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Why is this Night Different?

photo by Russell Monk
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by Dr. David, Editor / Publisher

The dogs of San Miguel know when the weekend arrives. They are agitated by the increased noise and foot traffic, especially after dark. The roof dogs, in particular, bark more, to defend their property and because they are neurotic. If you were trapped up on a roof your whole life, you'd be barking mad, too.

Adding to that weekly effect, last weekend saw the full moon. Dogs, and people for that matter, are wackier during that lunar phase. Hospitals stock more blood at that time of the month because, from experience, they know that they will need it.

Last Friday and Saturday evenings were also Passover, the commemoration of the Israelite's exodus from slavery in Egypt some 3300 years ago. This event is always celebrated on the full moon in the Hebrew month of Nissan. My gentile readers might recall that the Last Super was the enactment of the Passover ritual.

(Recently, I learned the cause of Christianity's Great Schism, the rupture of the Eastern from the Roman Church. It happened because Rome decided to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the full moon of Nissan, always the first in Spring, and not on the full moon itself, not on Passover.)

I had prepared Friday night's Passover dinner and invited a guest to share it, to participate in the rituals surrounding it. The evening's ceremony is called the Seder, a Hebrew word meaning order. This naming is ironic, because we Jews are forever resisting order. Our constant refrain, "Why do we have to do it this way?" has brought a lot of progress to the world, including revolutions, social and scientific.

I had invited a second guest, who declined my invitation. A woman in her early seventies, after many decades, she still has a bad taste in her mouth from her childhood experience of Judaism. There are a lot of Jews who will attend Swahili spiritual celebrations, but religiously reject anything Jewish. The self-hating Jew is a cliché. I brushed aside what I took to be her childish resentment by saying, "I just really like to celebrate freedom."

There is a standard script for the seder, an orthodox template, but variations are the norm. The traditionalist adhere to the long way. Everyone else opts for a short way. All try to cover the essentials: the Four Questions, the story of the Exodus, eating parsley dipped in salt water (representing tears), the matzah, bitter herbs, the four cups of wine...


The Seder "Plate"
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My guest arrived right on time, shortly after sunset. Andrew Klein is an 82-year-old artist, who recently opened Galería Blue Moon, His grandparents were orthodox; his father was orthodox; his mother kept a kosher home. Before we began, Andrew told me that his father's seders were painfully long. (The problem is that dinner is not served until the bulk of the ceremony is completed.) I assured him again, as I had in my invitation, that my preference was for a shorter, more entertaining seder, to hit the essential highlights and follow whatever discussions resulted therefrom.

As it was, Andrew actually prolonged the process, going into fine points of the text, telling related stories. I was quite content with this, having had a late lunch, but I teased him about dragging things out. He returned fire by playfully accusing me of going off on far-ranging tangents.


Andrew Klein
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The Jewish Talmud, besides its many stories, is a record of rabbinic dispute, the sages thrashing out the fine points of the laws, the meaning of the Torah. The Talmud is the source for much Jewish humor; if you ask two Jews their opinions, you'll get three... or four. In the tradition of this Talmudic exegesis, Andy and I, at times, had a very lively discussion, especially after the first two cups of wine. More than once, I apologized for perhaps too vigorously responding to A's discussion of our common heritage. Each time he smiled indulgently, reminding me that dispute was part of our common heritage.

We enjoyed ourselves. The salt water was salty. The horseradish brought tears to our eyes. My charoset (chopped apples, nuts, dates, cinnamon and wine, a paste resembling the mortar used by the enslaved Jews in Egypt), went down well. My borscht, the main course, was a hit. Andrew stayed for two hours after dinner was served, announcing his departure several times, but not leaving until after midnight, and then only reluctantly.

On the other hand, Canela, whom I am dog-sitting, did not have such a wonderful time. For her it was a triple whammy, agitated as she was by the full moon, the ruckus of the weekend and by the spirit exchange between A. and me. That good dog disturbed. More than once, she came over and put her head in my lap, looking up as if to ask, "Everything ok, boss?" She was in and out all evening, going out on the front patio to add her voice to the chorus of neighborhood dogs barking over some grievous affront to the neighborhood's order.

