Passover is a time for love. This might be a source of confusion to many Jews.
Passover, we were taught, is a festival of freedom. It is the holiday to remember our release from slavery in Egypt and to hope for the redemption of the future. Passover is when we are supposed to read from Song of Songs, the love book of the Hebrew Bible, but “What’s Love Gotta Do With It?”
Love and freedom are more related than we think. Both require a level of responsibility for all who seek them. Love without responsibility is selfishness; freedom without responsibility is chaos. Responsibility civilizes love and freedom, and elevates both to the moral stature they deserve.
This Passover is a particularly poignant one for me. The one individual who taught me to love also realized freedom in a way I could never have anticipated a short while ago. My father, whom I dubbed “The Renaissance Rabbi,” died six months ago following a courageous battle with lymphoma.
My dad shined at the seder table. His singing of the festival blessings pierced the heavens, and he managed to inject humor into the service to keep everyone engaged. I vividly recall one year my father opened the door for Elijah. This custom is a symbolic way of saying, “redemption is not yet complete, we must complete it.”
At the very moment dad opened the door, someone appearing to be Elijah walked in, consumed the wine in Elijah’s cup, then left. I was convinced the forerunner of the Messianic Age had just made a personal house call! Only later would I learn that it wasn’t Elijah. It was “Cousin Johnny,” the prankster who slipped away from the table earlier in the service and re-entered on cue when my dad opened the door!
The favorite part of the Seder for children is the Afikoman hunt, that search for the other half of the middle matzah which is hidden at the beginning of the Seder. This was a brilliant tactic by the early rabbis to keep the children awake throughout the nighttime retelling of the Passover story.
My father used to give every child in the house a prize for finding that hidden matzah. This year, the Afikoman carries much deeper meaning for me, namely, the seeking of the part of me that is lost and hidden without him here. When the pieces of the Afikoman are reunited, a part of me will be reunited with him too.
Passover, with its full moon, teaches an important lesson for those of us who have endured a cold and dark winter. If life starts over again each spring, so can each of us.
On Monday evening, when Passover officially begins, I will still feel my father’s hands on my shoulders blessing me. Life begins anew.
Micah Greenstein is senior rabbi of Temple Israel in Memphis. His father, Howard K. Greenstein, who served as rabbi for the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island, Fla., was co-author of ‘What Do Our Neighbors Believe? Questions and Answers on Judaism, Christianity and Islam’ released January 2007 by Westminster John Knox Press.