Our First Passover Seder In Paradise–Eretz Yisroel
And the Lessons That Came With It!
From the moment we made our decision to make Aliyah, I began dreaming of hosting a Passover Seder in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, where we intended to live. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish Nation and the spiritual epicenter of the universe. Our return to our homeland to live in the holiest place on earth held us in constant awe from the moment of our arrival in July of 2003. The visual antiquities and archaeological remnants in the Jewish quarter plunge you into its ancient past. One cannot help but feel its significance in a very deep way as you walk its streets, courtyards and alleyways and contemplate its history both ancient and modern. The feeling of significance is more deeply enhanced by the close proximity to the Temple Mount, where the Temples stood until their destruction and where the Divine Presence rested in Temple times. Spiritual vibrations and echoes of the past hold you in their embrace as they touch your heart and soul and energize your spirit.
The time had finally arrived when I would be preparing the entire Passover production, so to speak….all leading up to the ultimate SEDER NIGHT SPIRITUAL EXTRAVAGANZA. Passover (Pesach), the festival of our FREEDOM AND THE BIRTH OF OUR NATIONHOOD is the first of the three pilgrimage festivals. Jews of old were commanded to go to Jerusalem, to the Temple, for the three pilgrimage festivals emphasizing the fundamental principal of a holy nation in a holy land. I was giddy with joy, nervous with anticipation and bubbling over with busyness because I would be hosting a Pesach Seder in the Old City of Jerusalem and that’s a bit different than Denver, Colorado and I felt it. We were living ON LOCATION and I was moved to host guests as they did in olden days. I also wanted to share our home and all that we had with our Nation, as I felt my new national identity taking hold.
I entered into the preparations like a spirited symphony conductor. I intended to infuse my spirit and soul song into every preparation as a devotional offering—a glorious symphony of my own creation. I purchased my first Pesach dishes and it felt so exciting! I chose a regal looking set of white china with dainty white flowers rimmed in gold plating. They were simple but elegant. I also chose other beautiful embellishments to adorn the table in order to make it “A BANQUET FIT FOR THE KING.” The Torah teaches that aesthetics are required to enrich the soul and as a result, the entire spiritual experience, blends beauty with holiness.
We had been hosting guests since our arrival in August of 2003. There was an organization that placed individuals or families for meals. We delighted in meeting Jews from around the world and sharing our home for Shabbat and holidays. Each week, we would request a certain number of guests to host for Shabbat meals, but something funny happened along the way. I would request 4 guests and would get 7 or I would request 8 guests and get 2. Finally, I approached the manager to find out what was going on. He explained that the guest control factor is not in his hands. He reminded me of the Torah teaching that there are no coincidences in life and especially in THE HOLY LAND where G-ds Divine Providence is constantly present and active. I am not sending you the incorrect number of guests he explained; G-d is sending you exactly who HE wants to be at your table. I GOT IT! G-d is constantly bringing people together and our home became a meeting place for such occurrences.
The time had arrived for Passover and the Seder began right after Shabbat. I couldn’t wait to set the table and transform everything, with all the beautiful adornments and dishes I had purchased. We had requested 8 guests and with the 2 of us it would be 10. Honestly, I could barely contain my excitement. I was moving along at a good clip as the guests would soon arrive and I wanted to be dressed and ready to greet them. I sang as I got ready and then came THE KNOCK ON THE DOOR! I opened it with a big smile on my face and there stood two guys. The guy from the placement organization said, I am sorry but I only have one guest for you. Ha Ha, I said….very funny; we liked to joke with each other. I am not kidding he said. He went on to explain that he had taken a group of 8 guys to the Kotel to pray and afterwards, they went off with other individuals. He was left with one guest. Well okay, I said in a very somber tone and he left. IS THIS FOR REAL I THOUGHT as emotion filled my entire being? I felt as if I was in shock!
