I begin preparing in the still-cold air. It is almost painful to think of spring but I keep faith. The sun came out last year and the year before that, I remind myself. The piles of dirty snow eventually melted. So I set my mind to Passover. Bundled beneath heavy coats, faces obscured and fingers frozen, the world huddles and hibernates. But I think and shop, I make long lists. There is much to be done before Passover comes. I must clean my house top to bottom. I must chase out every crumb. It is hard to work so hard after the muffled apathy of winter. I grumble and sigh, but every morning I get up and do a little more. Preparing.
The cleaning is tedious and my thoughts wander. Why is this night different than all other nights, the children ask. But the real question is, are we still different after all these years? Have we maintained our separateness in the long confusion of this wintry exile? On mammoth billboards half clothed teenagers with beautiful bodies and soulless eyes entreat us to lose ourselves to the pleasures of this world. They insist that there is nothing more. Are we different than them?
In a world of Facebook and Twitter where everyone’s life is an open book and we celebrate our sameness in a melting pot, is anything sacred? Is anyone special?
I am special, I resolve grimly as I sweep and scrub.
The work is tiring. My fingernails are dirty and my legs ache. I’ve spent countless hours dragging stoves and lining drawers and scrubbing countertops. I wonder, is this really necessary? Couldn’t we celebrate this holiday with a good meal and some songs like all the other holidays? Why this stubborn insistence on cleaning everything, changing everything?
I feel the redemptive power of hard work.
But I hear my Zaidy’s voice in my head, singing, “Chasal Sidur Pesach,” such an old sweet song. And I think of him and his grandfather before him and his grandfather before him, too. I let the tune fill me and I feel the redemptive power of hard work. A shift is always necessary before transformation. There must be labor before birth.
When the work is finally done I look around and reflect upon what I have accomplished. With my own two hands I scrubbed and cleaned and purified my little corner and with this toil I made myself worthy. I redeemed myself so that He could redeem me. On the Seder night, I deserve my freedom because I earned it.
My roughened hands seem noble to me now, the mark of my service. I feel the transformation, the uplifting, in my sparkling house, my finely set table, in my polished silver. I feel it in my bones.
And this is the answer. Tonight is different because I am different than I was when I started. The world insists that we are all the same, but I am not the same. My people are not the same. In a world that has given up so much, we cling fiercely to the ancient promise God made to us. I have chosen you. I have saved you. I will save you again.
Tonight I am a princess.
I breathe deeply, the breath of freedom. By the reflected light of the candles my eyes glow, my children shine. Ruby red wine shimmers in silver cups on this night that celebrates our connection, my nation and my God. I lean softly against upholstered cushions to the sound of joyous singing. Once we were slaves to the world, but tonight I am a princess, the daughter of the King.
There are days when I don’t feel worthy of being different, of being chosen. There are days when the world is too loud and I am not righteous enough or strong enough to defy it. But not tonight. Tonight I am the promise and the fulfillment and the covenant and the hope. And so are you, my friend.
Tonight is different. Because we are different.