By Nigel Savage
Thursday, March 22, 2018 | 6 Nissan 5778
Here are four questions in the lead-up to the Pesach Seder. Feel free to think about these yourself, and/or discuss at the seder table.
- What’s the relationship between getting rid of “chametz” and becoming “free”?
It’s an important question – in the lead-up to Pesach, and on seder night, and coming out of seder and into the omer. If you’re observant: as well as literal chametz, take the opportunity to clear out as much junk as you can. Take things to goodwill. Give them away. Get rid of clothes you don’t need. Unclutter your closets. And if you’re not traditionally religiously observant – if you don’t really mind if you have breadcrumbs in your kitchen or not – do exactly the same things. The tradition, as I steadily learn, is wiser than we are; wiser than I am. I’m convinced that the more we give away and throw out, the better we’ll feel.
- Now that it’s 2018: what kinds of media do we count as chametz? Which should we “throw out” and how?
This question is already a cliché, and/but how we answer it is anything but. In the three weeks after my father died I very significantly cut down on my consumption of all online news, and news and TV and popular culture in general. I had less of those things, and much more of human interaction, in all formats. I felt much better for it. And now I’ve started to fall back into my old ways. So it’s a real question for me. I’ll be healthier and happier and a better person if I consume less media of all sorts, and I’m open to suggestions as to how I could or should do that. [If I get any incredibly great suggestions I’ll share them in a future email.]
- What changes could/should I make to how I eat that will cause me in the deepest sense to feel that I’m freer?
Pesach is about changing how we eat for seven days. [Or eight, if we’re not in Israel.] It has the clear understanding that this somehow leads into our journey of freedom. Freedom in Jewish tradition involves obligation and responsibility. It offers me the freedom to strive to be a better person, rather than the freedom to dance naked down the street – let alone the freedom to injure someone. So the changes in how we might eat are not about eating ice cream for breakfast. How do we flip a mental switch in our heads so that, for instance, quitting soda feels like a gift to myself and not a diminution of my freedom? [I use this latter example very happily. My whole life I’ve loved food, in a sense, too much, and have struggled not to overeat. But more than four years ago I finally felt clear that soda was bad for me in all respects, and I’ve not had a sip of it since. This feels like an expression of my highest freedom, and one I commend to you if it resonates with you.]
- What does freedom look like in this crazy moment politically and culturally?
I’m baffled, saddened, and scared by our current politics. I have huge respect for those who are engaging politically, and certainly, those who do so with integrity and balance. I can feel myself pulling back – wanting to read less, engage less – because the news is literally (to me) quite unbearable. And I’m heedful of Nick Kristof’s and others’ argument that this is in significant respects, the best of times. Yet I feel in my bones, as I know so many people do, that the vituperativeness, the absence of respect for truth, the attack on public servants – and these things are not equally distributed on the political spectrum; I feel that these things are precursors of the decline of the republic. Western liberalism is being challenged as never before in my lifetime. Despite its many faults – and those of market capitalism, also – this is the least bad of the alternatives we have before us. I pray that we do not experience some of those alternatives. Our great-grandparents lived through several of them, and directly or indirectly they led to great loss of life. We need respect for argument itself. We need to step back from what to me seems like indiscriminate craziness on the right, and a certain kind of illiberal intolerance on the left. And I have no idea how we do this. I don’t know how I personally should navigate through this. I don’t know how best to steer Hazon through this, so we are maximally effective, and a force for good. My inclination is simply to strive to be good and kind, and to lean on Jewish tradition, and to open up space for disagreement, and to work always to widen the tent. But is this enough? How could I or we do more? This is the fourth Pesach question, for me, this year, and far the hardest to address.
So… I wish you Shabbat Shalom. May your pre-Pesach preparations go well.
And don’t forget that we start to count the omer on Saturday night, March 31st. It is a wonderful tradition. Make a fuss of it at your second night seder, if you’re at one. Breathe into it. Seder night is there not only as a grand celebration, but also to alert us to this 7-week count that starts the following night. Give yourself some goals and some gifts for this great count. Journal every day. Or daven every day. Meditate every day. Commit to giving tzedakah every day. Reach out to a friend every day. Quit soda for 50 days, or sugar, or whatever it is that stops you from being free. Best of all – prepare for it now. The more you prepare the better able you’ll be to earn the great gifts of the tradition.
Finally: thank you to so many of you who have given gifts to Hazon recently. This organization does critical work, day in and day out. If you’d like to give us a pre-Pesach gift, please clickhere. And if you’d like to be a monthly sustainer – the bedrock upon which our work rests – please click here. (We have very cool and high-end new water bottles, and they’re insulated and – because they’re brand new – kosher l’pesach. So, everyone who becomes a new sustainer between now and midnight on Sunday, March 25th – we’ll send you a new limited edition Hazon water bottle first thing on Monday morning.)
PS Hazon has an array of sustainable Passover resources as well as a seder supplement focusing on the egg on the seder plate which we encourage you to print and use at your seder. We also want you to share with us how you’re making your Passover more sustainable. Enter our March Sustainability Challenge on social media for a chance to win a vintage Hazon lunch bag.