“Jewish Time” is often code for being five, ten, even fifteen minutes late. Jewish time also has a deeper meaning, because the Jewish calendar is calibrated with the cycles of both the sun and the moon which means some holidays are in synch with a full or new moon. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins appropriately with the new moon. Each year on the first night of Sukkot, we look up through the cornstalk roof of our Sukkah and see a full moon shining through. It is a kiss my husband I always savor. And now, Passover’s full moon.
Look at the sky tonight and you will see a gibbous moon a sliver or two away from fullness. I am racing against that fullness to get everying in order for Passover. What does this involve? OK, that’s one Jewish question to which you know there can be five, ten, fifteen answers. For the Darvicks it means a total scrubbing of the kitchen to rout out the chametz (anything leavened). It means eating up all the noodles, bread, rice, peanut butter and tossing out-of-dates condiments their metal caps smeared with gunk. It means taking a toothbrush to the molding joints of our cabinet doors, wiping down the tracks of the drawers, sponging smears of grape jelly from the freezer gaskets and more. HOW does grape jelly get there, anyway? It also means a wholesesale switch over of dishes, baking pans, silverware and whatall, all, all and more all.
It is a pain in the neck and a boost to the soul, this fury of scrubbing, wiping down and sponging. The metaphors to inner cleaning rise like a sink full of bubbles. There is something so satisfying about the results: cabinet surfaces once again gleam softly in the light; the fridge is free of any (and I mean ANY) crumbs; no more wrinkled peas rolled out of reach on the freezer floor.
Newly-lined shelves are stocked with matzoh and other K4P (Kosher for Passover) foodstuffs. The vegetable bins are as full as my heart as I await the arrival of family and friends around our table. There is a lot of gratitude, too. To have so many friends and family to welcome; to have the means to purchase what we need and more. To be in a country where grocery aisles are filled with blue signs directing Jewish customers to the K4P aisles. Could Moses ever have envisioned such freedom? Could his wife ever have imagined having to switch the goatskins?
But still I am racing. There are a last few untesils to dunk in boiling water, fish to pick up, food to start cooking. There is the table to set with my great aunt’s plates, my grandmother’s silverware, the white melamine Seder plates the kids made in nursery school and the Elijah’s cup my grandfather gave us when we married. The moon edges closer to her fullness and each night I go outside and tell her, “I’m getting closer.,.I’ll make it. Come Friday night, my fullness will match yours.”
The March sky and now even April’s have been reminders of the ancients. Each evening in the western sky, Venus and Jupiter have been do-si-doe-ing across this heavenly dance floor of black velvet. Some nights they shuffle close as teenagers. Other nights they do a respectable minuet, their celestial bodies no closer than fingertip to fingertip. Last month a gleaming crescent of moon cut in on this magnificent planetary pirouette.
The ancients depended on these lights to mark time, plant their crops, guide their spiritual lives. And way way back in time, a time much closer to the time when the greater and lesser lights were set into the sky, a full moon shone upon a night of destruction and liberation, a night when the climactic tenth plague propelled from Egypt a band of former slaves who followed a leader who was following the voice of an invisible, yet omnipotent, God. They brushed their lintels with the blood of a sacrifical lamb, ate hurriedly with their neighbors and fled the straits of their enslavement, hastily-mixed bread on their backs and terrifying unknowns at their front.
The word Seder means order and this Friday night the world over, Jews will follow the same order: opening the same book, performing the same rituals, reading the same words. They will eat variations of the same foods and tell the same story to their children and their children’s children, a story almost as old as the stars and moon shining down upon them.
It is story that looks back into slavery and forward to freedom. A story that binds generation to generation and binds one’s insides with bread of affliction. (Eat matzoh for a week and you’ll know what I mean.) There will be readings from across centuries of philosophers, feminist readings, and perhaps a reading of eating bread during Passover because that was all there was to eat that Passover in the camps. Some will sing the spiritual Go Down Moses and all will sing Dayenu. And it will be enough. More than enough and good, so good.
So I rush to the final tasks, cross off the final items on my list, all the while whispering to the moon, “I am almost there, I am almost there.” All the while I whipser to God, “Thank you. Thank you for Your outstretched hand, and the parted sea. Thank you for Miriam’s song and the manna. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”