By Rabbi Zolly Claman
(AJNews) – I wonder what would emerge from a social survey amongst Jews of all backgrounds and demographics to ascertain at which time during the Jewish calendar they feel most Jewish. Lightening the Chanukah candles, hearing the Shofar and dressing up on Purim definitely would be honourable mentions – but in all likelihood I think sitting with family for the Pesach seder would prove to be the winner.
It is not a coincidence that during the evening that we are instructed to not just recap the history but to experience the exodus that is the most multi-sensory design of them all. The late night, the crunch of the matza, the musicality of the songs alongside family and friends reconnects us to our roots like no other experience and inspires us to reinvigorate our heritage within ourselves.
The experience, as beautiful as it is, is not immune from the shortcoming that most inspirational moments have. They usually are so pure in the moment, but more often than not, they do not leave us with an everlasting impact. So how do we adapt in order to have the seder influence our internal selves for a longer period of time? – or maybe even forever?
What it boils down to is what do we do when we are inspired? And I think a general guidance from the hero of the Pesach story can send us in the right direction.
Moses was the greatest Jewish leader in our rich history. The moment that he was promoted from layman to leader was the moment that the exodus really started; “Let me turn now and see this great spectacle – why does the thorn bush not burn up?” (Shemot, 3:3). According to the Midrash, the burning bush had been there for a long time and was well known to the locals. What set Moshe apart from everyone else was that he actually left the path he was on to investigate this unusual sight.
He put insight and inspiration into action. He stepped out of the hectic rush of life to look into something that could provide him with more meaning. Everyone else in the town saw that bush and said “Wow, that’s cool!” and then went on their merry way. Only after this self-provoked action of “let me turn,” did G-d call upon Moses as the first and greatest leader of the Jewish people.
When we sit down for the seder this year, we can all take a chapter out of Moses’ book and see past the veil of the sing-song nature of the Haggadah. Within the tunes there are texts which illicit questions, and conversations which often lead to insights about our history that can deepen our present.
If we read the Haggadah with a keen eye and look for those moments that make us feel “hey, that’s kind of out of place or curious,” and verbalize these with others around the table – you’d be surprised what you can excavate! Taking that very same approach with our lives through Pesach and beyond of not being passive and waiting for meaning to come but to actively mining for meaning can be nothing short of life changing.
Succinctly put, truly engage yourself with the Haggadah – don’t sit back relax and enjoy the show. Allowing that approach to continue with our post-Pesach daily lives can help guide us to making the most of each day and experience.
Rabbi Zolly Claman is the spiritual leader of Beth Israel Congregation in Edmonton.