May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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Ma Nishtana hashana hazeh mikol hashanim?

I’m certain I’m not the one who coined that sentence. All of us will be asking this at our Seder, whether we verbalize it or not, whether we are feeling the pain of our brothers in Israel or whether the loss has hit home more closely.

There will be empty seats at the Seder in many homes, and perhaps we should consider adding an empty seat to each of our tables. Again, I am sure that many have thought of that already.

A colleague of mine of a different faith, shared with me recently that her family experienced a loss around the time of their holiday season, and they no longer celebrate.

When a holiday is combined with a communal or personal challenge, it is a question that we ask.

Why now? Why this year?

As we go through life, we have expectations about certain times of year.

Pesach looks different in every house, and it has its familiar feelings for each of us.

Growing up in an Orthodox home, with parents who chose yiddishkeit in college, I always felt that Yom Tov was different in my house.

Neighbors had generations of relatives piling into their humble abode: married siblings and all.

I had no nieces and nephews. Well, that’s because I was the oldest in my family, so no one was married at the age of 3.

I am fortunate that my grandparents, a”h, had become religious, just it never exactly worked out for them to come to our house for Yom Tov regularly.

When my friends complained they had nowhere to hide from all the chaos, I couldn’t help feeling like a princess with only my immediate family home.

Then, when my parents got divorced, Yom Tov felt even more different.

Living in a single-parent home, there is a lot to navigate when it comes to Shabbos alone. During Pesach it’s even more magnified.

Yet, as time went on, I got used to the routine of Pesach as it was for me in my life’s reality.

And the most magnificent part of it is that my parents each always have the awareness of the time of year and the kedusha it brings. They always added divrei Torah to the table and the conversations. No matter whom I spent Pesach with (and every year it was a bit different), I was able to connect to the holiness of the time, and feel the kedusha of Yom Tov.

Then, as I got a bit older, I realized that sometimes life throws you curveballs around Yom Tov time, and it just doesn’t feel like a normal year.

Like the time someone from the family was in the ER all Erev Pesach and I was flying solo in the kitchen.

Or Rosh Hashanah, when my grandmother, a”h, passed away.

Or Chanukah, when I was in Hackensack for one night after being in a car accident.

Why is this year different? Can actually be punctuated another way:

(kesiv): Why!

(kri: My!) This year is different!

When we move from a rhetorical question to a statement of acknowledgement—that is where our ability to cope lies.

We must acknowledge when the year feels different: emotionally, spiritually, physically.

The Kedushas Levi writes in one of his essays about Galus Mitzrayim that human suffering lies in the reality of time.

Clearly if we knew when the end of our suffering would come, it would be over in an instant.

Our enslavement to time binds us to the present moment.

There is no way out today. Yet, we hope and pray that there will be a way out tomorrow.

As I (And everyone) look around, it is clear that we have been counting the days since Simchas Torah with just as much (or even more devotion) than the days of Sefira. We are aware of the value of time, the speed between: life and death, hope and faith, prayers and answers, Galus and Geula.

It is our awareness that has grown this year, and has never stopped.

We have been asking the Ma Nishtana every day:

When will the hostages come home?

When will my cousin/uncle/son/spouse get out of reserve duty safely?

When will I be able to go to Israel again?

When will there be peace?

When will we see Moshaich and Techiyas Hameisim?

And the proverbial “why” echoes daily.

My teacher in seminary, Tammi Sokol, taught us that the moments before Ma Nishtana are specifically powerful for prayer. Because it says “V’Kahn Haben Sho’el”—”We can ask our father in Heaven for anything.”

In my house, since learning that, we have always devoted a few moments to davening before the Ma Nishtana.

So bring all of your questions from this year to the Seder, and ask them then.

This year we all have questions.

We all have awareness.

May it be Hashem’s will to send us our answers, with the final Geula, this Nissan.

Esther Kost is passionate about teaching and learning Torah. Having a degree in education, she has taught in various educational environments and outreach programs. Currently, she works in a startup tech environment, coaching managers and writing training programs for new employees. She also provides individuals and groups with mindfulness and stress reduction techniques, using sound healing. She can be contacted through The Jewish Link.

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