A Sabbath Message: Spring Moves Us Forward – Preparing for Passover

“There’s a crack in everything – that’s where the light comes in.” 

– Leonard Cohen (1934–2016), singer and poet inspired by the words of author Ernest Hemingway

With the arrival of Sabbath this week, we also usher in the first day of spring – and with it, the season of new hope and opportunity. Spring is always a favorite season. As a child, I associated it with longer hours of sunlight to play outside with my friends, and now, more chances for post-dinner walks. Although we don’t live in a place where the changing of seasons is obvious, somehow, I feel it. Last weekend, my husband and I were lucky enough to participate in a Covid-friendly stargazing hike in Ojai on Saturday night, just before the time change. Limited to just 6 people, it was a treat to be with a few others, although far apart – and I cannot remember the last time I saw so many stars! Since Ojai has a dark sky ordinance, it was just perfect! The constellations were brilliant, and the falling stars were plenty! But, somehow, I had a sense that night marked a change in the seasons, there was something in the air. Indeed, the next evening, the light had a different feel to it. This year, “springing forward” into spring, perhaps we never thought we would still be dealing with the pandemic a year later. And yet, we are not where we were last year, we have sprung forward into a time of new hope.

Spring also brings to us one of our greatest festivals, the holiday of Passover – our people’s story of liberation and birth. It’s hard to believe, but in just over a week, we will once again celebrate Pesach – our Passover holiday, and retell that most seminal story of our redemption from slavery to freedom. Last year, we were just at the start of the pandemic, grappling with how to observe the holiday virtually, how to include family members with whom we could not celebrate physically, how to make the holiday meaningful under new and extraordinary conditions. And we succeeded – even though, it was not ideal. Not only did we achieve meaningful observances, but we also became role models for those in other faith communities for how to observe holidays virtually. I heard an interview on National Public Radio, which I have mentioned here, that asked a Jew and a Muslim to advise their Christian friends how they were so successful in celebrating their springtime festivals virtually, so that others could learn from them. I was contacted by the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness to prepare a guide for observing holidays virtually, since the Jewish community clearly knew how it was done. And then, we repeated our successes with our fall High Holidays, as well. Not exactly experts, but we are adaptable, creating meaning and including others near and far in our celebrations.

So, at the risk of adding a 5th question, how do we make this Passover different from all others, and especially last year’s holiday? I think like spring itself, it poses a wonderful opportunity. Yes, it is a year later, and yes, we are (still) at home, although not exactly where we were – we are beginning to see where an end will come, where a promised land will arise. So, while we may not be in “Jerusalem” yet this year, next year is looking more likely! In the meantime, how do we make THIS year different? How do we make THIS year meaningful? So…here is what I propose. Since Passover is all about storytelling, I think we should tell more stories – OUR stories! Like the Israelites of old, we have all been on a journey – and all of our ancestors have come from somewhere. The longer we live and talk to others about this, the more we learn about our backgrounds. Passover is at its heart about journeys, so perhaps we should share our family journeys with each other – we may know the basics, but maybe not the details. If you will be with others for a Passover Seder over Zoom, perhaps everyone can share about their family stories. If members from the same family will be “together,” choose the aspect from the past which has informed your present the most. If you will be alone, perhaps you could write down what you know about your family history – and read this for yourself during your own celebration. I know many people who have taken some time during the pandemic to write their story. Passover is the perfect time to incorporate your story into the fabric of our people’s story, forming a giant quilt of who we are – our joys and our sorrows.

To enrich your Passover experience, you may choose to expand this conversation to include relevant issues occurring in our society today, which can bring to life the ideas we learn about in the HaggadahIn no less than 36 times, the Torah commands just treatment of strangers. The famous verse in Exodus 22:20, reminds us why: “You shall not wrong a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In fact, no other commandment is repeated so often. A question you could discuss at your Seder or Passover celebration could be: In what ways can we fulfill this commandment today, especially in welcoming and including immigrants and refugees? I believe the issue of immigration is not a political or partisan one – it is a broken system in need of repair and added dignity for those seeking asylum. For resources to enhance your conversation, check out the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) Haggadah and resources. After the events of last summer, we all know we have much work to do in the area of racial injustice – and Passover can inform us here too. We might ask ourselves: What lessons does the Passover story teach us about enslavement and liberation? How can we apply these lessons to fighting against racial injustice, the legacy of slavery in this country? For resources to help in this discussion, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) has some great insights. For further ideas to enhance your understanding, you might look at this wonderful Haggadah supplement “Freedom for All” from the New England ADL (Anti-Defamation League). With the events of this week heavy on our hearts, we have conversations to have and work to do – and like the matza at our seder tables, there are cracks in our world for us to address.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom – a Sabbath full of light and warmth, as you welcome the spring,

Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service


Image caption: A sure sign that spring has definitely arrived…The California Poppies appear in my garden, with their bright faces shining with full glory at the lengthened sunlight, while at night, they bashfully hide, as their petals curl up in a small hug to sleep through the cold evenings.