With the anticipated opening up of businesses in California, I am gratefully getting a plethora of calls from young couples who have been waiting to get married and are scheduling their nuptials this summer. Different backgrounds and different individuals, but they all seem to need the same reminder about weddings: the wedding is not an “end point”, but rather it is the beginning of their lives together.
It’s an easy mistake for a young couple to make. The lengthy preparations, cost, planning, and excitement places the focus on the wedding. But it is what happens after the night of the wedding that really determines the quality of their lives together.
This same teaching is something that every Jew needs to remember during and beyond Passover.
We prepare for Passover for days or even weeks before the holiday. Cleaning the house, getting ready for the Seder, inviting people over live or via zoom…it’s so much joyous work that like the wedding, our focus is entirely on the Seders of the first and second night. But like the young wedding couple, we need to stay clear about what the holiday is really about.
The first night Seder memorializes the tenth plague and subsequent exodus of our ancestors from Egypt. But this powerful night is only the beginning of our consciously intimate relationship with God. It is only the start of the process of letting go of anything we are psycho/emotional/spiritual slaves to as we embrace spiritual freedom. Like the wedding, it is the beginning of the rest of our lives.
During the eight days of Passover we begin to embrace the responsibilities and choices of being free. After the last night, we need to continue to take on those responsibilities and joys of freedom. It is imperative that we choose to live as spiritually aware adults after Passover is over: embracing freedom and not falling back into our old, pre-Passover habits. To use the analogy of the Seder, we need to all become the “wise child” who understands Jewish spirituality and practices and acts upon those understandings in our daily lives rather than slip back into our old patterns.
If we’re honest with ourselves, that’s a big task: to reject our patterns of personal slavery and embrace the change into “spiritual adults” that the Seder leads us to. But as always, there is a Jewish practice to help us stay awake and aware.
The last night of Passover is the evening when our ancestors stood at the edge of the Sea of Reeds with the Egyptian army behind them. It is the time when that generation experienced the parting of the Sea and the total redemption from slavery as they entered into a wilderness of freedom. And it is an ancient custom from the mystical tradition of Judaism that we hold yet another Seder on that night so that we can carry the teachings of Passover with us.
(Before going further, it is useful to understand the length of the Passover holiday. In Israel, it is seven days long, as commanded in the Torah. Because of potentially getting the date wrong in the Diaspora, Passover is eight days long here. Some Reform Jews choose to observe it seven days even in the Diaspora, and more observant Diaspora Jews observe eight days of Passover holiday.)
The custom on the last night it is to be aware of the dangers of assimilation and slavery; and choose the freedom of an unknown wilderness filled with hope and opportunity. We do this by having a last night Seder, complete with the Seder plate of matza, maror, etc. However, instead of just re-telling the Magid (the part of the Seder where we tell of the plagues and exodus), we additionally talk about that evening at the edge of the Sea of Reeds. It is a time to discuss the fears we may have about the responsibilities that come with spiritual freedom. It is a transition time when we remember being slaves, and remind ourselves of what we are personally slaves to in our own lives today. And it is then an evening where we focus on how we want to live as free men and women.
What are our dreams and goals that we have been too afraid of pursuing? What obstacles have prevented us from achieving those goals, and are we remembering to always put our faith in God as our ancestors did long ago when they crossed the Sea? How do we choose to be consciously spiritually mature, and are we willing to make the commitments necessary in order to maintain a true awareness of our intimate relationship with God, ourselves, and all of Life?
Take the time on the last night of Passover this year, have last night Seder, and contemplate these issues. Instead of being like a wedding couple who are only concerned with the wedding and not the marriage; let us all become conscious of taking the teachings of the Passover holiday and making them an integral part of our daily lives.
In doing so, may we all attain true freedom in all ways; may we keep the glory of Passover with us in all times; and may we all experience on a personal level an intimate and meaningful relationship with God that brings us all joy, good health, prosperity, fun, peace, and much love.
Rabbi Michael Barclay April 2, 2021 20th of Nisan, 5781