Shabbat Message: Renewing Seder

Posted on March 26, 2021 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

A message for Shabbat Hagadol (the Shabbat before Pesach)

Seder means “order” in Hebrew, and on Passover it refers to the order of the service we conduct to relive the journey from bondage to freedom. A year ago, as we prepared for Passover, we found ourselves suddenly out of order, or, as we say in Hebrew, we were lo b’seder, we were not okay. One year later, there is cause for hope that this prolonged nightmare may be coming to an end. But as seder night approaches, we are still a long way from being b’seder.

We have experienced more than a year of living with constraints on our freedoms. It is not hyperbole to say that we have spent more than a year in a virtual mitzrayim.

As we gather at our seders, whether they be virtual, or should we be fortunate to be physically present with at least a few of our loved ones, it will be tempting to focus on the plagues of old and their very real corollaries in our recent experience. We should allow ourselves to make those analogies because they are honest expressions of the pain, loss and fear that we have endured. And we need to name and process our emotions in order to begin the long journey toward healing and renewal of spirit.

But if we are thoughtful, we will mirror the narrative arc of the Haggadah that “begins with degradation and ends with glory.” Our people were saved. The dark of night passed, and a new day dawned. We were reborn as the free people we were made to be.

Passover is the story of a miraculous redemption – “God saved us with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” But it is also a story of a resilient people that took action to save itself. The Torah says that during the plague of darkness there was light in the homes of the Israelites. The Midrash tells us that this light is a metaphor for the ways we helped each other to cope and to keep our faith and hope alive.

This is the story we must tell this Passover – the story we have been writing as we’ve lived it – the tale of people determined not to allow even the direst of circumstances to crush our spirits. The stories of brave women and men who have borne burdens of all kinds to save lives, and of young and old who have done acts of kindness and caring to sustain bodies and souls.

For me, the heart of the Seder experience is embodied in the song dayenu, “it would have been enough.” It is a litany of gratitude, a search for the light amidst the darkness. This, above all, is what has always sustained our people through our many times of trial. We look for and find the good.

And this is what we must do now as we gather for our seders. There have been many blessings amidst the trials we have endured, and we owe it to ourselves, to our loved ones, and especially to our children to name them and express gratitude for them. When we do, we will be reminded that there is seder, there is order and meaning in the world, and that despite all the difficulties we have encountered, life is good.

May it be our blessing this Pesach that we fulfill the words of the prophet Malachi (the words of the haftarah for this Shabbat Ha-Gadol): that “the hearts of parents be turned to their children, and the hearts of children be turned to their parents,” that our love for each other will continue to sustain us as we look to a future bright with hope.

May God bless you and your loved ones.

Shabbat shalom and chag Pesach sameach!

Rabbi Arnie Gluck