Passover or Holy Week…it’s unclear to me which I celebrate this year. The morning sun finally breaks through the gray snow clouds. The ground is lightly dusted with snow, but the temperature frigid at 24 degrees. The juncos hop around the porch looking for old birdseed. The monthly supply of birdseed ran out days early, but the birds complain it’s been longer. Yesterday the squirrel came begging, and all I had was stale bread of some unknown and unremembered named grain. It did not impress the squirrel, the birds not even recognizing the substance as ‘bread’.
Though the weather forecasters predicted cold for today, one can never know if snow will fall. Last night as the dog and I walked into the spring air, I prayed for the tree frogs singing down at the pond below. Can they, did they survive the freeze after a week of spring temperatures? As I drink the last cup of coffee, a junco settles on the patio table puffed up in feathers, down coated against the cold. Then I remembered I had some matza still for the last two days of Passover. Surely it would be okay to share part of my daily matzah with the squirrel and the birds? Though, what do I know at all about the sacredness of matzah? I hoped that since matzah can be hidden as afikomen during a Seder, perhaps it would okay.
HEBREW TEXTבָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ.TRANSLITERATIONBaruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu,Melech haolam,haMotzi lechem min haaretz.TRANSLATION
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Only recently, I joined a class on Judaism taught through the Center for Exploring Judaism at Central Synagogue NYC. Our leader, Rabbi Darcie Crystal, did an excellent job of covering all the details about Passover we would need to know in a short time. Yet, growing up in the South and having no Jewish family, I have no point of reference. From my seminary education and my personal interest in Judaism, I know the basics of what Passover means. One of my Jewish friends and his wife led our congregation in a Seder when I was a vicar in Tallahassee. Mostly what I remember from that time was the love and respect between Rick and Lori as they led the Seder and told us the story of Exodus. Also memorable is the warmth and blessing of the surrounding community.
As I considered the little that I know and pondered the meaning of Passover from the Jewish tradition and then that today is Maundy Thursday in the Christian tradition, it was hard to avoid the similarities of tradition. However, the goal in taking this class was to experience Passover from the Jewish tradition as expressed by Judaism. The class for me is not some experiment but seeking to understand more fully who and Whose I am.
Central Synagogue is a Reformed Jewish Synagogue. Our temple here in Boone, Temple of the High Country is also a Reformed congregation of people. This is a good thing for me too because of several reasons. Watching the birds check out the matzah, I hoped that also meant I can remain part of the class if I confess to sharing matzah with birds and my red squirrel friend. The birds looked over the bread that remained from yesterday and ignored it. Some, especially the shivering junco, tried the matzah and then flew away. The squirrel sat on the patio table munching a corner as I crunched the other corner.
Rituals of any kind have a rhythm to them. Seeking to observe the tradition and rituals of Judaism with my classmates, I follow the instructions. Or so I think. Only to refer to the textbook again and realize that my experience isn’t kosher. I’m making mistakes because of course; I don’t know what I’m doing. Because I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, my rhythm is off. Like a new pianist trying to learn how to play the piano, I recognize sounds and meaning, but there is not a rhythm to my actions. The ritual is awkward, but I want to keep trying and to understand.
Caught up in music, music lessons with students, and the class in Judaism, I lose track of the week. Throughout the pandemic of the past year, there has been no marker of my days like before. Today is always simply now. Looking at my prayer life and my practice of faith, questions arise and thoughts spew onto a page. Some of the verbal meanderings come from fear, some from faith, and some pontificating comes from the unknowing of it all.
A different junco comes to the porch and tries the old bread, then hops off the porch. A red-breasted tufted titmouse grabs a piece of matzah and flies off to the West. Two more juncos descend and then fight over the matzah like children fighting over bread. The clouds part and blue-sky colors the horizon of a new day.