Monday, April 28, 2008

665. The tiger

Yesterday morning on the way to services, I ran into a very short woman with a large tiger draped around her neck. It was, in fact, a stuffed animal tiger, although this was not immediately clear from a block away. But as she stood in the middle of Broadway and tried to hail a cab, I could see that the enormous animal whose hind legs hung over her right shoulder, and head and front paws dangled nonchalantly over her left, was not alive, and had never been. It was still the kind of thing that makes one look twice, and I did. The woman glared back angrily as if to say, "Hey! Sometimes you just need to get across town with your stuffed tiger! What's it to you?" I love New York.

I also realized this tiger sighting was a perfect metaphor for the eighth day of Pesah. On the first day we rush out, ecstatic about freedom and trying to do everything right so God won't change God's mind. This year I went to my traditional first seder out in Queens, where you can set your watch by the same jokes every year (13 and counting), and wouldn't dare miss a word of the haggadah. And I would have it no other way. By the second day (for those who celebrate it), we are free! and listen to Shirat HaYam at services to prove it. Now we can sing, bang timbrels, break the rules a little bit; the first evening was just practice. On the second night I inaugurated freedom with members of my synagogue at an ecstatic and non-traditional community seder, where we also heard words from members of a foreign domestic worker's union and a Tibetan representative of the Dalai Lama. (More to come later in the week on these topics.)

The holiday winds down--but now we have space in our minds to focus on things other than survival. By the seventh day we have learned to let in love (Shir HaShirim) and on the eighth, the memories of those whom we have lost (Yizkor ). All resources must focus on survival when we're burdened by slavery. There's no time to remember; sadness, even happiness, uses energy sorely needed elsewhere. But by the end of Pesah, no longer paralyzed or intoxicated by our liberation, we are able to pause, catch our breaths, carry stuffed tigers absolutely anywhere we want, and begin to explore how to be fully human--and get ready for Shavuot and the best possible gift of this knowledge, the Torah.

I was lucky to read the haftarah twice this week, an experience that helped me understand some of the above. It was a great holiday, to say the least. More to come (and I really mean it this time).

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