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Palimpsest
by L'chaim
Passover is perhaps the most perplexing of holidays: More families gather for the Passover seder than for any other Jewish holiday. Passover has wonderful traditions and songs, and the food with which we have a love-hate relationship - matza, maror (bitter herbs). Passover is the holiday of spring, of our freedom, our redemption, of our emergence from slavery into a nation. The history of the Jewish people begins with Passover.

Passover also brings with it cleaning and paranoia about bread crumbs and, let's face it, the extra expense because Passover food just costs more. In some ways, Passover is the most restrictive of holidays, requiring more preparation, more effort and toil and after eight days of matza, oy!

But we can look at Passover another way. Let's call Passover a palimpsest. In case you've forgotten what a palimpsest is, here's a standard definition: a manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.

In other words, a palimpsest retains traces of its history. There's the current story, and in between the spaces an earlier story, and in between those spaces a still earlier story, and so on. But the material on which the generational stories are written, the parchment, remains.

Although technically a palimpsest is a piece of parchment with writing, the meaning has been extended to include anything that reflects the layers of its history.

So matza is a palimpsest. The bitter herbs are a palimpsest. Even the Hagada is a palimpsest.

Because the basic material, the object itself, remains the same generation after generation. Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and their generation ate matza. King David and his generation ate matza. Mordechai and Esther and their generation ate matza. Rabbi Akiva and Rachel and their generation ate matza. The Maharal and Pearl and their generation ate matza. And bitter herbs. And read the Hagada to retell the story.

Only its never quite the same story. In every generation we must perceive the world, and our situation, as if we ourselves have left - have just left - Egypt. We should see things thus not just on Passover, but every day - as if we are just now leaving Egypt.

That is the parchment, the material we write our stories on.

But in each generation, the story is slightly different, because the Egypt is different. The oppression and enslavement is different. True, the themes remain the same - physical persecution from without, emotional doubt and intellectual confusion from within. But the specific form, the details of the story, they differ.

The challenges of our generation are the same, but different, as the challenges of previous generations. We too must wrestle with ourselves to observe and learn, we must struggle against those who rise up to destroy us, from without and from within.

Fifty ago there was no internet. A hundred years ago there was no television or radio. And the events of the twentieth century have created new challenges to our living proudly as Jews who observe mitzvot (commandments).

But on Passover we remind ourselves that we too must leave Egypt, we too must retell the story, relive the Exodus and the Redemption. We must in a sense rewrite, no, not just rewrite, we must write it over, between the spaces and over all the other stories, connecting them, generation to generation.

Our seders are a palimpsest, taking us through the history of ourselves. And so, on the same surface, with the same materials, we tell the story of Redemp-tion, writing and rewriting it until the final telling - the coming of Moshiach and the complete Redemption.

 

 


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