Years ago I passed a signboard whose message has remained with me. “Religion is what happens after the sermon.” Simple and powerful.
We are at the tail end of Passover. The rituals of the seder are behind us — or are they? I think the true impact of the seder is not on the one or two nights it is observed, but rather as a booster for the entire year. Take these days, a halfway point on the Jewish calendar to Rosh Hashanah, as a marker for what you want your year — or your life to be. Follow up on the message of Passover.
A scan of just four Passover ingredients, elements of the seder — though there are many more — will lead us in this direction.
Bedikat Chametz: The search for leaven — for that which puffs up. Just as yeast left to sit and rise puffs up baked goods, so too arrogance and pride can inflate a person if ignored. At Passover we seek out the leaven in our homes as a way to create distinction. How healthy it is, spiritually and physically, to consciously rid ourselves of conceit. Passover is an opportunity to look inward — into the home of our souls —and to adjust our own living.
Ha Lachma Anya: This is poor people’s bread. We declare this at the first appearance of matzoh at the seder. Who would order an item made solely of flour and water at a festive meal? At Passover we identify with those lacking food choices, who cannot choose what they will eat. How are we going to see to it that others have food to eat? Do we contribute to MAZON — A Jewish Response to Hunger? Do we contribute to Leket Israel, which distributes 220 tons of food a week to the hungry in Israel? Do we work at a food bank? Do we grow food and distribute to others?
Dayenu: It would have been enough. This is our paean to freedom. We recount the steps of liberation. Each one would have satisfied us, so long as we would have left Egypt — Mitzrayim. In Hebrew the word literally means the most constricted of places. How are we fortifying others to depart their own internal or external mitzrayim? Are we working collectively to end slavery, which still exists in Sudan, in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast, or the brothels of Cambodia and even in the streets of American cities? How are we partnering with others to release economic shackles and bring about justice?
Birkat HaMazon: Blessing after a full meal. This is intended to remind us to acknowledge the gifts and blessings that we have, rather than focusing on what we lack. In a larger sense, it calls us to awareness and to express our appreciation — to the Divine and to each other. Seek out opportunities for expressing gratitude. This not only increases social capital, but more important it changes our own internal compass, directing us toward our gifts and responsibility to others.
The Talmud teaches that one should only pray in a room that has windows (Berachot 34b). One can read this as an admonition to know what is happening in this world even as one reaches out beyond one’s self. Passover is an extended prayer. Keeps your eyes — and your mind — open. Celebrate Passover fully. May it last figuratively long after your seder is complete.