This year I am making my first Pesach seder. Help! I don't know where to begin. Our side of the family has always been guests of the other side of the family. But this year because of certain family realities I need to step up to the plate ' the seder plate. My head is racing ' how to manage the kids, the food, the guests, the preparations. Where do I begin?
First, remain calm, Second, get out your notebook. Organization is essential. But before you launch into any of the nitty gritty, you must get your head into the right place.
The key to the entire production is joy. Be thrilled to be able to place before your family a meaningful experience: the gift of love as reflected in the food, the table and the deep devotion to our people and tradition.
Keep in mind that this is not just a meal, and not just a holiday. You are facilitating perhaps the most essential ritual in Judaism. Your home will be transformed and your table elevated as you lead your loved ones into the enchanted transcendent mysterium that is seder night.
Now for the planning: enlist the help of your family. Their being a part of the effort is indispensable. Make sure that each member feels a part of the process and that they each have roles that match their age and inclinations. Keep in mind that the meaning of the word seder is order. Embrace this 'Big Idea' right now. With order and deliberation you will make this happen!
Begin with the goal in mind: for me, it is sitting serenely at the seder table. Then work your way backward, listing what will need to be done the day of the seder, the day before the seder, the week before the seder, and even the month before the seder.
Think through not only your menu but the ritual foods as well. Now is the time to call relatives and get those heirloom recipes. Get a folder and start placing the Pesach recipes in it ' you will use this for the rest of your life. Start perusing Passover cookbooks with Post-it notes in hand, but don't get carried away.
Plan familiar recipes and introduce only one or two new ones. The brisket you made on Rosh Hashanah is not much different than the one you will make on Pesach. List each food you will need to prepare and generate a shopping list of the ingredients you will need.
Set up a cooking and shopping timetable. I put up a huge piece of butcher paper on the wall of the kitchen and list each food in big letters. This helps me keep track of what needs to get done. You'll find that crossing off each item is deeply satisfying.
Another part of preparing for the seder involves doing some spring cleaning. With the inner sanctum of the home being the kitchen, work your way through the house. Plan to leave a week for the kitchen, and set aside the cabinets where you can begin putting away your Passover foods. Mark the Passover ones clearly.
The cleansing of the home from chametz, leavening, has a symbolic significance. It represents the refining of our souls. As we search our pockets and drawers for crumbs, we must similarly search the deep recesses of our beings as well. Now we work at letting go of notions that have puffed us up. It is time to rein in our very human tendencies that our own selves exaggerate out of proportion.
The great scholar Rabbi Saadia Gaon understood it this way: 'After the deeds follows the heart.' Sometimes the actions lead and the thoughts follow along. As we inspect and cleanse our outer dwelling, we scrutinize and search out our most inner of abodes. The cleaning of a closet can be deeply satisfying on many levels; it mirrors the inner work of the soul.
Let go, give it away, divest your self. We need not possess all of the stuff filling our closets, nor our mental space. The closets are an easy start to get the practice going. My rule: if it has not been worn in the last year-and-a-half, someone else could be wearing it, and if the ruminations of your mind continue to lead you nowhere positive, stop going there!
Set time aside to plan the seder as well. With your family, determine who the leader will be. Take a trip to the Jewish bookstore and consider all the different Haggadahs. Do you want everyone to read from the same book, or would your prefer sprinkling different ones around? What Haggadah will the children use? While acquiring Haggadahs, purchase some engaging Passover story books for your children. This is the time to build up their excitement.
Depending upon who your guests are, you might divide up pieces of the Haggadah or simply rely on their participation on the night of the seder.
The Haggadah has become a palate upon which many thinkers have drawn their story. We are no different. We each have a Pesach story to tell. Perhaps it is your family's narrative of coming to America. It might be your own individual struggle with your own personal slavery.
By studying the Haggadah ahead of time, you will find the appropriate place to add your own original thoughts. Seder means order, yes, the order of the rituals that we perform seder night, but there is more. Seder must also be the ordering of the world, the grappling with life and all its messy phenomena.
What message of the Exodus speaks to you most? What questions yet remain? This should all be part of a meaningful seder experience.
Though the task seems daunting, be assured ' you will make it to seder night. As the demanding weeks of planning and commotion unfold before us, let the joy in.
Remember generations past, whose monumental efforts have segued into ours. Let us appreciate the breezy way we load those groceries into our shopping cart and pack them into our car. The ease with which we switch on the stove, twist the oven dial and turn the faucet for hot water. Enjoy your preparations: the journey may turn out to be as rewarding as the destination.
Rivy Poupko Kletenik is an internationally renowned educator and incoming Head of School at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. If you have a question that's been tickling your brain, send Rivy an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.