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In Egypt we became a nation. That, at least, is what we learn from the Haggada.
We were enslaved in Egypt, together. We left Egypt, together. We stood at Mount Sinai, together. We sacrificed the Paschal lamb, together. We went up every Pessah to the Temple in Jerusalem, together.
Together; collectively; in concert - a major Pessah theme.
"This is the bread of affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt," Jews will be saying in homes tonight all around the world. "All who are hungry - let them come and eat. All who are needy - let them come and celebrate the Pessah with us."
Together; collectively; in concert.
Countless people in Israel will be inviting guests - lone soldiers, new immigrants - to join them at the Seder table. This will be done out of a genuine and deeply ingrained sense, almost now a part of our genetic makeup, that on this night no one should be alone; that this celebration of our freedom should be spent together, even with strangers.
Together is good, together is important, together is - as the holiday teaches - an ideal.
But together is not always all that it's cracked up to be - not the familial together, nor the national one.
Who hasn't attended a Seder where the family tension is as thick as the ritual wine, where the strain of having everybody around one table for six hours is as bitter as the maror?
Who hasn't been at a Seder where some cousin is there only because his mother made him show up; or where another relation is rolling the eyes because a third cousin, perhaps more religious, won't shut up and let everyone move swiftly to the brisket; or where the parents - totally stressed out and exhausted by the cooking and cleaning of the last two weeks - befoul the atmosphere by barking at the kids for some infraction, real or imagined?
Together around the Seder table is the ideal, but reality often intervenes, making the atmosphere less than storybook. Which is, paradoxically, the only real reason that I have any pining left in me at all for the second Seder of the Diaspora.
I like having only one Seder here in Israel. It keeps things fresh, makes that one night very special. But the second Seder in galut does have its practical purposes.
For instance, if you and the spouse fight on the first night as a result of tension and fatigue, don't sweat it: all the weeks of preparation are not for naught, there is always the second night.
If you yell at the kids during night one, don't clobber yourself with guilt; you can make up for it by being real sweet during night two. And if you had to invite relatives you didn't really want to the first Seder, no worries, you can look forward to the second night when they won't be there.
Two Seders also solve problems for the offspring of divorced parents, as well as for newly married couples: one night at each parents' home.
BUT IN ISRAEL, like so much else in this country, we don't have this padding, this insulation. Everything is stark, out there, in your face to be dealt with.
You got family problems - deal with them. You don't know what to do with the in-laws - make a choice. Don't dilly-dally, don't candy coat. If you can't get the Seder down right the first night, you lose. Here there are no make-ups, no mulligans, no do-overs.
And that's all on the familial level. On the collective level, as well, together is sometimes better in theory than in practice. During the intermediate days of Pessah, hundreds of thousands of people will head to the hills and the rivulets of this country. Which is beautiful, really it is. Expect that we are all heading to the same few nebbech hills and rivulets.
I live not far from a little running water of sorts in the Judean Desert called Ein Fuwar. To call it a stream would be a gross exaggeration. It's a water hole which - during certain months of the year - has an accompanying creek. But judging by the sheer number of people who will converge on Ein Fuwar during the intermediate days of Pessah, this creek is the mighty Mississippi River itself.
Sitting there, on the banks of this creek, I am beset by mixed emotions. On the one hand it's great to be out celebrating with the People of Israel. On the other hand, I wish the People of Israel would be out celebrating somewhere else, leaving my family and me alone at creek-side for five minutes.
The sight really is amazing. Literally hundreds of people - some equipped with food and gear that would do them well on a trek in the Himalayas - sitting on top of each other on the banks of a dirty desert stream.
But when I journey to the great outdoors I like to be alone. Indeed, that's what makes the outdoors great. I don't want to hear the screaming of children not my own, or loud music, or see someone else's trash.
When Israelis head to the hills, by contrast, they like to congregate, to be together. A few years ago on Pessah, the wife and I bundled up the kids for a camping trip to Horshat Tal near Kiryat Shmona, the country's only real campground. Beautiful place. We found ourselves a spot by the back fence, under a nice oak tree. It was high season, and we were convinced that in no time at all, the area around us would be full of people.
But, to our pleasant surprise, it wasn't to be. There's a little brook that meanders through the park, and the multitudes preferred to camp near the brook, rather than find a nice quiet place off in the distance. Never mind that the whole scene looked like the Ganges River during a Hindu festival, people wanted to be by the water, near the action, together.
My first instinct was to think those people nuts - why clump up together when you could find some space on your own? Until it dawned on me - my fellow campers had internalized the togetherness message of Pessah, while I still had a long way to go.