I never seem to be ready for Passover. It always springs upon me, this rite of spring, and I’m always left feeling like I’ve just barely recovered from Purim and the sensory overload that repeat exposure to carnivals can cause (because let’s be real: one can only handle so many bounce houses). But then Passover arrives without delay, completely unsympathetic to my protest or pleas, wholly indifferent to my fatigue.
No matter how prominent its place on my calendar, Passover still comes in like a tempest, turning me upside down and inside out when it finally hits. And inevitably, I look around only to realize I have a house full of chametz and nary a box of matzah in sight. It’s ironic because I am surrounded by signs of Passover’s approach in nearly every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. I’ve got seders at work and seders at my children’s schools, matzah covers coming home in backpacks and more homemade haggadot (beautiful, precious, sweet and so appreciated!) than I know what to do with.
But while the countdown to seder ticks loud and clear, life often seems to tick louder, preventing me, or perhaps distracting me, from all I need to do, from everything I need to prepare. This year, especially, life has felt inordinately full with all the requisite personal responsibilities: the birthday parties to plan, the doctors appointments to make, the dentists and orthodontists to consult; the school functions and the charity events and the family gatherings; the overstuffed sports schedules and labyrinthine after school schedules; the chess, the piano, the ballet, the art; the everyday hustle we know as life, along with all of my professional responsibilities as well. It’s hard to see beyond the daily grind; and it’s even harder to make way for a holiday as all-encompassing and routine altering as Passover.
This year, I confess, I feel particularly compressed by the endless, relentless activity in my home and in my life, and by the incalculable physical, mental and emotional exertion this life demands. Sometimes it feels like the more I do, the smaller my life becomes, reduced as it is to going and coming, coming and going. Life is defined by straight, rigid lines, rather than curved, flexible arcs, and it is tightly bound by schedules, timetables and agendas. It’s a paradox, really, that more does not always yield more, but rather, more often yields less.
As Passover approaches, I admit I feel constricted by the narrowness of this intensely crowded life, a life, albeit, that is filled with so much good and so much blessing. Yet I worry I’m racing as fast as I can, but falling further and further behind. It’s hard to stop. It’s hard to unwind a life that, even with its challenges, feels so ingrained and so familiar. Sometimes I wonder, where do I even begin? To be quite honest, I don’t really know.
But I do know the story of Passover and I do know that our ancestors moved through the straits of bondage to discover a freedom they had never known. They left the narrow places that constrained them and made their way into a vast, open wilderness where promise awaited them. This is the story we tell every year around the seder table, and in so many ways, this is the story of our lives.
I am so grateful to live a life of freedom and to enjoy the liberties so many yet yearn to call their own. But I know there is a life on the horizon that is even more expansive and even more bounteous, even more free. It is a life that is full—not of endless activity and motion and striving, but one of possibility and generosity and love, a life that is waiting for me, for all of us; as our promise. The challenge of reaching that place is as simple as it is hard: how to leave the narrow spaces we know so well and journey forward into the unknown?
Rabbi Sara Sapadin serves Temple Emanu-El in New York City as Adjunct Rabbi.