As I write this, it's almost Purim, which can mean one thing only—four weeks til Pesach! Time to start eating down the pantry, adjusting the grocery purchases, and—oh yes, clean (repeating my Passover mantra: shmutz is not chometz, shmutz is not chometz).
There are many steps that herald the Passover prep, but the one that really means the most to me is when my grandmother's soup pot comes out of the box. Grandma only used these pots and pans one week a year, for 50 years, and when I inherited them, they were practically brand new.
I can see the fill line she used when she added the water. She never measured; why should I? But no matter how many people are sitting around the table, that fill line is never wrong. There's enough—and enough to send a little home.
Which brings me to the most curious part of the Passover section of Torah, in Exodus. In Exodus 12, we read of the first Passover dinner. It is late at night. All the Israelite slaves are huddled in their homes, waiting for the messenger of death to visit all the Egyptian first borns. They have taken the lamb's blood and painted the lintel with it. (Ex12: 7) And they are to eat the Paschal sacrifice: with girded loins, ready to leave. Each family is supposed to have their own lamb to slaughter, but "…if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby…" (Ex 12:4). Because—and this is important—there are to be no leftovers, "You shall not leave any of it over until morning, (Ex.12:10) The commentator Bekhor Shor (12th Century northern France) said it was because one wouldn't leave a sacred offering to be thrown out, so it is all to be consumed or burned the next morning.
No leftovers!? If there is anything different between that "seder" and ours, it's leftovers. There is always extra food, right?
I think that's the difference between leaving and staying, people on the move and people who have a home. People who leave for good aren't going to leave anything behind. People who have leftovers know they'll be around long enough to have the next meal in the same town, if not the same kitchen. Settled people have leftovers.
So how do we reconcile our settled-ness today with telling the story of leaving? How does our recounting of the Exodus, out into the wilderness still have resonance, when we are blessed enough to be sharing our meal with family and friends, a full table and certainly, leftovers.
There is gratitude, of course; we are grateful to be safe, out of slavery, and not on the run. But so often we speak of other kinds of slavery. In Egypt, we were saddled with oppressive labor, so much so that eventually we became "kotzer ruach", our spirits were cut off, stunted. We all encounter and become enslaved to the things that sap our spirits, make our hearts heavy and saddle us with hopelessness. At Passover, we can look for that which will liberate us from those things, so we can move from the "narrow" place of Mitzrayim (Egypt/narrow) to the open places of freedom.
And leftovers? Well, when we have freed ourselves from that which enslaves us, we don't want to take any of it with us; rather, finish it, burn it and be done with it. Take only the story, the empathy, the heart-scars that will remind us why we left, and how valuable our freedom is.
May your Pesach be filled with joy, meaning, family and friends—and tasty leftovers!
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.