What’s the most sought-after information regarding Passover? Is it, A, where to find a great new Haggadah? B, how to keep kids engaged during the seder? C, trying to appreciate the meaning of freedom? Or maybe D, something as provocative as the debate about whether the events portrayed in the Book of Exodus are historically accurate? Actually, the answer is E, none of the above.
Based on column inches in print media, search engine statistics from the Internet and on-air minutes for radio and TV, the most desired information about Passover revolves around what to serve for dinner. Yup, recipes are the most popular material when it comes to Pesach. Surprised? Don’t be.
For starters, food matters. Who knows that better than Jews? It’s not just the jokes about how much we love food, or the fact that so much of our own religious tradition focuses on what, when and how we eat.
In fact, from the moment that Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, to the first paschal sacrifice, and for thousands of years since, the Jewish story, and our entire culture, have connected what’s in our hearts with what’s on our plates. Of course it’s not only a Jewish thing, this deep connection between what we eat and the values that we celebrate.
From matzah at Passover and latkes at Chanukah, to Fourth of July barbecue and Thanksgiving turkey, we all connect certain foods to specific events and times of the year. They seem to capture all of the hope and potential of the moment, while helping us to feel the story of the great events being recalled.
In many of those cases though, the same food eaten in a different context just doesn’t feel, or taste, quite right. For example, why is it that the same matzah lasagna that tastes so truly wonderful for eight days, suddenly tastes “off,” the moment we can eat “regular” lasagna? And those Pesach cakes that people wax eloquent over during the holiday? They tend to lose their appeal about 10 seconds after the last day of the holiday.
It’s nobody’s fault, and it’s not that those recipes aren’t great. They are, but they are for Passover, and when the holiday is over, so are they. Not really any different than so many other foods and recipes that are intimately linked to a specific time or event such that they cease to interest us in other contexts.
Some foods and recipes however, are simply so perfect that they deserve our attention on a more regular basis. And there is one Passover recipe about which this is especially true. The recipe? Take four cups of wine or grape juice, drink with the proper intention, and discover new levels of personal fulfillment and communal strength.
The four cups, by virtue of when they are consumed at the seder, are actually much more than cups of wine. They are, respectively, a cup of memory, a cup of community, a cup of gratitude and a cup of hope. Taken together, that’s a recipe that can open doors — be it a door to the liberation of an oppressed people celebrated a couple of nights a year, or the door to more fulfilling and meaningful lives, which we seek all year long.
Drinking four cups of wine at the seder table is not only about the wine, or even simply about four biblical words describing how God liberated the Jewish people, to which the four cups are traditionally connected. Taken as a whole, they are a recipe for liberation and fulfillment, both personally and nationally.
The first cup connects to Kiddush, a ritual that hinges on, and celebrates, memory. As you drink your first cup, consider what memories from the past are worth preserving because they nurture you in the present and sustain your ability to create the future you want.
The second cup evokes our shared stories as people, and shared destiny as a people. Where and when do you feel connected to community? With whom do you feel a sense of shared purpose and destiny?
The third cup celebrates gratitude. As that cup is raised, take a moment to consider those people and things for which you are most grateful. How do those things and people nourish you and empower you to care for and nourish others?
The fourth cup literally creates hope, promising that our best days are yet ahead of us. As we leave the seder newly (re)-liberated, feel free to share at least one big hope or aspiration for the year ahead.
As you celebrate Passover, take a moment to reflect on each cup as described above. Perhaps even more importantly though, revisit this recipe in the weeks and months ahead, asking yourself these same questions and enjoying a Pesach recipe that works all year long.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is President of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and author of “You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism.”