A new set of questions this Passover
by Jhos Singer
Shabbat Shalom Chaverim—
Once again, Passover has passed over leaving in its wake memories of its annual Gastro-symbolic rites, its cobbled together trajectory tale, its multilayered ceremony and sanctimony spanning centuries, its haggadah stitching together Torah and Talmud, The Middle East and the Middle ages, Middle German and Middle Matzos, Rabbis and Romans, Saints and Heretics from Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Ohio, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv have all had their way with the story. There are folk tales and protest songs, spirituals and story rhymes. There are goats, and a wandering Aramaen, children of every description, two immortal visitors and four cups of wine. It is a sacred mash up of creativity and innovation, a place for poets and politicos, parishioners and patriarchs, strong women and soft pillows, a whirlwind of memory and a marvel of willingness to be hurt again if only that we might remember our immense ability to heal.
The week-long, elevated epicurean practice of avoiding BROWS (barley, rye, oats, wheat, spelt) in any form other than kosher for Passover matzo is just long enough to jam the gears of our normal eating, cooking, and thinking habits. Its long ceremonial meal, the Seder, compliments the food on our plates with songs, and ritual. One of the most compelling rites of the season is to ask questions, to not just blindly go through the motions of the Seder but to actually challenge these behaviors—e.g.: “Why, when on all other nights we eat either flat or leavened bread, do we eat only matzo tonight?!” The problem is that the questions themselves have become ritualized, as have their answers. Never the less, the groundwork was laid—we are encouraged to not accept these practices blindly, to be engaged and conscious, to seek wisdom from every sprig of parsley and hard boiled egg we see. So how do we keep that dedication to living with spiritual integrity fresh and vital the rest of the year?
I love that questions are at the heart of this sacred time, and so this year I want to offer you a new set of questions that Dean James Ryan asked of a recent class of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Ryan asked the students to make a practice of asking themselves the following 5 (plus one bonus) questions:
1 Wait, What?—This the root of understanding. It says, “Stop right there, I really want to know what you are saying, I really want to hear you, and I want to understand what you are saying.”
2 I Wonder? – I wonder why? – I wonder if?—This is the essence of curiosity—positing possibilities, seeking reasons and resolutions to life’s quirks, difficulties and problems. Wondering why we react the way we do, and if those reactions are warranted, Wondering is the first step to finding many possible paths away from rigidity and judgment.
3 Couldn’t we at least? –This is how we begin, with one small step. World peace or curing cancer will begin with small positive, creative, seemingly insignificant actions. But without those small steps, no one can cover long distances.
4 Can I help? And if so, how?—this is a core component in building relationship—just asking if your help is wanted is a first step to really seeing someone, saying yes to someone’s help is one of the most generous things any of us ever does. The vulnerability and care that arises from each of these questions punctures the armor that keeps us apart. Sometimes we have to leave our assumptions that we have all the answers at the door in order to really connect and support each other.
5 What truly matters [to me]?—This is the essence of integrity. What matters now, in this moment, in this situation, really. What matters to me, in this moment, in this situation, really. Sometimes the answers to these questions differs and we have to find our truth between them.
And then there is a bonus question, which comes in the form of a poem, one of the last written by Raymond Carver:
And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
May this Shabbat be a time of deep inquiry, wholeness and courage. May we all ask the questions that will ensure that we are living the life that we know, deep in our hearts, that we should be living. May we all get what we want from this life.