The Mitzvah to Recline
All week I have been collecting Haggadah supplements: Truah, JFREJ, JVP, AJWS. These are contemporary iterations, detailing the plagues, the questions and the slaveries of our current moment. The list is long, the moment is heavy, the violence, especially today, is devastating.
Yet on Passover we ask, Why is this night different from all other nights? And one of our four answers is, Because on this night we recline. We lean back, as it were, on a pillow, a chair, a cushion. For some of us this is a growing edge.
What we learn from this answer is that the seder is not in fact a political education program, although I have certainly used it in that way in moments. It is not a history class or a strategy session. It is a time when we gather not merely to retell, but to re-enact our freedom; perhaps most truly to embody it.
The seder happens in the present tense. We sing (even when leading in a prison!), Avadim Hayinu - We were slaves, but now, in this moment, we are free people. Which means, that for a moment, a night, two nights for some, we are meant to live into our wildest fantasies of freedom. Taste it, breath it, sing it, take refuge in it.
In the words of my teacher Rabbi Ebn Leader, "The freedom that we celebrate on Passover, is in some ways, the freedom from the fantasy that we have fix it all. That if we don't do it, it won't happen."
It is for this reason that the most important mitzvah is to lean back. Every other day of the year, we lean in, but on Passover we recline. Whether you add an extra pillow to your chair, sit on your couch, or picnic on the floor, I invite you follow the wisdom of Jewish tradition and recline. Let your body cue your mind; now is the time to let go, there is no rush, we are not slaves to anyone's clock or orders. This is our chance to savor the freedom we spend so much time working towards.
May it be so!
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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