This week, we are stepping away from the weekly Torah portion to focus more closely on the Passover, or Pesach, holiday. As my connection to Judaism and spirituality has grown, changed, faded, and then evolved entirely, so has my understanding of Passover and how it relates to my modern day life. Such is a struggle with many seemingly outdated traditions and Jewish customs.
The story of Passover takes us to Egypt, where the Jews were enslaved by the Pharoah. After G-d inflicts ten horrific plagues on the people of Egypt, sparing the Jews in captivity, the Pharoah finally has no choice but to free the Jews, allowing them to return to their homeland. Naturally, the Jews were thrilled to be released from bondage, and they ran. Quickly. So quickly the dough they had prepared for bread didn’t have time to rise. Hence, matzah.
Passover is traditionally welcomed with a seder (or two for Jewish communities outside of Israel), which is the Hebrew word for “order.” The seder includes a very specific set of rituals performed in a very specific order, which all retell the story of the Jews’ struggle to free themselves from slavery in Egypt and return to the homeland. Personal liberation symbolism abounds.
One part of the seder mentions four children, all of whom, in one way or another, just want to know what’s going on and why they should care. There is the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one and the one who does not know how to ask. I want to focus on the simple child, as I have seen him described as simple and indifferent, implying that his simplicity is due to apathy.
However, I see it differently. I view this simplicity as a form of innocence and progress; a freedom from distraction. In our busy, hectic, hyper-stimulated lives, we tend to overanalyze, over think and over question everything.
Shortly after I graduated from college, I lived in Israel, where I spent some time in the Negev. This experience, years later, is still one I remember as pivotal. Prior to my first trip to the desert I was in Jerusalem, exploring Judaism with a closer eye than I ever had before. Almost everything in my life came into question: my relationship with and understanding of G-d, religion, the people around me, and myself.
Two days out of Jerusalem, I found myself sleeping in a tent in the middle of the Negev. No electricity, no city bustle, just pure silence. It was almost instantly that I felt myself at ease, free from the urban noise (both literal and metaphorical) that had so forcefully weighed down on me up until that point in my life. I was free from distraction. I was the simple one.
It was during this time that I connected deeply with people who would become very important to my personal growth during my journey through Israel. The connections were natural, as though they were just waiting to happen. Without the urban commotion I was used to, I was able to relate more honestly to my newfound friends and, perhaps most importantly, to myself. I began my personal work of finding out who I was and how I wanted to be in this world; doing so in a gentle and tolerant way. I was asking myself questions I had never asked before, and connecting with my surroundings in a way I had never experienced. The desert provided the perfect backdrop by which to simply exist.
So I offer up this kavanah, or intention, for this week of Passover. As we prepare to sit, may we focus on simplifying our thoughts, creating a more compassionate and tolerant self. How can this simplicity allow us to confront ourselves and others with the questions that we truly need to ask? How can these simple and unadorned thoughts bring us greater clarity and mindfulness in our meditation practice and in our daily lives? And how, despite the urban hustle and bustle by which we may be surrounded, can we use simplicity to bring us closer to ourselves?