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Passover Jewish News 2024

After perhaps too much preparation, we find ourselves in the midst of our Passover celebration. Perhaps the message of “Dayenu” has found its way into our hearts? Instead of spending all of our time shopping and cooking and cleaning, what if, instead, we shifted our perspective on Passover and understand it as the holiday of “enough-ness?”


Dayenu. In a world where we are confronted all day every day with the message of what we need and what we need more, what if we could set aside this week to breathe and to appreciate how little, actually, we need. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi used to tell the story of an encounter he had with Brother Rufus, a Native American medicine man.


Reb Zalman and Brother Rufus were attending a conference of psychologists and mystics; the psychologists were studying the mystics. As Reb Zalman was explaining the Jewish festival of Sukkot, which occurs at the fall equinox, and the holiday of Passover, which comes at the spring equinox, Brother Rufus lit up! “Oh,” he said, “in the fall you teach your children the shelter survival and in the spring you teach them the food survival.”


What a fascinating perspective! Passover as the time when we simplify our diets down to the most basic foods- unleavened bread and bitter herbs. What is it that we need in order to survive? So I ask myself- why kosher for Passover potato chips?

I think Brother Rufus was on to something- Passover essentially is supposed to teach us how to live with less, how to identify our most basic needs. It’s not supposed to be about obsessing about food and dishes and how we can replicate our lifestyle of the other 51 weeks a year during the one week of the holiday. We’ve made it SO much more complicated than it needs to be!


One of my takeaways after 38 years in the US Army was that there are only 3 things I actually need- water, a little bit of food, and physical warmth. That is my “Dayenu.” I think about the cultural phenomenon of Marie Kondo on the theme of tidying up. People are decluttering their homes to such an extent that Goodwill stores in many places have had to halt donations- they are overwhelmed! The cult of Kondo has turned “kondo” into a verb, as in, “This weekend I am kondo-ing my sock drawer.” Obsession with simplifying is not healthy either. As always, Jewish tradition advises us to walk the middle path. Yet, Kondo has clearly struck a nerve. Too much of a good thing is too much, and we are so blessed with abundance that we no longer own our possessions, they own us. We spend our early years accumulating stuff, and our later years trying to figure out how to foist that stuff on others. For my generation, it has been a rude awakening that nobody wants our treasures. There is a lot of wisdom among millennials who are choosing simpler lifestyles and spending their time and money on experiences, not things.


Passover comes with a message of “Dayenu”- what is enough? How can we shift our focus from excessive consumption to greater simplicity? I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the Mega-Millions lottery. The author concluded with these words, “I’m passing on the Mega Millions lottery. I won the lottery the day I was born.”


1 What a beautiful thought- to appreciate our incredible good fortune to live here and now, at this moment in history with so much support to make our lives easier. And if we enjoy reasonable health too? Dayenu indeed!


In Everyday Holiness Alan Morinis quotes the Vilna Gaon, who identified 3 levels of simplicity. The first is simply acquiring less. Next is to be happy with what we have. The highest level is to truly feel that we have everything we need.

2 Perhaps not everything that we might want, but everything that we truly need. Maybe we can use this holiday of Passover as a time to consider how we might simplify our lives and prioritize what is most important to us, shifting our focus from the acquisition of more and more stuff?


May we be blessed to emerge from this holiday season having renewed our sense of “sameach b’chelko,” being happy, rejoicing even, with the gifts in our lives.


Ref:

1 Opelka, Gregg, “Mega Millions? I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 23, 2018

2 Morinis, Alan, Everyday Holiness, MA: Trumpeter Books, 2007, pp. 119-122




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