Just before Passover, I found myself in a fury of planning, cleaning and shopping. My heart beat faster inside my chest as we raced to get everything done just right and just in time. I felt the sweat dripping down my brow as we scrubbed every last corner in my kitchen. I strained and grunted as we stuffed our appliances into closets and taped up cabinets of food not suitable for Passover. It was about getting enough done to meet the requirements of the holiday without going completely insane!
In the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye explains it best:
A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, “Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?” Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!
Passover has now ended and with it some of the most widely observed traditions in Judaism. Millions of Jews from around the world, even if they did very little else “Jewish” for the rest of the year, found themselves back again at another Passover seder, eating matzos, and/or ridding themselves of chametz for the entire week.
Tradition! We do the same thing year after year. Many of the traditions we share as a people, like joining together for seders. Others we share in our communities, such as where everyone will be meeting for pizza when the holiday ends. Still, some we have for our own families, mainly Bubbie’s brisket. Every year it is the same, and yet, it feels like, if we don’t eat every bite, read every line and sing every song just the way we always do, it just doesn’t feel like Passover.
Tradition! In the same breath, we kvetch and kvell at the redundancy of it all. Why does it always have to be so long, so hard so much the same thing every single year? How do I love this time of year, so many people, so joyful, so much food? We keep the good and the bad of every holiday close to our hearts.
Through it all, a theme rang true for me this year that helped the traditions start to make more sense and even feel worthwhile. Passover is the same every year, but we are not. We come together every year for the same meal with the same people to sing the same songs because it provides a constant against which we can measure change. The value of engaging with this tradition is that it gives us a starting place from which to return and measure how much we have indeed changed, hopefully for the better, from year to year. As a people, tradition lets us know how much we have improved from generation to generation. As much as we must remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt, we must also measure how much we have to bettered ourselves each year as free people.