Passover

Taking the Magic Back

March 19, 2009
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When springtime comes I begin scowling at the insides of closets and the undersides of beds. “Pesach is coming,” I mutter to myself and sigh.

“Pesach is coming,” I repeat, “and I have more work than one human being could possibly do.” Then I sigh again, theatrically.

I don’t even notice my son, listening, until I hear him say, “Well, at least we’re not in Mitzrayim anymore, right, Mommy?”

I stare at him for a moment, ashamed of what he has heard. Pesach is coming and I have entirely missed the point.

Back when I was his age, before I knew about cleaning and cooking and shopping, Pesach was a wondrous time. The house was scrubbed spotless and the once-a-year dishes came out. The silver was polished so brightly that I could see my reflection upside down in the spoons. In the kitchen waited lady fingers and nut cakes and chocolates and meringues. At the table, my handmade Haggada could finally come out of its plastic bag and my mother’s finger pointed to the place. I shivered with excitement.

The Seder was magical. Staying up late, eating with the grown ups, all eyes on my face as I sang the Ma Nishtana. For once, no one was annoyed by my constant questions. No one shushed me, or whispered, “Later!” For once, every question was important, every answer well thought out. I drank from a silver becher, like my Abba, like my Zaidy. I dipped my pinky into grape juice ten times and no one stopped me! Even when I spilled, leaning against my pillowcase, no one really minded.

My father was regal in his kittel. “Ha Lachma Anya,” he intoned and I felt a chill run down my spine. How many fathers for how many years had said these same words? How many children had sat just like me, wide-eyed with wonder and listened. And the story! There were heroes and villains, kings and slaves. My mind whirled with the magic of it all.

The maror on my matzah was sharp and bitter. I knew it would be because I had stood beside my father as he grated it by hand into a bowl. He wore goggles and still the tears streamed down his face. But at the Seder he always gave me twice as much charoses as maror, and winked as he passed it down.

Then we ate hot chicken soup and flanken and kugels. And I could hardly swallow waiting for the Afikomen. What joy! What awesome power in the hands of an eight year old girl! To ask for anything you wanted, anything! Sometimes, I got so excited I couldn’t think a single thing to ask for. And besides, what more could I want than this moment and this night?

But the best part was Shfoch Chamoscha. I’d take a deep breath and pull open the door. Outside, the night was black as pitch and silent. But I thought I felt a breeze as Eliyahu Hanavi entered. “Baruch Haba!” we called out and watched the wine shimmer in his cup.

By then, my eyes were closing and I leaned heavily on my mother’s shoulder. “L’Shana Haba Biyerushalayim” we sang and Shoin! Shoin! Shoin! We banged our fists on the table with such authority that I knew Moshiach would listen and he would come. Tonight!

How lucky I felt to be a Jew on Seder nights! To know that the story had happened for me. The frogs, and the lice and the darkness and the fury of Hashem raining down on their heads just so I could sit here tonight, in my maroon velvet robe, and ask the questions and hear the answers. Just so I could hear how the bad guys got punished and the good guys got saved and we lived to tell the story and wait for Moshiach to redeem us again.

But morning came and he did not. And years have passed and still he has not come. And I got busy with the drudgery of moving the fridge and lining the drawers and scrubbing the stove. When did I stop waiting? When did I stop wanting? Somewhere along the way, I forgot the point. I lost the magic.

Now I look down at my son’s soft eyes and it all comes back. He is right and I have been so wrong. It isn’t about the stove, it’s about the story. It’s about the miracle and the magic. So, this year I resolve, I will stop sighing. I will come to the table wide eyed again and listen to the tale that is made new every year by our children and their questions and our faith in the answers.

This year, I’m taking the magic back.

Yael Zoldan is a Brooklyn girl, who lives in Passaic, New Jersey, with her husband and children. Somewhere between carpool and laundry she finds the time to write.