Passover at the Intersection: Mindfulness Practices for the Seder
וְהָיָה כִּי־יֹאמְרוּ אֲלֵיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם׃ וַאֲמַרְתֶּם זֶבַח־פֶּסַח הוּא לַיהֹוָה אֲשֶׁר פָּסַח עַל־בָּתֵּי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם בְּנגְפּוֹ אֶת־מִצְרַיִם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּינוּ הִצִּיל וַיִּקֹּד הָעָם וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ׃
[When your children ask you, “What do you mean by this Passover rite?”]
You shall say, “We gather close to the compassion of Life Unfolding, which came as compassion upon the houses and children of all the god wrestlers in Egypt, striking the place we were bound and sparing our houses.
Exodus 12:26-27 (Translation drawn from traditional Rabbinic and Hasidic sources) Over the ages the word Pesach, signifying the Passover rituals set forth in Torah, have become associated with the lamb that was sacrificed to protect the enslaved people from suffering Pharoah's karma. In early Jewish history, though, as seen in the above 3rd century translation drawn from Onkelos, Pesach was interpreted as a rite of compassion. Today we can bring the first Jewish festival into our homes to express gratitude and generate connection and compassion.
When we break the word Pesach into two root words, pei (mouth) and sach (conversing), it becomes the Festival of Conversing Mouth, a dynamic exchange between generations, with words, food, song and ritual. Just as Life Unfolding breathed life into the first humans, we sit at the Pesach table and breath life into our connections with each other. At the Passover table we retell the story of every people's and every generation's journey to freedom as if it is happening to us. We step into the shoes of everyone who has ever strode forth to freedom.
Opening the Door to Compassion
We especially transmit this capacity to honor and care about other peoples' journeys to our children. This is the source of healing the world given over by the ancient prophet Malachi and incorporated into the Passover seder ritual during Rabbinical times.
On the Shabbat before Passover we read from the Book of Malachi, which ends with these strange and powerful words: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Adonai. And He shall turn the heart of the parents to the children, and the heart of the children to their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.” (Malachi 3:23-24)
At a dramatic high point of the Passover evening meal, we open the door to Elijah [Eliyahu in Hebrew.] We can reenact this at the seder as parents and children together opening the door to compassion. We invite all who are hungry to join us in our festive meal. And we turn to each other and ask, how can I do better at turning my heart toward you? Passover continues for eight days. We can spend time each day sitting with children, parents and all the generations, exploring what each needs and wants to turn our hearts toward each other.
"As If" Communication between Parents and Children
Torah presents the Passover ritual as an opportunity for us to listen to each other's narratives "as if" we ourselves have lived them. An example of how we might use "as if" practice to turn our hearts to the children is by looking deeply at how we hear a younger person saying, "as if." The first time I heard a younger person reply with an, "as if," I noticed they also were rolling their eyes. I felt disturbed, maybe even hurt, as I was telling myself that their response meant they weren't interested in what I had to say.
Bringing my "as if" practice into this, turning to listen to them in their shoes, I see something else. I understand their "as if" to be their way of communicating that it's hard for them to trust that I really understand their experience. I hear it as a need to reaffirm trust. I listen to get as close as I can to what they are communicating about their feelings and needs.
As Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in poetry now put to song:
Please call me by my true names So I can wake up And the door to my heart Will be left open The door of compassion
We open our hearts to those closest to us and,