Why Judaism (and Pesach) is about the journey

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“Why can’t we just keep Pesach for two days? All my friends do!”

This question was posed to me by my eldest the other night at bedtime.

I immediately started to answer that we keep all eight days because we are commanded to, and those are the rules of Pesach, and I may have mentioned excommunication… but really. There are so many rules we don’t follow, why am I such a stickler for this one?

The answer is that I’m not sure. It seems I’ve drawn a line in the sand somewhere along the path of our Jewish practice. Some Jews eat milk and meat, but would never eat pork. Some eat pork but wouldn’t dream of not having a bris for their son, some keep kosher but don’t keep Shabbat. Although we keep a kosher kitchen, we don’t keep kosher out, but on Pesach we keep kosher everywhere.

We’ve all drawn our lines in the sand somewhere, and these arbitrary lines we draw are deep. “How could you possibly do that!?” we think, judging someone else’s infringement, while merrily continuing with our own. And yet, as a lovely friend of mine told me once, if we aren’t somewhat hypocritical, we end up doing nothing.

I then reminded myself that each mitzvah I do stands on its own merit, regardless of the other mitzvot I choose to do or not. Isn’t that wonderful? Any small bit we do counts and we don’t have to be perfect, we just have to continue on the journey, trying to improve as we go.

And isn’t that how it is with parenting too? We love our children, and we even like them most of the time. We look for good things they’ve done, even when it feels like a stretch. “You didn’t bite anyone today, well done!” or “You licked the corner of that piece of broccoli, yay for healthy choices!” 

I think Gd might be the same. Every little thing we do right is noticed and applauded. Every time we choose not to gossip, or chose to see things with a good eye, it’s a star on our charts.

So I formulated an answer for my eldest child (and myself): “Hashem gives us free will, but really hopes that we will do something to follow His commandments. Any little mitzvah is a connection to Him. Keeping Pesach is a mitzvah that you can do relatively easily, as all the logistics of kashrut during Pesach are handled by your parents. All you have to do is eat the food I make you. The fact that some of your friends keep two days is wonderful! Everyone does as much as they can. And in our house, we can do the full chag, and so we do.”

I reminded her about the Seders, and the fun to be had, and the week of no school, and how I looked forward to her beautiful singing and how this year her birthday doesn’t fall on Pesach, so a ‘real’ cake can be had on the day.

I conjured up images of Mitzraim, and slavery, and having to rush to escape into the wilderness (another Jewish journey). I was one step short of bursting into songs from the soundtrack of Prince of Egypt.

She nodded sagely. “No, I know all that, Mom. I get why we keep Pesach and I’m really looking forward to it… I just hate eating matza!”

Sometimes I should ask for the reason before launching into what I think is the explanation.

No matter where you draw your lines in the sand, I hope it’s a special time for you. I find Pesach to be an opportunity to think about gratitude, and the theme of this issue’s contributions from readers reflects this. And remember, we don’t have to be perfect, we just have to continue on the journey, trying to improve as we go.

Chag Kasher v’Sameach.

Click here to read our Pesach 2019 content

Click here for last year’s Pesach editorial

Click here to download a PDF of the April edition of the Chronicle

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