Saturday night, the religious process repeated itself in a second seder. As I was invited to the rabbi's seder, I hadn't invited anyone. But as Saturday afternoon proceeded, I was more and more inclined to stay home and have a more meditative ritual by myself. Still, as night settled in, and I prepared to light the festival candles, the question of generating the necessary holiday spirit, all by my lonesome, rose up.

I smoked a little pot, a holiday indulgence, laid out a mat on the floor and did a little yoga. There, while I was lying prone with my legs extending up over my head, in the plow position, Canela came over, asking for attention.

On a normal evening, after running alongside me on my late afternoon bicycle ride, and eating her dinner, Canela spends most of her time lying on her bed, with infrequent trips out front to bark at some passerby. From her bed she has a commanding view of the front door, which she watches, when I am about, assiduously for any sign that I am about to leave. Sometimes we do go out in the evening, but only to the corner store, usually for an onion or some ginger.

"Why is this night different from all other nights?", is the most famous line, the central question, of the Passover ceremony. Canela knew the night was different, even if she didn't know why. There, heels over head, ass up in the air, or as they say more politely here in Mexico, "boca abajo" I was in no position to give her the reassuring caresses she wanted.

I straightened out, got to my feet, shooed her out the front door and immediately felt ashamed of myself. This was not the holiday spirit. Meditating on my negativity, I asked myself why it was I could not have ushered the dog out without feeling irritable?

It soon hit me. The dog's nervousness bothered me so, because it touched my own nervousness. Her worry mirrored my own. There I was trying to get ready, to welcome the holiday, to conjure up the spirit of Passover, coming out from slavery to freedom, overcoming what limits and holds you back. But one cannot worry one's way to freedom. Worry has been the largest part of my slavery. And just admitting that was liberating. The realization set me free. The text of the seder says that we all must consider ourselves as if we were personally freed from Egypt. True to the letter of the law, there I was, exiting my own personal Egypt.

I called the dog back in, gave her the affection she so craved, and the evening went along fine from there on, improving yet further with each of the four cups of wine. Insight after insight flowed down to me. Late into the night, towards the close of the seder, I spoke with my favorite cousin, Larry, the closest family I have.

One of those insights built on my earlier revelation. I understood that however much an outer circumstance, person, place or thing, might be responsible for our negativity, we should first look towards what we are bringing to the interaction. We might be responsible for only a very small percentage of the negative interaction, but it is that very small percentage that first, and most importantly, requires our attention. That is what is most within our power to fix. And when we do, we become much more creative about navigating the outer, negative circumstance.

I choose to believe that Passover was for me a breakthrough, a "night different from all other nights". It had been dawning on me for some time, but now I understand more clearly that while the full moon, the weekend hub-bub, a change in routine or any of the other "ten thousand things, rising and falling" might upset my apple cart, I am not the apple cart.


painting by Andrew Osta
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Now I understand that Canela, when she came over to me Passover evening, wasn't disturbed for herself. She only wanted to comfort me in my disturbance. She wanted me to be okay. She wanted us, the pack, to be at peace. The reassuring affection I extend to her, I also extended to myself. By including myself in it, I completed the circuit of caring.

Imagination is very underrated by hyper-rational geeks. But scientific discoveries most often come as flashes of insight, intuition and imagination, albeit after lots of cogitation.

If I imagine that time is cyclical, and that Passover, the calendar week in which the Children of Israel achieved their freedom, is an especially auspicious moment for me to achieve mine; if I meditate and talk and act out a ceremony, a seder, about overcoming constraints during that week, then, during that week, I am more likely to achieve the liberation I imagine.

Objective reality has lost a lot of ground among physicists. To a great extent, what we think is going on, is going on, at least until we change our way of thinking.

"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery;
  None but yourself can free your mind."
      - Bob Marley

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