Homeward bound: Preparing for Passover


What will Passover feel like in a post-10/7 world? Rabbi Josh Feigelson addresses anxiety this Passover and explores the concept of home and safety, emphasizing the spiritual hunger for belonging and peace in tumultuous times.

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For the last few weeks we’ve been preparing for Passover, and this episode is going to be our final one before we take a break for the holiday.

Usually I start the show with a personal story, but this week I feel like I need to start in a different place. I want to get real with you about what I’m feeling heading into Passover this year — which, from what I can tell, is what a lot of other people are feeling too.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

That feeling is trepidation, or anxiety, or a little bit of freaking out. Not about cleaning the house or preparing the meals or anything like that, but about sitting around the Seder table with family and friends in this year, at this particular moment in our lives.

The last time we had a major holiday was six months ago. And it was on that day, Shemini Atzeret, October 7, 2023, that our  world was so deeply and profoundly shaken and broken. 

I’m worried about what it will feel like to have a holiday again. I’m worried about how it’s going to feel to talk about freedom when, as of this recording, over 100 Israelis are still kidnapped hostages in the hands of Hamas.

I’m worried about how we’ll talk about being safe inside our homes when so many people on both sides of the border, in Israel and Gaza, have been displaced from theirs.

I’m worried about what will come up when we recite the Ten Plagues and consider the power of weapons, missiles and bombs, about the incredible ethical and moral challenges of having and using power responsibly.

And I’m worried about how we will be able to gather together, sit together, talk and listen to one another, among people with such strong and opposing views of the war — in a U.S. presidential election year, no less.

I’m worried about fights. I’m worried about shouting. I’m worried about people walking out–or just not showing up.

The prospect is freaking me out. And maybe it’s freaking you out, too.

So I want to spend a few minutes to reflect on how I’m preparing this year. I hope it’s helpful to you–and that maybe you’ll share with me how you’re preparing too.

My basic starting point is the opening words of the Haggadah: kol dichfin yetei v’yechol — let all who are hungry come and eat.

There’s an important surface-level meaning to that phrase:  Everyone deserves to be part of this seder ritual and meal, and we have a responsibility to make sure no one is hungry. But I think there’s also a much deeper thing going on in these words, and in our tradition’s choice to begin the Seder in this way. 

I think the Haggadah is inviting us to consider the other ways in which we are hungry.

We might be hungry for food, yes, but we might also be hungry for comfort, connection, community — hungry for feeling welcome. In such a fraught and confusing time, we might be hungry for calm or clarity. If we’re experiencing grief, we might be hungry for the presence of a loved one. 

While I resist categorical statements, I feel fairly safe in saying that all of us — no matter our backgrounds, nationalities, identities, or political persuasions — all of us want to feel at home.

Truly, deeply at home. And I think that, on these more spiritual levels, what we’re hungry for is just that: to feel at home. 

That doesn’t mean that we want to be in our childhood home — which might have been a wonderful or a terrible place or something in between. No, when I say I want to be at home, I mean that I want to be at home here, now, in this moment.

I want to be present with my reality, not trying to escape it, not dodging it, but fully alive and present within it. I want to be at home in the now, in the world — secure in the feeling that the animating life force of the universe is embracing you and me, flowing through us, loving all of us. That’s what I mean by being at home.  

In order for that to be true, I — and I think this is true for any human being, so, we — have to feel safe enough.

Not completely safe — nowhere is completely safe — but safe enough. Safe enough to let our guard down, safe enough to feel that we’ll be accepted, safe enough to not feel like my fight or flight reaction will be triggered and that I’ll have to shout or run away.

And I think when the Haggadah says, Let all who are hungry come and eat, it’s saying to us: Folks, tonight of all nights, let’s try to make our homes those safe enough spaces.

Let’s make them places where everyone who is hungry — physically hungry and spiritually hungry — can come and feel at home. Let’s dig deep and show some real faith in Hesed, the loving power of the universe — and let’s tap into the courage of our ancestors.

Okay, end of sermon. At this point you might be nodding your head and then saying, “Josh, that’s lovely, really. But how do we do that?”

I want to offer you two practices that can help.

The first is a practice for you. As the flight attendants remind us every time we get on an airplane, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

So first and foremost, make 20 or 30 minutes in the coming days to allow yourself to sit quietly. You can try one of the many guided meditations from our previous episodes. Or you can journal. Or you can just go for a walk in a park. 

Whatever you do, try to make some space in your heart and mind to listen to your fears (if you  have them): What are you afraid of?

And, I want to add here, I’m not talking about fears of physical violence. If that’s actually an issue, then of course you should do what you need to do to protect yourself.

The kinds of fears and anxieties I’m talking about are not in the zone of physical safety, but in the grayer area of discomfort that can generate deeper anxiety.

Try to name what you’re afraid of. “I’m worried that Uncle Larry is going to hijack the Seder with some tirade,” or “I’m afraid my cousin Ashley won’t come to the Seder because of Israel politics.” Really get clear on what you’re feeling.

What provokes the anxiety in those situations you imagine? Are you worried about how you’re going to feel? How others are going to feel? Are you worried about looking embarrassed as a host, or about being put in an uncomfortable position? What’s really bothering you?

So many times, a key piece of managing our anxiety is just in naming the demons that are causing it. The goal doesn’t have to be eliminating them. Instead, it can be simply not letting those fears have such a hold on us. That can open up more space for us to breathe and to choose a wiser, more mindful path.

That brings us to the second practice I want to offer, which has to do with Seder night itself. Over the last many years, my colleagues at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality have developed a set of guidelines that we call “Making safer spaces” (we’ll put a link in the show notes).

We read this aloud at the beginning of retreats and courses we teach. Other groups and organizations have other kinds of documents like this: communication agreements that are designed to make the space safe enough for all of us to be there. 

What I want to suggest to you is that, at your seder, you invite everyone to agree to some basic ground rules like these. For instance: 

Presume and extend welcome to others, because everyone is welcome here. 

Speak in the first person, about your own experience. 

When you notice judgment arising in you, try to meet it with curiosity rather than conviction (that’s for you, Uncle Larry). 

Remember that everyone here is fighting battles no one else knows about — so let’s welcome and embrace each other. That doesn’t mean we have to agree. But it means that tonight we agree to listen compassionately to one another.

You can develop your own — and you can invite folks to contribute their ideas before or during the Seder too.

But the general point is to be explicit about creating a container–because that’s what the Seder is, a container for all of us to feel welcome, to feel liberated, to experience being truly, deeply at home. 

Maybe that’s one of the reasons we do this ritual year after year, century after century, millennium after millennium.

Over more than three thousand years, the Jewish people have held plenty of Passover seders where anxiety was high and emotions were tense.

Yet we come back to it every year; we come together every year, and together we create a space for all of us to connect with our story, for all of us to have a seat at the table.

And though this year is a particularly hard and painful one, the courage of our ancestors and their faith in the loving, liberating life force of the universe — that courage and faith flows through us today too.

Blessings for the journey. Know that I’m on it with you.

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