Sunday, April 17, 2011

When Does Passover Begin?

I've been thinking a lot about liminal moments. My teacher, Rabbi Neil Gillman, spoke about these moments as thresholds between one stage of life, or one moment in the liturgical year, and another. Breaking the glass under the huppah ends the single status of the people under the huppah and begins their life together. Lighting candles ends the workday week and begins Shabbat; extinguishing the havdalah candle ends Shabbat and begins the workday week. Liminal moments.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about when sacred time begins, and I don't think it begins with the lighting of candles. In particular, when exactly does Shabbat begin? Does it begin when we buy our hallot? Does it begin when we pick something lovely to wear to synagogue, or when we decide who our Shabbat guests will be or what the menu will be? Sacred time begins long before it really begins.

Passover is around the corner - as I write this, on Sunday, the first seder is less than 24 hours away. Most of the shopping has been done (although there's bound to be something we've forgotten at the last minute) and all the cleaning is done and the hametz has been sought and found and put outside to be burned tomorrow morning. All the pre work has been done. The house is gleaming. We're all very satisfied.

And so I believe that Passover has already arrived, in its own way. And my question is, when did it really begin?

For the last few years, because of my living arrangements where making Passover is difficult, I've taken advantage of my children's gracious hospitality and moved in with them for the week (plus a day or so in the beginning to help cook). My daughter-in-law told me today that for her, Passover arrives when I show up with my suitcase. (Bubby as Mary Poppins - I'll accept that.) Her revelation was prompted by my reaction to her putting out a tablecloth that she keeps for just this week - when the table was covered, it was Passover.

When I was making my own seders, the first dish I made each year was the haroset. No good reason, but it was quick, didn't require cooking, and it was quintessentially Passover. Matza ball soup and stuffed chicken and brisket and even matza farfel kugel can appear on the table pretty much any time. But haroset says Passover in a way nothing else does.

But it's not the haroset that says Passover has begun. It's finding the special dishes that were my mother's, bringing them out, and wiping away the tears that return every year as I do. Cleaning the kitchen and emptying the shelves doesn't say Passover - finding the little brown teapot and the cranberry glasses and the old dishes (older than I am) that don't even make a complete set, and the stemware (ditto) - that is what Passover is. I unwrap these treasures and the holiday has begun.

So - when does Passover begin for you? At what moment do you know that the holiday is really coming? Is it when you see the boxes of matza on the supermarket shelves (sometime before Purim)? Is it when you dig out your special holiday recipes? Or when you plan your guest list? What unique moment tells you that Passover is around the corner?

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