Preparing for Passover and setting a place at the table for the Holiest Guest

Pesach Table Setting with Seder Plate by Paul Barchilon at my home last year.
Pesach Table Setting with Seder Plate by Paul Barchilon at my home last year.

I went looking for something to share that wouldn’t take me too much time, something I’d already written that I could upload here and then get back to the work of preparing for Passover. I was sure I had written about Passover/Pesach many times, it turns out, this was all in my mind.


Of course, what I have done is prepare for and celebrate Pesach, which, if you’ve ever prepared for Pesach you know, means you don’t have three seconds to write about what you are doing. I haven’t had a relationship with Pesach my whole life. My first Seder happened in the home of my boyfriend when I was fourteen and it was sooooooooooo wonderful and wild and incredible that I have been hooked ever since. It was all in English and mostly a bacchanalian experience with everyone in a toga and lots of food and drinking, what teenager wouldn’t love that? Nothing like it had ever happened in my home and I was in love both with my boyfriend Matthue and with the ritual meal, foods and experience.


Pesach is always a journey and a hard one, when you are actually responsible for the holiday, not just a guest at someone’s table. No matter where I am or what is going on in my life, the month before Passover involves some deep cleaning and mess uncovering. It involves long days and nights of work and being exhausted. It is full of stress and confusion and work and trying really hard to turn all the myriad tasks and the hard work into an offering. In Judaism we have a philosophy or pathway that helps us take all things hard or difficult and turn them towards the use of what is Holy or of Service, it’s called for the sake of Heaven (l’Shmayim).


It is not the same as being enslaved to a job or a master with a whip, as the story of Pesach reminds us about every year, but there are elements of those things. I find I am enslaved to the laundry, the groceries, the endless cycles of my life and all I have to do to keep my family healthy and well and myself too. There is a resentment in me that I regularly have to navigate. It’s minor in comparison to what I perceive other people having. I may be fooling myself here. I generally feel choiceful about being a servant to my family and community, friends and the planet. I have actively and regularly chosen and asked to serve the Divine and accept that what unfolds in my life is a combination of that prayer being answered and my dedication to a life of service. I know that my life is amazingly blessed and yet, when it all gets to be too much I feel weighed down and somehow put upon.


These feelings are part of the process of preparing for the holiday or liberating ourselves and liberation of those who are oppressed. I am intrinsically bound to a cycle that I find myself both caught in and delighted by. I cannot imagine my life without the Jewish holiday cycles. They are linked to the cycles of harvest and the seasons and also to the narrative of my people across thousands of years. I believe they are central to my cellular make-up, which may sound patently absurd. My relationship to my sense of what is right and true for me is body-centered and always has been.


The first time I heard Hebrew singing and praying, it was like having a rushing whooshing sound move through me and also my whole world felt tiny and encapsulated and I was hot and everything shifted inside of me and I felt alive in a completely whole way that was instantaneously familiar and new at the same time. It was miraculous and continues to be. That time was when I was 18 years old and went to my first Shabbat dinner at a Havurah/Group Gathering in Boulder Colorado in 1982.


So, my relationship with Pesach is multi-layered. It’s a combination of scrubbing and cleaning and removing all the schmutz/mess/grease, caked on goo from my physical world, but also my internal world. It’s an opportunity to be free and smooth, to be liberated in every way from the gunk of my life. In order to get there, I have to work really hard, and that’s the part that feels not so good a lot of the time, but because this is MY CHOICE and not something forced upon me, it also has a quality of being an offering.


Unless you have had to clean up your reality or space and see it as a spiritual practice, I think this may be hard to relate to for many folks. Usually people only clean at this level when they move. I do this once a year, every year and I don’t just do it for my space, but for my heart and the home inside of myself I make for the Holy One to dwell inside of. I am cleaning my space to make room for the miracles of the Pesach story that all culminate in the giving of the Torah. So, as I scrub and rub and crawl around the corners of the house and I get vigorous in my scrubbing, I imagine the space being made really clean for the Holiest guest. Once the space is ready,I then work on preparing a feast that tells the story of my people and I share that story with others and with the special foods. It’s an extraordinary experience.


I hope you will find a Seder to go to, if you aren’t Jewish, at least once in your life. If you are Jewish, I hope you have a lovely Seder to go to, and if you don’t, clean your kitchen, sit down with some wine, some apples, honey, matzoh, wine, horseradish, parsley and whatever other foods you need or want that are part of this holiday and set your own table for the Holy One to come join you at. All the work, even if you cannot do it at the micro and macro level I am talking about, is for the sake of Heaven, however you interpret that.


I have to get back to it now, so I’ll close by wishing you all good cleaning, cooking, feasting, studying and sharing together as the Spring unfolds and as the Full Moon eclipse and Pesach coincide, may the reminder of how we are all connected and linked be present for you in your bodies, homes and communities.

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