The Seder Night: Falling in Love Again… with Ourselves

Rav Yair Drayfus • 2018

Movement from hunger to satiety is the secret of man’s tikkun: the seder night is an invitation to be still, to be satisfied.

The opening of Nissan brings forth a new year, clear and full of potential. But how to prepare for the purity of this beginning? We start by finding the new in the old.

Purification here is a process of restoring warmth to undo the estranging effect of time gone by. A reawakened love for the home: the familiar, domestic space illuminated in a warm light.

Consider the young homeowner who, having freshly signed his lease, adores every sink, shelf and sill on his property. In the eyes of its owner, the house is the most precious space, one that requires investment, a generous eye, an ever-renewed love. So, too, in our Passover preparations we renew the terms of our ‘contract’: the walls of a house and everything they contain. The neurotic checking of bedikas chametz in every nook and cranny is an intense, loving gesture: caring for every corner of the house.

But after re-discovering the house’s structure, the heart also opens up to what it contains: the feeling of family and of coupledom, of the warmth of guests. The banal becomes once again beloved.

The seder night is the culmination of a purification process.

What is hunger in a world of plenty?

“Everyone who is hungry -” this is a call to the seder leader and his family, for only he who is hungry comes to the seder table. Movement from hunger to satiety is the secret of man’s tikkun: the seder night is an invitation to be still, to be satisfied.

Like satiety, hunger is a mystical secret. Hunger is a state of lack and longing, of unfulfillment – yet it is not that mentality of exile and slavery in the present which can only be redeemed by the faint outline of a redemption far away, beyond the horizon. This kind of hunger is dangerous, a delayed hope that causes only heartsickness.

Redemption is continuous with the present-tense. It is another layer, hidden yet enclosing reality. It is reality that appears as a secret.

The seder night opens with Maggid, the world of speech, and as the four cups are drunk in succession, speech turns to the tunes of Nirtzah. The voices of fathers and sons are intertwined, and a new niggun of tradition is born, chaotic and unfettered by traditional hierarchies.

My goal is to make manifest a ‘soft hierarchy’, one that preserves the ‘ancient’ even as it strives for its cancellation and blurring.

The seder night is an invitation to overturn the “seder” – the order – to navigate through a chaotic landscape of unstable borders.

Its purpose is to awaken desire – a desire for food, but also a ‘craving’ for family. On this night we are invited to crack open the shells of banality, to purify family relationships grown stale and tedious. The precondition for this is the instinct of hunger.

A hunger for something is evidence of a profound recognition of deeply-buried desires to subvert, to deviate from the here-and-now. Hunger is the expanse of the infinite; the soul cannot ever be ‘full.’ Our deprivation is rooted in what was lost during the Expulsion from Eden, in the first sin.  So we try to alleviate the hunger pangs with short-lived solutions: food and sentiment for the stomach and soul, an attempt at eating our fill.

The redemptive meal’s point of departure is the facilitation and sanctioning of hunger. Hunger for physical food, hunger for God’s closeness, a man’s hunger for his wife and a woman’s for her husband, a father’s hunger for his son and household, a mother’s hunger for her offspring – a hunger for a redeemed world, a world with actualized fullness.

“Old and satiated with his days” (Genesis 35:29) – that is, satisfied from the days.

Only he who is hungry is invited to recline at the seder table. Only he who surrenders the banal and believes that the glimpses of the lost Tree of Life are seen in life, one who purifies himself with the ash of the Red Heifer – at least as a metaphor – from the contamination of the dead body (which contaminates the living, a dead flank in our image) – only he will be invited to the seder.

The primary aim is to experience hunger. As the Maggid of Koznitz said: “And drink when thirsty- only he who is thirsty will go and learn.” He who is hungry for the words of the Sages will drink up all their teachings and ways – down to their most random, mundane details.

When matzah is eaten from a place of desire – it becomes a food of healing, the secret to the tikkun of food consumption. The secret of redemption is in remembrance, in silence and intent and yearning.

From my perspective, redemption is already here. The feeling of fullness and satiety felt by many of our youngsters today points to a profound shift away from the religious perspective of an ontological gap between a dark present and a bright future.

May we remember to purify ourselves in the days of Passover to come…

ישיבת שיח יצחק גבעת הדגן - אפרת, מיקוד: 90435