I stared at the TABLE FIT FOR THE KING and set for ten and I then I looked at the lone guest. My ego made its presence known by urging me to lose myself in negative emotions. Were it not for the mirror nearby, I might have succumbed to the negativity. I caught sight of my sad expression as I gazed in the mirror near the entryway….This is our first Seder in the courtyard of the KING I said to myself… Is this how you really want to greet the holiday? What is Hashem asking of you right now, I whispered to the woman in the mirror? And then suddenly like a flash of brilliant light in a dark hallway, the deeper part of me, that I had been working on, made herself known. I consciously stopped the pity party and pulled myself together. I collected all my Torah learning and drew upon its wisdom. I breathed it into my entire being and switched from slavery to freedom understanding that G-d runs the world and there are no coincidences. I made up my mind that this SEDER would be transformative in every way and it would begin with me and perhaps transfer to this LONE GUEST. This stance of spiritual integrity helped me to restore balance in a place where only minutes before I had been thrown for a loop.
My husband arrived home soon after the encounter and without knowing anything of what had transpired, brought home two brothers who needed a place for the Seder. I smiled and looked upwards. Thanks HaShem! A short time later, a friend arrived unexpectedly wanting to join us and then the guy from the placement organization came with another guest. Anyway, from past experiences,(which I had temporarily forgotten), I recognized that these individuals were hand- picked by G-d HIMSELF to be with us at the Seder and it felt so extraordinary to acknowledge it. It was such a humbling experience and I learned so much for which I am grateful. So there we were, seven Jews together at our First Seder in Paradise…strangers sharing the wisdom, beauty and depth of the Hagaddah in our home in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was deeply touched by the joy and camaraderie as we blended into a cohesive group with such ease. It turned out to be a very special experience for all.
After all the guests had left, I finally was able to tell my husband the entire saga of the arrival of the “lone guest.” We felt, from that very personal experience, that we were really coming to terms with the understanding that we have no control over anything in life…. except, if we work at it….our reactions and emotions. HaShem’s power pervades all creation which functions according to HIS will. We felt a true exodus from Mitzrayim (constriction) on many levels as that truth began to sink in.
We finished cleaning up and my husband went to bed, but I was too wound up to sleep. I stayed awake for awhile to reflect on the awesomeness of being a Jew in the Land. Experiencing our first Seder on location enabled me to tangibly feel that I was a link in the chain of our history, in the very place of our history . I felt like a new spiritual entity had come alive inside of me and I welcomed it with open arms like a long lost love. Something inside me had been ignited as the power of the Seder and all the mitzvot spoke to me in a clear voice unheeded by the impurity of being outside the Holy Land. Reciting the Haggada in our Ancestral Land so near to the HOLY TEMPLE in Jerusalem, allowed me to merge past with present and future and make whole an inner dynamic called nationhood that had been missing in my life. I felt suffused with the fullness of my soul expression. I felt plugged into the mission and destiny of the Jewish people.
I walked out on to our balcony, looked up into sky with the full moon of Pesach looming above in a star laden sky, emptied my mind and just stood there. The spiritual energy of Passover intermingled with the air of the Holy Land and I felt as if I was enveloped in an aura of sanctity. It has been taught that on all the Jewish holidays the original spiritual, energetic influences can be tapped into as they re-appear. I sent a heartfelt thank you note on wings of love to G-d for this precious gift and then retired to bed.
For those of you who have made it home to G-ds Beloved Garden, I bless you to fully release any constriction that is holding you back from being your highest self. I bless you to feel at the deepest level, the hidden beauty and deeper meaning of the Seder and emerge into the Light of your soul powers and G-dly potential.
For those of you who have not yet returned home to G-ds beloved Garden, I bless you to make the pilgrimage home to Jerusalem and to the Holy Land, the seat of spiritual renewal. I bless you to give Aliyah your full attention if you want to truly absorb and live the message of Passover. I bless you to have the opportunity to spend Passover in Paradise as nothing else can compare.
Chag Sameach with love and light, Ariella Bracha