Out at my folks this weekend, where I helped haul twenty or so boxes of dishes down from the attic to replace the usual dishes for Passover. It’s a common tradition among orthodox Jewish folks, and though my family is fairly secular most of the year, this is one of those traditions that has remained. The rickety ladder to the attic should probably be used as a prop in some horror movie. Kind of reminds me of the spiral staircase in the 1964 version of The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It groans and shakes and complains, and one suspects the ladder will collapse at any time. Ghosts haunt the attic too, in the form of toys and papers from my and my sisters’ childhoods.
While we were unpacking the dishes I noticed a few loaves of bread sitting on the kitchen counter. I said, “Um, Mom, aren’t we replacing all these dishes based on the idea that they haven’t touched leavened bread?” She shrugged. “It’s fine,” she said. Never mind the chametz in plain view, it was the idea of the dishes being changed that counted.
I have a hard time imagining some judgmental God sitting on his heavenly throne and looking down his nose at us and nodding his head. “My good little Jews!” I mean, it seemed to me we weren’t doing this for God at all, but for each other. Rituals are what bring people together. It’s when you mistake the ritual for the meaning itself where you run into problems. We might just as well have been told that in order to be good Jews on Passover we had to replace all our underwear. And we’d do it and wouldn’t think, “How odd!” because that’s what our parents did and theirs before them. (Just imagine!) But if we mistook the actual act of switching underwear for the part that was holy, we’d be missing the point. It’s the sharing of the ritual with others, the bringing of people together, that gives it purpose. I think that’s why I can enjoy this holiday even though I think most if not all of it is patently fiction.
Later, more on the Exodus!