The observance of Passover is one of the very first commandments given in the Torah to what will become the Jewish nation. It is a precursor to the creation of The Children of Israel, the bringing together of a subjugated and enslaved minority and making a free people of them. Every year, Jews all over the world, no matter what their level of observance, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or ‘other’, gather for the Seder, and a festive meal. We read the prayers, psalms, commentary by rabbis of a bygone age, and tell the story of the subjugation of the Jews by the Egyptians, the birth of Moses and his splitseabrother Aaron, their demand to the Pharaoh to “let my people go”, the plagues that God wreaks upon the Egyptians, Pharaoh’s final acquiescence and release of the people, the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, the final, utter destruction of the Egyptian army, and the ultimate liberation of the Jews. Epic stuff. (Note to self: might be a good idea for a movie.)

Seder means ‘order’ and there is a script for the ceremony contained in a book called the Haggadah. We go through a specific sequence of prayers and commentary, the eating of tablespecial foods (filled with mystical symbolism), sing songs, and give thanks for our deliverance. The entire purpose of the Seder, which throws the normal sequence of a holiday meal out of whack, is to pique the curiosity of the children and move them to ask, “What makes this night different from all other nights?” The reply details the story of slavery, redemption and freedom. We are commanded to relate the story to our children throughout all future generations, to insure that we never forget that once we were slaves, and now free people. The ultimate reason for the emancipation of the Jews and their Exodus from Egypt was to bring the Children of Israel to Mount Sinai in order to bestow upon them the Ten Commandments and the entire book of law, The Torah. In effect to create the Jewish People.

Many people think the purpose of Passover is to celebrate freedom. More specifically, it is the celebration of the transition from slavery to freedom, an important distinction. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim. It translates literally a ‘narrow place’. Each of us has our own personal Mitzrayim, our restrictions, our limitations, the things that hold us back and keep us from achieving our full potential. Passover gives us a chance to look at these aspects of our lives in the light of the bigger story, and whenever possible strive to transcend these limitations, to look for ways to redeem ourselves from whatever enslaves us. It is a time for deep personal reflection. This year I have much to reflect upon.

It is also the holiday most associated with family, tradition and continuity in the entire Jewish calendar, and as such is fraught with peril for us this year. This is the first year since Jake was born that we haven’t had a Seder. I touched on this in my last post as to why that is. He was such an integral part of every Seder. We had so many wonderful times throughout the years with family and friends, large gatherings and small; every year we went through the entire ceremony. One year we had character finger puppets and acted out the story. One year we found the idea for an interactive presentation of the ten plagues. This became Jake’s part to play. He presented each plague with enthusiasm and mystery, complete with water turning into blood, sick cows, pipe cleaner lice, rubber frogs and locusts, darkness and the skeletons of the first-born. No Seder was complete without him. When we got married, Terry’s cousin gave us a beautiful illustrated Haggadah for a wedding present. It has a special section titled “Thou shall narrate it to your son”. It tells the story concurrently with the main account in simpler terms, with more continuity, which we read to Jake and whatever childhood friends were present when he was younger. Now, there is no one to read it to; this year the Haggadah stayed on the shelf.

The centerpiece of the table is the Seder Plate with its array of symbolic foods, salt water, matzah, and wine. sederplateThere is a very good explanation of the significance of these foods and their relation to the story here. This year, the Seder plate had another set of symbolisms for me, some obvious, some not. The Shank Bone symbolized Jake’s culinary interest and all the times we cooked together. I remember when he was studying at the Cordon Bleu telling us a story of having to butcher a whole side of lamb, and cooking up “a grip” of lamb and eating it for days. The egg represented all the breakfasts, all the meals we had as a family, especially the last ones we shared in Palm Springs. The salt water is for the ocean of tears I have shed for him. Will continue to shed. The parsley is for his love of life and the delight he took in the physical world. The charoset, a mixture of ground fruit and nuts is the mortar that binds his spirit to me; the maror, the bitter herb is the bitterness of my sorrow at losing my precious son. We make a sandwich of the sweet charoset, the bitter horseradish and matzah, which we eat just before partaking of the meal. For me, this ‘Hillel Sandwich” is the combination of the sharpness of anguish mixed with the sweetness of recollection seasoned with the salt tears of sorrow, as all memories of Jake have now become.

During the synagogue service for Passover there is a moment where the Kohanim deliver the Priestly Blessing. At various times throughout the year, the Kohanim, the descendants of Aaron the first High Priest, are enjoined to bless the people. Not that they have a special ability to confer blessings, the Kohen is merely the conduit for the greater blessing from above. As a Kohen, something passed from father to son by birth, it is my responsibility to stand before the people and pronounce the threefold blessing:

The Lord bless you and protect you.
The Lord shine his countenance upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his countenance toward you and grant you peace.

It doesn’t take long, only a minute or two. On Friday night, all fathers bless their children with the same blessings. These are the blessings I gave to Jake every time we parted company. I placed my hand on his head and recited the words. I prayed that God grant him peace. Especially peace. Every time. I am not able to say these words now without pangs of sorrow, my voice catching, my eyes filling with tears. I stood beneath my tallit yesterday and today, and somehow managed to finish without completely breaking down. Perhaps Jake was there with me, standing beside me, helping me get through. But I think, what good did it do? All the blessing and praying. Did God protect Jake? Was He gracious to him? Did He grant him peace? Maybe now he is at peace, delivered from whatever trials and turmoil that troubled him. It is not the peace I prayed for, not the peace I envisioned for him, but perhaps peace nonetheless.

journeyBy contrast, I am far from at peace. I still have my Mitzrayim of sorrow and longing that hems me in. Where is my Moses to lead me to freedom? Where is the miracle I need to split my Sea of Reeds? How much longer must I toil in the brickyard of this Pharaoh of unrelenting sadness? I still have so far to travel, the passage long and exhausting, but if this ancient story of slavery and redemption is any indication, there might just be the possibility of something worth striving for at journey’s end, however long it takes.

About edcol52

The Infinite Fountain of Love and Loss flows unceasingly into the pool of memory and sorrow. I created this blog in response to the most dreadful tragedy every parent fears, the death of a child, our 24 year old son, Jake. We are now on an unimagined journey along this road of grief and recovery. If you can find some comfort within these pages, than I will have succeeded in some small measure.
This entry was posted in Ceremony, Daily Ramblings, Food, Friends and Family, Grief, Honoring Jake, Jake Colman, Jake's Spirit, Memory, Sadness and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Passover

  1. Eloquently written as usual. Love you both

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