A few years back, I attended what was called a mystical Seder, put together by a Jewish Renewal group–Ruach Torah–of which I’d become a part.
Gathering around the table, Hesha Abrams, the Havurah’s rabbi, hands out the Haggadah (the book read at the Passover Seder telling the Exodus story) that she has compiled. It combines elements of a traditional Jewish Seder, but with an emphasis on mystical and/or spiritual meanings behind the rituals.
Not surprisingly, Hesha begins the evening on a light note, reading a story she’s written called “spiritual constipation.”
“Oiy, Matzah is so binding!” she writes. “That’s why Sadie recommends prunes during Passover!”
“But how do we get un-stopped-up spiritually?” she asks. “Start by being quiet! We Jews are gabbin’ all the time. It’s no wonder the Holy One can’t get a word in edgewise.”
With that said, we sing a Passover parody to the tune of “My Favorite Things”:
“Motzi and maror and trouble with Pharaohs;
“Famines and locusts and slaves with wheelbarrows;
“Matzah balls floating and eggshell that clings;
“These are a few of our Passover things.”
After a fun start, we begin Passover with the traditional ritual of sanctification. Hesha talks of the bondage that the Hebrew people experienced in Egypt and then asks us to think about the things that enslave us personally, today. This, she says, is our hamez—leaven–that Jews clean their homes of during the Passover holiday.
We sit quietly for a while, listening to the “voice of our hearts,” and reflecting on our personal struggles. “Return again, return again,” we sing after peaceful minutes have passed. “Return to the land of your Soul.” When we drink the first cup of wine, which we pour for one another, Hesha reminds us that this is a time to be brutally truthful with ourselves.
Next we engage in rehaz, the ritual of hand-washing. After explaining the ancient practice done by the priests, Hesha expands the meaning of the ritual to give it personal significance for us. She brings a jug of water, along with an empty bowl, to the table, and we take turns pouring water over one another’s hands. As we do this, Hesha asks us to share one thing we’d like to rid ourselves of. “Kayn yihee ratzon,” everyone responds: “So be it.”
In these ways, Hesha adds depth to each part of the Seder. As we dip parsley into salt water, we read aloud a poem that Hesha has copied, which reminds us not only of the ancient Israelites’ tears during their bondage, but also that our own tears represent the pains of birth and new beginnings.
The “middle matzah” calls to mind the “bread of affliction” of the Hebrews in Egypt, and it beckons us, as well, to be aware of our own “stuckness, closed hearts, [and] constrained souls.” We pause to “send loving energy to all who are poor, hungry, displaced, oppressed or in the middle of a political conflict.”
After reading the Haggadah–the story of the passing over of the Israelites whose doorposts were sprinkled with sacrificial blood, sparing them of the death that came to the Egyptians–Hesha puts a twist on a song that’s part of traditional Seders–Dayeanu: It is enough.
“We’re not going to sing that song as we’ve sung it in the past,” says Hesha, “because let’s be honest–it’s never enough. We always want more. Instead, we’re going to go around the room and read a version of the song that will help us on the way to becoming more satisfied.”
Anyone who knows Hesha understands that nothing else will suffice. She’s a woman who is all heart, kavanah (intent) and vibrant spirituality. With her, you don’t go through the motions of loving God. Every detail must be filled with honesty and passion.
So we begin:
“If we could remember that each of us is created in the image of HASHEM; if we could treat all living creatures…with the loving kindness warranted by being a… spark of the Divine,” Lori reads.
And we all recite in unison, “Dayeanu–it is enough.”
“If we could catch ourselves about to speak Loshen Horah, gossip and tale-bearing, and instead, choose to vocally acknowledge that which we usually take for granted,” reads Joe.
“Dayeanu,” we say, “It is enough.”
“If we could listen to each other when we share…,” I read.
Dayeanu. It is enough.
The rituals continue. Elijah’s cup sits on the table, and toward the end of the evening, we pass Miriam’s cup, a ritual added in recent years by egalitarian Jews to emphasize the importance of women in the Hebraic tradition. Each of us pours water into this cup, symbolizing the mingling of our individual personalities and differences in a ritual evoking unity.
The main feast comes very late in the evening, as is often the case at Seders, but we gorge ourselves happily, feeling a profound sense of God’s presence and love for one another.
As the food disappears, Hesha asks that we end the evening quietly, absorbing its holiness. “Clear the table without talking,” she says to us, “and as you feel moved, stop to bless at least three people.” So we pass from kitchen to dining room, setting down dishes, looking into one another’s eyes, and expressing the blessings we desire for those we’ve grown to love.
It’s 2 a.m. when most of us leave, and tears blur my vision as I walk to my car with a fresh vision for all of my tomorrows and a deeper sense of God’s love and presence. That, without a doubt, is dayeanu. It is enough.