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What makes this Passover different from all other Passovers?

It’s been 195 days but for me (and I imagine many others) it’s still October 7. With millions of people in Israel and Gaza embroiled in an ongoing and escalating conflict and over 130 innocent hostages still being held in captivity, it seems impossible to turn the page in the calendar. And yet, we cannot deny the persistence of time to steadily march forward, sweeping us along with it regardless of whether or not we are capable of keeping pace. Now with Passover just a few days away, I can’t help but feel anguish. My broken heart yearns to sing songs of freedom, but I’m afraid that when I try to open my mouth I’ll drown in the salty waters of a sea that never really parted.

Our ancestors were wise though. They designed our immersive Passover rituals to be powerful and relevant for every age and circumstance. Of course, we say that the purpose of the seder is to tell the Passover story, but that isn’t really what we do. If that were the goal, we would simply read the first few chapters of the book of Exodus and get to the meal much more quickly. But we don’t. Instead, we embark on a winding journey through Jewish history. A blend of conversations, physical actions, and iconic music engages our whole selves—mind, body, and spirit—in an effort to make it possible for each of us to feel as though we have been personally freed.

Throughout the seder, we feel the tension of the inextricable link between our pain and our joy. To artificially separate these interconnected ideas would be a disingenuous pantomime and not a profound spiritual journey. Part of the wisdom of the seder is to create a multifaceted experience that feels eerily prescient every single year as though the holiday was designed exactly for times like these.

Our ancestors even set a place for my broken heart at the seder table.

During the fourth step of the seder, Yahatz, we take a middle piece of matzah from a stack of three and break it in half. We place one piece of this broken matzah back in the middle of the stack. The other piece of matzah becomes the afikomen and we hide it to be found after the meal. The kabbalists saw this middle matzah as symbolizing the heart. Before we can experience the ritual retelling of our story of freedom, we must break our hearts in two. This shattering is what allows us to confront our history and grapple with our present, while striving for a better future.

Perhaps, it would be less painful to construct a fortress around our fragile hearts and sacrifice our tenderness for protection. But then how would we be able to distinguish ourselves from hardhearted Pharaoh?

No. It’s better to be delicate than callous.

So on day 198 of October 7, me and my broken heart will be at the seder searching for hope and strength. As we journey through our past, I will hold the pain of the present. The bitter herbs might taste sharper, the tears might overwhelm the karpas, but I will trust in the wisdom of our ancestors who set a place for our whole broken selves at the table.