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Making Pesach

April 15, 2019 | by Emuna Braverman

Why I love preparing for Passover.

All across the globe Jewish women are asking each other this important question, “Have you started cooking for Passover yet?”

Actually, while that is definitely true, there is another, arguably more important question that is being asked, “Are you making Pesach this year?” What the inquirer wants to know is of course if their friend is going home to their parents (or in-laws as the case may be), going away to a Passover program (I heard Croatia is beautiful) or hosting Passover in their own home.

But it struck me that the wording of the question is actually significant. Are you making Pesach? Because I think it is through our efforts that we make the holiday of Passover occur. Unlike other holidays that are synagogue-focused, Passover is home-based. It’s what we create in our home that determines whether Passover has in fact occurred. It’s the cleaning and the menu prep and the cooking and the serving and the cleaning and the menu prep and the cooking and the serving that create the Passover experience. (I didn’t mention grocery shopping because it doesn’t occur in the home but it certainly is a significant part of making Pesach – did I mention yet how many grocery store trips I’ve made this year, how much money I’ve spent, and how many trips are yet to come? But I’m sure you know…)

If you are a guest in someone’s home, it’s certainly possible to still “make” Pesach – you can offer to participate in some aspect of both the physical and spiritual preparation (some of our closest students are those who we enlisted for the heavy-duty Passover prep – on the other hand, there are also those students who bought us T-shirts saying “We survived Passover at the Braverman’s” so I’m not sure if you want to rely on my strategy!). Because you want to own it; you want a share.

Likewise if you are going away to a Pesach program, it’s crucial to find a way to “make” the holiday – perhaps it’s through having a private Seder and bringing your own props, insights and words of Torah.

Whatever your approach, I think the question is important. Are you making Pesach? It’s the only holiday where we ask this question, where we phrase it this way. And like the Seder itself, while the questions are essential, it’s the answers we really want. If I put real effort into the preparations for the holiday, using all aspects of the effort as an opportunity for spiritual growth and for focus on the lessons of the Passover experience, then I will have truly made Pesach. If however, I am busy with other things, make a token effort at cleaning and cooking and arrive at the Seder, slightly disheveled, harassed and unprepared, while the holiday will still come, I will not have made it.

I, for one, love Passover for this very reason. I love the preparation (call me crazy!) and I love that it takes place around the table and not at shul. I love making Pesach. But I also recognize that some years I do a better job of making it than others. Some years I’m really prepared – I’ve cleaned, I’ve grocery shopped (ad nauseum as alluded to earlier), I made and remade menus, I’ve cooked, I’ve served, I’ve washed dishes – and I even learned some ideas about the holiday and tried to integrate them. Those years I’ve really made Passover (and I’ve really needed a vacation immediately afterwards!). Other years I’ve been distracted, focused on other family or professional needs and Pesach has sort of crept up on me, almost unnoticed. I still had to clean, grocery shop (I have to keep throwing that in!), cook and serve. But my heart hasn’t been in it. I’ve been doing it by rote. I haven’t really made the holiday happen.

I heard a beautiful idea about why we wash our hands without a blessing near the beginning of the Seder. For those of us who are used to saying a blessing immediately after washing, we really have to stop ourselves. The instinct is to say the blessing. We have to break our momentum to not say it. We have to think. We can’t just operate on automatic pilot. This is the attitude we want to have about the whole Passover experience – from the first day of cleaning to the end of the last day of the holiday. We don’t want to move blindly and robotically through the days; we want to think about what’s happening. We want to learn; we want to grow.

It’s a choice. I hope this year when someone asks me if I’m making Pesach I can give them a heartfelt yes.

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