom blessed by the constraint of law and by the necessity of compromise. i’ve been thinking a lot about the future. both of these things sound difficult and terrifying sometimes–unbearably overwhelming, unacceptably heavy burdens. but lately i’ve also been thinking about the opportunity of the seder to impose order on all of this chaos–on the chance i will have to set aside a short period of time to reflect, to mourn, to dedicate myself to grounding my story in memory. and then i will be given the imperative of thinking about the future, about tomorrow, and about the promise given to the am, to my people.
my grandfather once told me that jewish history is the promise of thousands of stars that was given to avraham. everything else is a consequence. he never told me that being jewish meant that you will never, ever be alone. you will never be just history. you will always have tomorrow.
now i think he never said this because he knew he didn’t need to. because he knew, one day, i’d figure it out.