Thursday, April 2, 2015

Despite what everyone says, Pesach really is wonderful

Starting a few days after Purim each year, my Facebook feed begins lighting up with tales of woe and prophecies of doom.  Pesach is on the way, and that means that everything that is bad and wrong about being an observant Jew is about to descend upon us - from the scourge of kitniyot, to overzealous shiurim of matza and maror, to the need to clean every bathroom tile, to the problem that after two generations of Yeshiva education we somehow have tables full of people who want to offer Divrei Torah, thus producing an all-too-long Maggid.  If Jewish social historians a thousand years from now were to uncover only blogposts as evidence of the way we lived, I shudder to think what they would make of us.

What's funny is that most people I know enjoy Pesach.  Few people complain about being underfed, most people realize that eating even the strictest shiurim is still not all that much (especially when you have not eaten for upwards of three hours), many people realize that they are using Pesach as an excuse for spring cleaning (and there are probably more men helping with the cleaning than were doing so fifty years ago), and most people I know have a Maggid that is appropriate for their seder, balancing the various needs of all of the people at the table.  Most people I know look forward to the chance to reconnect with family, to create some of the most important and lasting memories for themselves and their children, and to take a break from their busy lives to reconnect religiously (although my accountant friends tend to seem a bit stressed).

So what is all of the rage about?  Perhaps, playing to stereotype, we simply like to complain.  Perhaps some of the frustration is real, as food prices seem a bit too high and the rise in double income families means less time to get all of the cleaning and cooking done.  Or, perhaps, if I may engage in some armchair psychology, the complaints are really proxies for larger issues (e.g. dissatisfaction with Rabbinic Judaism, the "turn to the right", a breakdown in tradition, the "turn to the left", a blind adherence to tradition, a love of kidney beans, etc.).  Since Pesach is a time when everyone is paying attention, as everyone wants to make sure that they are doing everything right for the holiday, now is a wonderful time for everyone to flex his or her agenda and create a little buzz around the kiddush table.

Either way, it is important for us to ask ourselves what the cost of all of the protests are.  As I wrote four years ago, our children hear our complaints even if we do not intend for them to.  Impressionable teenagers can and do open up the Jewish Week or get forwarded blogs from the Times of Israel where we self-righteously publish one-sided columns deriding venerable practices as if our entire existence is threatened by having to eat a little extra matza or not eat green beans (I admit, I don't understand that one.  On the other hand, I don't really like green beans, so I break even.).  We have to remember that there are two opportunities here that we dare not miss.  First, we can teach our children and students to become educated consumers of halacha, knowing when to ask questions, how to ask those questions, and who to ask those questions to.  Second, we have to make sure that we are presenting Pesach, and mitzvot in general, as opportunities to improve ourselves and to strengthen our connection to God.  We might not always agree with every detail, but if we miss the forest for the a few of the trees we may put the future of that forest in jeopardy.

Wishing everyone a happy and meaningful Pesach.

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