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Spiritual Preparation for Passover

April 17, 2016 | by Ruchi Koval

12 inspiring ideas about being Jewish to share at your Seder.

The Seder is the vehicle to give the next generation our spiritual truths about being Jewish. That means we ourselves have to distill what those truths are. Based on the steps of the Seder, here are 12 ideas to help you spiritually prepare for Passover.

1. Kadesh

We say the special prayer over wine, "sanctifying" the day. The word literally means "make holy!" and this is my first spiritual truth: BE HOLY. RISE ABOVE.

God didn’t take us out of Egypt so that we could just do whatever we wanted. He took us out of Egypt so that we could be a holy nation. He gave us the Torah so that we could rise above our base instincts and rise above the lowest desires of humanity in order to be a light unto the nation and repair the world. A tall order, to be sure. How can we make this happen in our own lives?

To live this spiritual truth, we must rise above our own base desires. We must rise above the petty fighting. We must rise above our own selfish needs to look out for the needs of others. We must rise above and ask what is God's higher intent for our life?

2. Urchatz

We ritually wash our hands in preparation for eating the vegetable of Karpas. My spiritual takeaway from this step is this: WE MUST CLEANSE OURSELVES OF THE THINGS WE WILL ENCOUNTER THAT DO NOT JIVE WITH OUR GOALS.

It is all well and good to be holy but we will all encounter things in our lives that conspire against that quest for holiness. What will we do then? Judaism always has a process available to bounce back from those lapses.

For example: did you spend the whole evening socializing and gossiping with friends? Maybe you came home and felt really bad about yourself. Now there is a process to cleanse yourself from that mistake and reclaim your quest to rise above. Do some introspection and figure out where you went wrong. What drove you to denigrate others? How can you make sure it won't happen again?

3. Karpas

We eat a vegetable dipped into salt water in order to remember the tears of the Jews. In life, we should remember: NEVER FORGET THE ROUGH TIMES. THEY HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY.

When people go through a difficult period in their life, they often want to mentally distance themselves from those memories and not "go there" anymore once they've been through it. But this is a mistake.

Those rough times have something very important to teach us. We need to look back so we can understand how grateful we should be to be past it. Or we can look back and learn things from how we handled it then and how we might handle it now. What emotional tools did we learn in those years? What spiritual tools did we learn? In what way did that experience strengthen or weaken us?

4. Yachatz

We break the middle matzah and put away half for later - for the much vaunted afikoman. It's pretty interesting that matzah is the "poor man's bread" - and that the act of breaking your food and having to put away part for later is a sign of slavery or poverty - but at the same time it's the most tangible symbol of freedom. The Jews ate it on their journey to freedom! Hence, BROKEN PIECES OFTEN FORESHADOW A GREATER WHOLE.

One of my favorite sentences in all of Torah is this: He who sows with tears, will reap with joyful singing. What is amazing about this promise is that the tears themselves are what water the ground and make a happy future possible.

There are so many times in our lives when all we can see in front of us are broken pieces. But here is the promise that these very broken pieces foreshadow the happy ending. You absolutely cannot have one without the other. So when we feel dejected or depressed, let us try to remember in faith that it is these very broken pieces that will create that happy ending.

5. Maggid

In this step we tell the story of the Exodus. We go into great detail in many different ways. We chronicle the historical, emotional, and halachic aspects of the Exodus. We sing songs of gratitude - famously, the plagues and Dayenu. This is what makes the Seder so long!

Which teaches us the following: RETELL YOUR GRATITUDE AND NEVER GET TIRED OF IT. Would you ever get tired of having someone thank you for what you've done for them? He could say it to you every day and it would bring you joy.

We cannot possibly exhaust the degree of gratitude that we must have to G-d for what we went through and how we came out of it intact. The fact that anyone is sitting at a Seder today is a sheer miracle. All you have to do is go back in your own family's genealogy and you will find miracles of Jewish survival.

And by the way, when we focus on gratitude we stop noticing all the broken pieces.

6. Rachtzah

We wash our hands in preparation for eating the matzah. Because THE PREPARATION IS OFTEN MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE END RESULT.

