Every year my great grandmother stood by the living room window on Seder night looking for her son. Uncle Leo was always late, year after year. I would stand beside her in my pink and white dresses and new, shiny shoes, and peer through the lattices of the curtains as I glanced into the darkening, deserted street and then up at my great grandmother's anxious face.
"Don't worry Ma, he's coming. Sit down," my grandmother would always say. But my great grandmother refused to move from her spot. Sometimes she would pace in front of the window and notice me beside her. Then she would smile for a moment and put her hand on my shoulder as we both looked out past the red oak tree that towered in the front yard.
"Where is he already?" she would repeat as the rest of the family finished setting up the Seder table. And when he finally arrived, she would laugh with relief, and her eyes would fill with a kind of peace that I didn't understand then. This happened so many times over the years that "Great Grandma standing by the window and Uncle Leo arriving late" became as much a part of Seder night as the matzah and the snow white tablecloth.
A few years ago I stood by my own living room window in the mountains of Jerusalem. I watched my children playing on the swing set in the backyard as I set the table for the Seder. And I felt a stinging pang of homesickness and yearning for the Seders of my childhood. I looked around me at the empty chairs, and I tried to conjure up the images of my grandparents, my great grandparents, my cousins running in and out of the rooms of my childhood home on erev Pesach. I could almost hear the laughter that used to float from the kitchen. But most of all I remembered my great grandmother's face by the window, and I suddenly realized that her face was a reflection of a sliver of the love that God has for us as He waits for all of His children to come home on Seder night.
One year right before Passover, something happened to me that showed me just how powerful God's love for us actually is. I was in the garden with my three-year-old, and we had a tall fence around the backyard. When the phone rang I ran inside for a minute, and when I returned my daughter was gone. I looked desperately all around me. Where could she have gone? She couldn't have climbed over the fence.
And then I saw it. A tiny hole near the side of the fence where the ground was lower. But she couldn't have possibly crawled under there! I unlocked the fence and ran to the front of the house. And there in the middle of the street was my three-year-old on her tricycle. A car was coming around the corner, and I ran desperately into the street reaching her just in time.
I held my child and sobbed. I almost lost you. This is how the Almighty felt when He took us out of Egypt.
Can a heart break from gratitude? I held my child and sobbed. I almost lost you. I almost lost my child. This is how the Almighty felt when He took us out of Egypt. My children, I almost lost you. I'm never going to let you go.
It took us so long to come home. We were so late we almost didn't make it. And like a parent who almost loses a child, on the night of the Seder God promises every Jew that He will hold them and protect them no matter how far from Him they may be.
There is a custom for people at the Seder to tell their own stories of personal redemption. How many of us have felt stuck in the emptiness, the loneliness and the materialism of this world and thought that we would never emerge? And in the blink of an eye, our lives, our souls come alive again? Or maybe there was a time when you were lost and confused and then you heard the right words or read just what you needed to understand. Or maybe there was a time when you lost someone that you loved and the grief was so deep and so painful that you thought that you would never smile again. And then one day just when you were about to give up, a child's laughter penetrated your soul and a hint of a smile began to return. The near miss in a car accident. The narrowly escaped diagnosis. The lost job that became a new opportunity.
Our individual stories of redemption are all integral pieces of our joint, unfolding journey towards national redemption. Because on Seder night God is watching all of us through the windows, waiting for us to come home to Him. And He promises us that when life becomes so hard that it looks like we are lost forever, that is when He will lift us up and bring us home.