Image: Battle scene, Pharaoh skewering someone. Photo by chaos7/pixabay.
Note: I first posted a version of this piece two years ago. I offer it again in case someone needs it. Please note that I don’t recommend this approach to seder unless you really can’t stand to be with others – but in some circumstances, it can be a helpful way to observe the holiday.
Passover 2009 was a time when it seemed like we could not get a break. I don’t remember all the troubles – it’s a fog now – but I had been struggling with depression and after six years in rabbinical school, I had only part time work as a rabbi. One son had a job so scary that I couldn’t think about it. The other son was having a tough time with bipolar disorder. The previous year California voted in Prop 8, taking marriage rights away from gay men and lesbians like ourselves.
We didn’t have energy for a seder that year. Looking back, I think we were in the depths of Egypt and it was hard to even imagine a seder. I didn’t feel like going to someone else’s seder and smiling and making nice, and neither did Linda.
But we still had the commandment to observe the chag [festival.] We take these things seriously. It wasn’t OK to just ignore it, no matter how tattered we felt.
So we came up with what I remember as The Movie Seder. Purists will be horrified, but that year it was perfect for us. We had a box of matzah, we made a green salad, charoset and something basic for dinner, I think roast chicken.
At the kitchen table, we did the preliminaries: lit and blessed the candles, made kiddush, and washed without blessing. Then ate our salads and broke the matzah, moving to the living room couch. There we had more matzah, horseradish, greens, charoset and the roast chicken. We put on a recording of The Prince of Egypt and settled in to watch as we munched on the ritual food. When they got to the red sea, we broke into dessert (chocolate matzah!) We sipped wine all the way through; we had four cups, I’m sure.
And I have to tell you, while it wasn’t a proper seder, at the end we felt better. The music and the beautiful messages of the film had lifted us just a bit. Watching it together, eating together, talking about the movie reconnected us in ways I still don’t entirely understand. I just know that I rose from that seder “table” ready to trudge on through that year’s wilderness.
That seder was years ago. A lot has changed. We aren’t nearly so worried about either son. Prop 8 and DOMA are gone (good riddance) and we feel like citizens at last. I’m in a good place emotionally, and I have work I love. Linda survived cancer, again. Linda and I are finally legally married, baruch Hashem. But I think of that funny little seder with great affection: it got us through a very bad time.
When you are deep in Egypt, sometimes your seder has to be basic. If you are having a rough year of your own, don’t skip the seder. I encourage you to buy a box of matzah, a jar of horseradish, some salad greens, and a bottle of wine or grape juice. Sit with your beloved or a few good friends. Make the blessings. Put on a good Exodus film (I recommend The Prince of Egypt or The Ten Commandments) and hear one of the great stories of all time. Allow yourself to relax into the story, to inhabit it; that narrative tells us things we need to know in a difficult year.
The Haggadah teaches us that “in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt.” Part of the reason this works is that over the course of a lifetime, most of us will have an experience of our own personal Egypt. If you are in Egypt today, I wish you deliverance.
L’shanah haba’ah birushalayim!
Next year, in Jerusalem!