In the famous Talmudic debate about whether we should increase or decrease the number of candles we light over the holiday of Hanukkah, the school of Hillel teaches that we should light one candle the first night, two on the second and so on because of the principle: “ma’alin bikodesh v’ayn moridin”. We increase our levels of holiness and never decrease. The end of the holiday should have more light than the beginning.
Our goal as Jews is to bring more sanctity to our lives each day and the holidays should reflect that. But, too often, the end of our holidays is not as exciting, as meaningful, as memorable as the beginning. And, no holiday exemplifies that more than Pesach.
Think about how we began Pesach last Friday. The excitement of cooking and cleaning had already gone on for several days in many homes. For many, the special seder dishes were taken out and those foods we eat only on two nights a year were prepared. Then, Monday came and we went back to work or to school grumbling about food limitations, trying to find something to satisfy cravings, finding too many crumbs around the house, trying not to be too obvious about longing for a cup of coffee at our favorite coffee place. Where is the extra light that Hillel spoke about relating to Hanukkah? Where is the “increase in holiness” and meaning? What happened to the glow we were left with after the Seders?
As we approach the last two days of the holiday and before the anticipation of the taste of pizza becomes too strong, it’s time to stop and think about how we can make these last two days more meaningful. Let me offer some suggestions.
First, Pesach is about more than food. We are supposed to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day of our lives but during this time of year, that obligation is particularly significant. As we read the Song of the Sea at services on the 7th day, as we continue to say the Hallel psalms of praise for God’s salvation, we should take another look at the matza that we held up so high at the Seder and realize what we will miss in terms of meaning when we go back to eating bread Saturday evening. This intense connection with the Exodus is such a beautiful tradition and one which we feel at every meal. We will miss it even if we prefer the taste of bread.
Think also about the 8th day of Pesach and the recitation of Yizkor, the Memorial service. The saying of this service does bring a sadness and a sense of loss to the end of the festivals. But, Yizkor reminds us of the sanctity of memory. We think back to when a loved one whom we have lost was present at our Seder table. Their absence is felt so much more deeply during holiday season but, in a strange sense, feeling that sense of absence can make us embrace and cherish the power of memory even more deeply. We might sense their absence more deeply but because of the power of memory, especially at special times, we feel their presence in our minds and in our hearts even more deeply as well. The Yizkor service allows us to recognize what we have been feeling all week and through the release of tears or the relief of a smile make us cherish even more what this week has brought us.
And finally, we can commit ourselves to acting on the lessons we have learned this holiday about the meaning of slavery and the blessing of freedom. We can remember what we learned at the Seder table and seek ways to bring those lessons to light in our the days and months to come.
It’s no secret that for most of us, come Shabbat afternoon, we’ll be counting down the hours until that first taste of hametz. But, before it gets to that point, take the time to recognize the wonder that this holiday really brings- a wonder that goes far beyond the Seder. Cherish the last days of this festival and celebrate them with joy, with meaning and with memory.