Maggid, the poem by Marge Piercy, ties the past to the present in a very powerful and provocative way. The author writes: “the courage to let go of the door, the handle. The courage to shed the familiar walls whose very stains and leaks are as comfortable as the little moles of the upper arm; stains that recall a feast, a child’s naughtiness, a loud battering storm that slapped the roof hard, pouring through. The courage to leave the place whose language you learned as early as your own, who customs however dangerous or demeaning, bind you like a halter you have learned to pull inside, to move your load… the courage to walk out of the pain that is known into the pain that cannot be imagined… we are Jews, she says, all born of wanderers, with shoes under our pillows and a memory of blood that is ours raining down.”
Freedom is reclaiming the stories of our past, discovering what our grandparents and great-grandparents were like as children. Freedom is rediscovering personal Jewish traditions and passing them to the next generation. The afikomen hidden by either the Seder leader or the children, charoset made from an old family recipe, special songs only sung during the Seder. Freedom is being with every aspect of our experiences.
It is not chance that during the course of the Seder, we experience moments of feeling like each of the four children. The wise child, the wicked child, the simple child and the one who does not know how to ask are all aspects of our personalities, and all are revealed during the Seder. We are wise when we share our stories and compare modernity to our traditional past. We are wicked, rolling our eyes at having to hear the same story over and over again, embarrassed by our family members and our old selves. We feel simple as we struggle with the Hebrew which we learned as children. And there are moments, when we feel lost, not knowing what questions to ask, what the rituals mean to us as modern human beings. Living through a Passover Seder is, in a way, rediscovering who we were as children and who we are as adults.
It is no coincidence that the Torah portion read during Pesach deals with Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur and Pesach both center on spiritual, emotional and physical freeing of being, as well as our relationship with God and with others. Pesach and Yom Kippur are somehow intrinsically tied together/ two sides of the same coin. During Pesach we tell of our communal redemption from oppression, while on Yom Kippur we personally look at the ways we oppress others and ourselves. Several of the more modern Haggadot provide exercises and discussion questions that could very well prepare us for Yom Kippur. These questions focus on our behaviors and actions; encouraging us to look at the different ways we enslave ourselves, and how to provide freedom for others.
Pesach and Yom Kippur also ask us to re-evaluate our relationship with God, to determine the path for modern redemption- as individuals and as members of a community. We recall the moments when God’s outstretched hand brought us forth, if only for a moment from a pit of darkness and loneliness- whether in Egypt, at Sloan Kettering or sleep away camp for the first time. We recall the moments when a sea seemed to open before us, and we danced with joy. And those times when we cried out bitterly against God and it seemed as if our voices were not heard. During Pesach and Yom Kippur we reach for God’s outstretched hand and clasp it firmly, gaining strength from strength.
When the world begins to wake from the harsh winter, we too throw off our protective layers and look deep inside, getting rid of the dust, the chametz, to make room for new blossoms and new growth. Pesach allows us to begin the process of self-examination that culminates on Yom Kippur. In the words of Marge Piercy: both Pesach and Yom Kippur are about “the courage to let go of the door, the handle. The courage to shed the familiar walls whose very stains and leaks are as comfortable as the little moles of the upper arm... The courage to leave the place whose behavior you learned as early as your own, whose customs however dangerous or demeaning, bind you like a halter you have learned to pull inside, to move your load.”
It takes that same courage to open the door and look back at where you, where we, have been. To see how far through the desert we have traveled. And that the Haggadah, which translates as the telling and the Yom Kippur Machzor, translated as cycle are truly one and the same. Telling our stories is the cycle of life. Only through expressing the experiences of our past do we learn who we are, and where we are on the journey and that too is Torah. May we all open ourselves to the stories of our past and our present. They are part of the Hagaddah, the telling.