In Judaism we are taught that it is the process rather than the product that is important. We are responsible to do whatever we can to effect a certain outcome. And that is exactly what we will be judged on: our motives, intentions, and efforts. Because results and outcomes are not in our hands.

This Seder could not be a better example. We will prepare nice foods, ritual items, beautiful ideas - and then the Seder might not go exactly the way we want it to. Children might be crabby, adults may squabble, the food may not turn out exactly how we hoped. But it doesn't matter. We do not have control over other people. If we have prepared ourselves in the right way, we can rise above, and remember to be happy because the process is all we have control over.

7. Motzei matzah

We bless and eat the matzah! Eating matzah is the spiritual equivalent to going back to the old country to see where our great-grandparents used to live.

Most of the time Jewish communities evolved and sprawled into ever-nicer neighborhoods. Nobody really likes going back to the old neighborhoods. They are usually dirty and in poor condition. Some have even been embarrassed by their grandparents' lives or conditions. This was very common after the Holocaust. Survivors came to Israel or America and the Jews that had been established there were ashamed of their brethren and their old immigrant, ghetto, shtetl ways.

This is a big mistake. DON'T BE AFRAID OF OUR NATION'S PAST: IT IS THE KEY TO OUR FUTURE. We as a nation must remember our past belongs to all of us. We cannot afford to further fragment ourselves. The old country and the old times have a lot of influence in who we are today. There is so much we can learn from those eras and those communities. Living in shame of our past is a big mistake.

Go there! Go back to Poland to see the concentration camps. Go to Israel to see the ancient communities. Eat the matzah. This is our collective history.

8. Maror

We eat the bitter herbs. Notice we don't say that we should merely talk about the bitterness or just remember the darkness. Oh no. In this religion we have to actually eat it with our own mouth!

Because TO BE COMPASSIONATE YOU MUST EXPERIENCE PAIN. There's a reason that a Jewish judge in ancient times had to be a parent. There are certain things you can just never understand until you experience them yourself, and we are asked to experientially taste that pain so that we have a better understanding of the pain of others.

9. Korech

We eat the matzah-maror sandwich! See, ALL OUR EXPERIENCES IN LIFE ARE REALLY ONE. Sometime it seems like there are so many random and disjointed pieces of our lives. We may have an isolated incident at work, another issue brewing in our social circle, yet another something niggling at us about our home life. Maybe I just heard bad news about a foreign country. Or something really exciting is going on with my niece.

Judaism teaches that all these seemingly disparate incidents are really part of one greater whole. When we say the Shema prayer we affirm that God is one and the greater truth is that all the bits and pieces of our lives are from a single unifying force. There is a journey that we are supposed to be on and all the pieces are interconnected. When we put the different elements of the Seder together in a sandwich, we can remember this truth.

10. Shulchan aruch

We eat the festive meal! ENJOY ALL THE BOUNTY THAT GOD GAVE YOU. Look around. There's food. There are people who care about you. You have a home. You are in the top 10% of human society! Which brings me to the next step:

11. Tzafun

We locate the hidden matzah (and negotiate for the gift!). My takeaway? THE GREATEST GIFTS IN LIFE ARE HIDING. They're hiding in plain view! If you have people who love you, if your bank account is not overdrawn, if you can think, walk, hear, and see - you have great gifts in your life! But how often do we look right past, or right through, our gifts? So play the afikoman game: hide and seek. Find your gifts that are right in front of you.

12. Barech, Hallel, Nirtzah

This is my favorite part of the Seder: where we sing through the joy, the love, the gratitude. We're in no rush. It's already so late. Who cares what time it is? Some have fallen asleep or left the table, but we keep going. IGNORE THE HOUR AND SING THROUGH LIFE.

We are always rushing around and looking at our watches, trying to get to our next destination. How many times in our lives do we really just sit down around a table, absolutely forget about what time it is or what we have to do the next day, and just sing to our hearts content? Believe me when I say that we need more of this in our lives. These are the moments that make memories. These are the moments that make Judaism memorable - and wonderful.



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