My teacher, Jill Hammer, posits that Passover is an initiation ritual. A ritual where we, as individuals are initiated into a tribe year after year, century after century, millennia after millenia. Really Passover is part of an extremely long initiation ritual that begins the night before Passover and ends at Shavuot — where we are transformed by accepting the Mitzvot and the relationship with the Holy One.
This long transformative period begins at the first of Nisan, which is know as the New Year of Kings. This is one of the four new years known on the Jewish calendar. It is the marker in time where we turn our thoughts to recommitting ourselves to the Holy One individually, but more importantly as a nation of people. To be a “king” you cannot just have an individual bound to you, but a full nation of people.
Most Passover seders are fun, family events that are not really rituals with a true transformative power anymore. That’s really okay for most, who aren’t even engaged with being Jewish on a daily basis. Just this act of engaging with the seder each year, really does its job in helping people, in some way, recommit to what it means to be a part of the Jewish people each year. While on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we think about what it means to us personally to be Jewish, this is the time of year when we grapple with “peoplehood” and being a part of the Tribe.
As you prepare for your Passover seder this year, think about the experience as a chance to recommit to your tribe — whether that be the Jewish people or the people at your seder. Who is it that sits with you at your seder and why are they there? Why did you invite them? Why did they accept? What is it that binds you together and what larger groups are you associated with? If your seder is comprised of all Jews, then really use the experience to explore what it means to be a part of the Jewish people and how that manifests in your lives. If your seder is an inter-faith experience — well — use what the experience means to you be both a part of the Jewish tribe and a part of this tribe. What does “the tribe” mean to your personal tribe?
Passover is really just a first step, it’s the feast before the trek through the wilderness of the Omer that leads us to the holy mountain and the Holy One at Shavuot. All classical initiation rituals have three parts: separation, transition, and re-integration. Passover includes all of these elements and also acts as the first step (separation) in the long cycle of Pesach-Omer-Shavuot. Whatever your understanding of the Tribe, take a moment this Passover to really allow yourself to experience the potential power of this ritual. Don’t just go through the motions; explore the ties that bind you to your tribe and your tribe together. Use that exploration to choose your Haggadah, special readings, your guest list, your menu, etc. Maybe even begin your seder by expressly stating your intention around the experience — why is this night different than all other nights?
Pesach is when we were born as a people. Each year, we are reborn as we tell the story. Each year you (we) have a chance to re-becoming a people and to commit to stake a claim as a tribe, a people, and a nation. Thankfully Judaism is not just one tribe — it is made up of at least twelve tribes bound together as a larger nation. That means the personal tribe at your seder is, and can be, part of “the people.” So who are you? What is your banner? What do you stand for? How does this fit into the larger identity of the “People of the Book”or the “People of the Land,” or the “People of the Book of the Land?”
This year, don’t just go through the motions. Make it more than just about a good party and a nice meal. Take it one step further and really have an intention (kavanah) for your seder and how it helps you and your guests connect to the notion of tribe, people, and nation.