In 1956 Passover Sedarim were celebrated on Monday evening March 26th. Until this year, that was the earliest start to Pesah anyone can remember. I don’t remember it. I was born two months later!
In all my years, I have celebrated Passover Sedarim in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Jerusalem, and Baltimore. Never before on Erev Pesah have I had to shovel snow before a Seder like I did last Monday afternoon. (I’ve heard from others who have, but it was a first for me!)
I’ll spare you the details. Because of Talmudic calculations and the overlap of the solar and lunar months, the earliest possible date Passover can begin (always the 15th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar) is March 21st. Why? March 21st is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, the date when day and night are of equal length.
Curious about this, I discovered that before this year there was no earlier start to Passover in the entire 20th century. In this Bar Mitzvah year of the 21st century we celebrated the earliest start to Passover in any of our lifetimes, in at least 113 years.
We enjoyed our Seder celebrations on March 25, 2013. Next year Passover will begin later, the evening of April 14, 2014. The next time Passover begins as early as it did this year will be in 76 years on Friday, March 25, 2089.
During our Seder ritual we declare our freedom. In every generation we are each obligated to see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt. It’s a timeless story imparting eternal values. As my calendar reflection reminds us, we celebrate Passover every year.
This year, however, we learned to appreciate something else as Passover began. For all that is seasonal or annual or ongoing in our lives, some experiences are once in a lifetime occurrences. Sharing a Seder on the earliest spring date of my lifetime, and shoveling snow off the walkway before my Seder guests arrived, is one.
This is also Passover’s purpose. Free to appreciate all that we experience, to cherish every experience and every day, too often we don’t. Sometimes we can’t.
Even though we go to work every day, often repeating familiar tasks and routines, each interaction and conversation is distinctive. Even though we recite the same words in prayer, every prayer experience feels different, or should. Eating our favorite foods, no meal tastes quite the same as another. Even though two teams meet every season, each game they play is unique.
Preparing for or looking back on each and every day, we can remind ourselves. Our lives are truly rich and full because the freedom of our movement every day introduces us to familiar and new people and places. No Pharaoh rules over us. We are responsible for ourselves, and for each other.
The Exodus is the Jewish people’s once in a lifetime memory. This week we share its wonder and meaning hoping to live its lessons in the weeks ahead. This Passover provides another once in a lifetime event. Going forward we hope to live its lesson too, seeing our lives as collections of unique experiences that inspire and define us.
Our days will be more satisfying and significant when we understand freedom more personally. Training ourselves to focus freely on each moment we encounter as once in a lifetime. It probably is.