Enormous amounts of energy and preparation go into the first day of Passover, culminating in the Seder that brings the family together in an intense and meaningful encounter that lasts until the small hours of the morning.
If that were all of Passover, then dayenu – it would be enough. The holiday, however, is more than a single-day flash of glory; it goes on for a full week. It is abundantly clear what we are supposed to do when Passover kicks off, but now that we have reached the final day many of us are left wondering, “What now?” Passover is not the only holiday in the Jewish calendar that stretches out over an entire week.
Hanukka, too, is a card-carrying member of the weeklong-holiday club. Every day the candle count increases, building up to a crescendo, climaxing on the final day. We look forward to seeing our hanukkiot reach their maximum capacity, bursting with light.
Excitement also builds day by day throughout Succot, culminating at the raucous conclusion of the holiday week when we pull out all the stops, dancing joyously and energetically with the Torah scrolls on Simhat Torah.
Passover, in contrast, offers no spectacular conclusion. It starts with a bang, kicking off with the compelling Seder night, but it ends a week later with a whimper. The dominant emotion we feel on this last day of the holiday might actually be relief. We can finally put away all of the Passover dishes for another year, abandon the opprobrious dietary restrictions and go back to the routine life and the normal eating habits we prefer. Like the spring month of March, Passover comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.
What are we supposed to do on the last day of Passover? We are left relatively rudderless.
When we eat a meal, we are not instructed to dip, recline, drink four glasses of wine, encourage children to ask questions, or relate the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Nothing.
Perhaps it is this sudden lack of direction – this absence of something special to do or to look forward to at the end of the holiday – that has made us so eager to embrace the Mimouna concept from our North African brethren. Let’s replace matza with moufleta
BACK AT the onset of the holiday, our children asked four questions, but many questions still remain. Now as the holiday draws to its end, there is a final ritual we can fulfill – the traditional four questions that adults ask themselves in an attempt to learn from our experience and not make the same mistakes next year.
Question 1: Did we really have to invite so many people to Seder?
Yes, it is the quintessential family holiday and we want our huge extended family to celebrate with us. Yes, we invite strangers and those less fortunate (“Let those who are hungry [or lonely] come in and partake”). Yes, it is an opportunity to reach out to the curious and alienated and draw them closer to God. But still, is it really smart or effective to end up with a mob of more than 30 people (at some point we lost count) shoehorned into a wholly inadequate space? What were we thinking? Question 2: Did I really need to eat so much?
Otherwise rational people seem to think that removing leaven from our diet for a week raises the dire specter of starvation.
How else can I explain the fact that I ate so much during the holiday that I often felt uncomfortably overstuffed? Yes, Passover is a celebration of freedom, but does that mean we should feel free to binge on all of the chocolates, cookies, etc, that we set our eyes on? Now I have been reduced to skulking past the bathroom scale in fear of discovering that I have entered a new weight area code.Question 3: Do I really have to pay for all those charges on my credit card?
Although we are usually careful with expenditures and try to live within our means, at a certain point during the preparations for the holiday, things seem to careen out of control and our credit cards seem to be smoking from heavy use. Shortly after Passover, Moses was able to get water out of the rock and manna fell from the sky. So is it too much for me to hope for some small miracle and have money magically appear in my bank account to cover the inevitable overdraft resulting from the massive consumer spending spree we engaged in? Question 4: Logistically, the holiday was a success, but did I accomplish the things that are really important to me?
We cleaned the house thoroughly for Passover.
We fed a small army of people, many of whom slept over. We read the Haggada thoroughly from front to back (and yes, we even shared insights from the new Hogwarts Haggada on hand. Spoiler: Moses was a Muggle). But in a way, that is the easy part of the holiday.
The harder part of the holiday, addressed by this fourth question, is really comprised of several subquestions, which in truth are relevant every day of the year.
• I spent a lot of money, but did I also give enough money – or even thought – to people in need? Did I recall loved ones who are ill or no longer with us and innocent people whose lives were cut short by hate-filled murderers?
• I had a lot of people in my house, but did I do my best to connect well with everyone? Did I appreciate, listen, share, and create indelible memories as much as possible with each individual?
• Did I successfully transmit to my children the awe and wonder of the miracles of the Exodus and the chain of miracles that led to our ability to celebrate and thank the Creator millennia later here in our Promised Land?
• Did I pray with heartfelt intent and concentration? The high-pressure onset of Passover is mitzvaladen and ritual-heavy; the holiday concludes on quite a different note. Perhaps this is an opportunity to reflect on and be grateful for what went well and to make a mental note of lessons learned and resolve to do better in the coming year.