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Going Through The Motions

How the Passover Seder reminds us to think about the significance of everyday Judaism.

6:50 am. My alarm blares, and I slowly roll over, summoning the energy to reach over and turn it off. I pull myself out of bed, running on autopilot, too tired to actually think. I stumble toward the bathroom to brush my teeth, reciting modeh ani on the way. I reach for a cup to do netillat yadayim: right, left, right, left, right, left, I pour the water over my hands and say the bracha as I walk back to my room to get ready for school. I walk out to the kitchen, yawning, and mutter baruch ata Hashem elokeynu melech haolam shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro before downing a glass of water, followed by a quick recitation of borei nefashot as I grab a bar to bring with me for breakfast. I pull on my shoes – right first, then left – grab my coat and backpack, and head out the door, still half-asleep but conscious enough to know I don’t want to be late for school.

Judaism is a detail-oriented religion that governs every moment of our lives. So many of my actions during the day are centered around Judaism, but all too often, I don’t even think about it. Even when I’m not groggy from waking up early, I’m often metaphorically so, going through the motions of mitzvot and Jewish customs without fully thinking about them.

On Pesach, the entire routine changes. Our lives are upended by completely changing our diets. I keep Kosher every day of the year, so it’s no longer something that I think about on a daily basis, but on Pesach, I’m hyper-aware of everything that enters my mouth. By extension, on Pesach, I’m always thinking about Judaism is an active way rather than a passive one. Pesach is a wake-up call to notice all the ways in which Judaism governs our lives rather than acting mechanically.

The seder is the perfect example of this Pesach mindset. At the seder, we are supposed to ask questions; we are supposed to wonder why we are doing these strange things, like dipping parsley in salt water, leaning while we drink, and refraining from bread for eight days. We aren’t supposed to passively accept Judaism – we are supposed to actively engage with it.

However, after so many years of doing the seder, it’s possible to forget the importance of these questions. We’re all hungry, eager to get to the meal and we’ve done this countless times before. In this frame of mind, it’s possible to let Passover become just like every other day of the year when we routinely fulfill mitzvot without really thinking about it. But to do that is to miss the main goal of the seders: asking questions and thinking about why we go through the motions every single day.

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Josephine Schizer is a junior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. She is also a member of the Fresh Ink for Teens’ Editorial Board.

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