“I don’t like Passover.”
I said those words to my husband yesterday morning as I was zipping up my daughters’ lunch boxes. I’m sure my kvetching barely registered with him at first; I’m a chronic complainer when it comes to packing food for my kids.
But this time was different. I kept talking.
“I don’t like keeping Passover. I find zero spiritual, emotional, or psychological meaning in not eating an english muffin with my eggs and not being able to feed the girls sandwiches for lunch or mac n’ cheese for dinner. It’s just an epic pain in my ass. I wouldn’t do this at all if it weren’t important to you.”
Josh stopped and looked at me. Pause. Pause. “Noted,” he said.
“Noted” is my husband’s shorthand for, “I hear what you’re saying, but we’re teetering on the edge of a big thing here and it’s probably not a great idea for us to fall off this particular cliff when we’re all trying to get out the door in the next ten minutes.” His ability to hear and acknowledge me without opening up a whole new tent in our crazy circus when we’re already juggling too much is one of the many things I love about him.
So we didn’t talk about it, which is probably a good thing. But I can’t stop thinking about what I said. The truth is that in the moments after my mini-rant yesterday, I felt, well, free. I’ve felt ambivalent about Passover for years; while I don’t mind the cleaning, the seders, or the endless readings of “Hoppy (sic) Passover,” I dread the week of matzoh pizza and crappy yet oddly addictive macaroons that follows.
And yes, I know how incredibly whiney I sound. But the reality is that keeping Passover makes my daily life harder (with a lowercase h, of course; I am acutely aware that even as I write this, there are far too many people in my community and throughout our country and the world who don’t have enough to eat.)
Given that I experience relatively little benefit from the practice, I find myself struggling with the ultimate question of this holiday: Why?
In an effort to figure out where I stand, I polled my friends and came up with a handful of reasons why one might turn her kitchen, menu, and meals upside down for eight days.
—You believe in following halacha (Jewish law) as closely as possible.
—You believe this is a commandment from God, or that it is a Godly practice.
—You find spiritual, political, psychological, or emotional meaning in the practice.
—Keeping Passover strengthens and/or affirms your Jewish identity.
—It helps you feel connected to the broader Jewish community and Jewish tradition.
—It makes you feel like a Good Jew.
—It’s the way you and/your family have always done it.
—You enjoy it.
—It’s important to your partner, parents, children, or other folks who are central to your life.
These are all excellent reasons.
And yet the final point is the only significant one for me when it comes to the dietary restrictions of Passover. The fact that giving up chametz feels not only irrelevant but also burdensome is suddenly of great interest to me. Perhaps it’s because I’m turning 40 in a few months and am increasingly feeling as though I am getting too old for [insert kvetch of the day here]. Perhaps it’s because I’m reveling in the new-found freedom of children who are increasingly independent, or maybe I’m just tired of doing things solely because they matter to others.
On the other hand, I can’t even begin to imagine a life that isn’t primarily shaped by my connection to, and appreciation for, my family and my community. Nor would I want such a life.
Yet by openly acknowledging my preferences about this ritual, I inadvertently created space for the questions that are far more interesting to me: How do I want to observe this holiday? How can I find a way to honor my preferences as well as those of my family and community? What would it feel like to focus my time and energy on practices that truly resonate with me (and there is an endless supply of those in the Jewish tradition)? Would Passover actually be more meaningful or less of a hindrance if I ate chametz in the days after the seders?
I don’t know. And I’m not sure how I would find out without blowing up our family’s routine, and I’m not ready to do that yet. But if there is one Passover practice I will always be grateful for, it’s the freedom to ask big questions.