Thursday, April 24, 2008

2nd Night of Passover Storahtelling Seder

By Daliya Karnovsky

Storah On The Road

I did not want to go to the Storahtelling Seder. I had had an early afternoon Passover Seder with my mother, was full, tired, and sad, and all I wanted to do was lie on my brother’s couch and watch TV.

But blast it all, leave it to me to sign up for gefilte fish. Now, if I opted to stay on the couch, I would be tortured by the thought of a gefilte-less Seder just a few blocks away, and in addition to the guilt I was feeling regarding other circumstances in my life, I would have to live with that as well. Not good. Maybe I can just drop off the gefilte and go, I thought. I even attempted to con my brother into taking it there without me and explaining that I wasn’t feeling well. He declined.

So I had no choice. Miserable as I was, I would have to lug the four glass jars fifteen blocks and then MAYBE I’d be able to sneak out at the appropriate moment.

The Seder started at seven; I left my brother’s apartment at 7:30 and dragged my feet all the way. Much to my chagrin, I found David Wolkin’s apartment. I waited for the elevator to take me up one flight just to kill time. I entered the apartment and was immediately assaulted by warm, smiling faces. I had arrived just in time to introduce myself and share a Passover memory, which I oh so charmingly skirted around by muttering, “I don’t remember my last Passover”. It had actually been that afternoon, but who was going to call me on that? I didn’t feel like sharing.

Time wore on, and I felt my mood lifting slightly. I don’t know if I really felt happy for that first half hour, but there was the distinct sensation of this circle of people physically lifting some of the burden off of me and allowing me to settle in for the night.

Each person had something to share; Annie Levy with her battle for the Wicked Child, Melissa Shaw with the bitter herbs and along with it encouragement to share something difficult with the person sitting next to you. Even Elijah was there, looking surprisingly like David Wolkin and dropping profound morsels like “the one you’ve been waiting for is you”. It was beautiful.

What I remember best, and I wish I could remember exactly who said it, I’m pretty sure it was our fearless and radiant leader Naomi, was someone saying “remember to celebrate every time you free yourself from a narrow place. Otherwise you are just going directly to another narrow place. We must remember to celebrate our freedom.” This simple revelation freed me almost entirely from the weight I was feeling (not to mention the fact that enough time had passed that Seder #1 was finally starting to digest).

It had been a difficult emotional week for me. The timing of this wisdom was perfect; I had freed myself from a struggle I had been experiencing for a long time, and now I caught myself moving directly to the next narrow place, wondering if I had done the right thing and what did the future hold. But that kind of thinking was just putting me in another narrow place, and I hadn’t taken the opportunity to really celebrate and feel what it was to be free; to have freed myself. I owed that to myself, and these beautiful, loud, accepting people were encouraging me to do it.

I smiled big and sang, shared with my neighbors and enjoyed listening to Shoshana’s drum and Jonathan Goldberg’s “Chad Gad YO”. I no longer felt full and heavy, and quickly amended that with several helpings of vegetarian stew, matzah pizza, beet salad, and unbelievable melt-in-your-mouth homemade caramel and chocolate chip macaroons.

Before I knew it, it was midnight and the night was ending. I left reluctantly, and skipped lightly in the cool dark streets, having been liberated from both myself and four jars of gefilte fish. Dayeinu.

Kri’at Chayim – The Parting of Life

By Julie Seltzer
Verse Per Verse

The Hebrew phrase we use to refer to the splitting of the Re(e)d Sea is קריעת ים סוף (Kriat Yam Suf). It’s an interesting verb choice – kria, usually translated as “splitting,” or “parting,” literally means “tearing,” or “ripping.” This year, the word קריעה kria had a whole new association for me. A week before Pesach began, I performed קריעה kria, the ritual ripping of one’s garment that marks the beginning of a seven day mourning period.

The Hebrews journeyed towards the sea from מצרים (mitzrayim), Egypt, a place of מיצר (meitzar), suffering. My mom was also in מיצר (meitzar), slave to her own body, no longer able to perform the tasks we generally take for granted. Leaving this suffering to enter the limitlessness of the desert, the place where her spirit would be free from the confines of her body, was a tough tear. The midrash speaks of the ripping of the sea as a miracle of utmost difficulty (Sanhedrin 22a). To go from slavery to freedom, or in essence from death to rebirth, is to completely reverse the known state of affairs. Likewise, to go from life to death is a miraculous ripping apart from everything that was previously known or understood. My mom’s body had never before been parted from her soul. And I had never known what it was like to exist in the world without her.

The Torah, in describing the exodus from Egypt, uses the phrase בעצם היום הזה, (b’etzem hayom hazeh) (Exodus 12:17), translated by JPS as on “that selfsame day,” but also understood by commentators as “at the height of the day” [literally, in the strength – עצם(etzem)—of the day, ie, at the time when the sun is its strongest]. Rashi discusses this phrase at some length, and explains that the power of the exodus was so strong that we could depart in the middle of the day, with no fear of being stopped. The breaking free had such energy, such strength unto itself, that no thing and no one could hold it back.

Rashi mentions another instance when this same phrase is used – at the time of Moshe’s death. Moshe dies not in his sleep, but בעצם היום, at the height of the day, because as much as the people wanted to hold on, they no longer could. The necessity of his death had such strength unto itself that Moshe could take his leave to die in broad daylight, in front of his entire nation, and no one had the power to hold on to him.

My mom also died בעצם היום, in the middle of the day. Over the last few months there were many cries of Let Me Go, interspersed with a fierce desire to continue living. The plagues came one after the other: a blood clot, swollen hands and feet, a feeding tube, despair. Finally, Let Me Go had such strength that even the strongest Pharaohs, including the ones who loved her so much, were powerless.

The word referring to the “strength”of the day is עצם (etzem), not the more common word for strength, חזק (chozek). This more common word חזק (chozek) is related to להחזיק (l’hachzik), to hold onto something, to grasp. But עצם (etzem) hints at strength of a different kind. עצם, which also means bone, is solid, stable, and lasting. It’s not a forceful grasping – its power is not exerted by holding desperately on to something external, but emerges from the deepest place within, from our very bones. It’s a strength that lasts and sustains us through the generations, just as the strength of Joseph’s עצמות (atzamot), bones, accompanied the Hebrews from the moment of our departure from Egypt until our arrival at freedom. May we all derive עצמה (otzma), strength, from my mother’s memory, Vicki Seltzer, זכרונה לברכה, zichrona livracha (may her memory be for a blessing), זכר ליציאת מצרים, zecher litzi’at mitzrayim (a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt).