Ari's Haggadah: A Parable of Enough
By Rebekah Bliss
Every year in the springtime, Jews all over the world celebrate Passover. This is a time when they remember how G-d freed them from their slavery in Egypt. It is a special time of joy, freedom and, most importantly, family.
It was for these reasons that Ari was feeling sad. He had never missed celebrating Passover. As far back as he could remember into his childhood the memory of the special foods of Passover had filled his mouth every year, each with their own distinctive flavor and meaning; but, even more meaningful to him were the sounds of Passover-sounds of family and friends singing, praying, existing as one family of Israel around the table.
This year would be different from all of the other years. Ari and his wife Jan had just moved to a new city very far away from all of their family and friends. It was lonely, but they at least had each other and that always makes a difference. One evening, a few weeks before Passover, Jan was looking at her calendar to plan for her upcoming business trip.
"Oh no!" said Jan.
"What is it?" asked Ari from the next room where he had been busy working on one of his paintings.
"I just looked at the dates for my business trip." said Jan with sorrowful edge in her voice.
"Yeah, and?" said Ari, now standing in the doorway.
"It falls right over Passover." She said somberly.
"No! Are you sure?"
"Ari, I am looking right at the calendar. I don't know, maybe I could get the thing rescheduled, but there is so little time. It would take a small miracle." Jan sighed.
"No, no. You have to go. I don't like it but its part of your job. Do what you have to do."
"I don't want to go away over Passover. I hate leaving you behind anyway; this is just terrible. If I don't go I will lose my job-which is the whole reason we moved here in the first place. If I lose my job we will be out on the street."
"I know, and I hate that. That is why I have put in applications for teaching; but, until that happens, we are dependent on you."
Jan had a far away look on her face as she contemplated the separation. Ari's voice brought her attention back.
"You have to go. I don't like it. In fact I hate it, but you have to go. Do what you have to do."
"Are you sure? I know how important this is. I don't want you to be alone for Passover. Maybe you could go visit your family in New York."
"Nah, its too far away and besides, I will be fine. Its settled. You are going on your business trip and I-I will be eagerly awaiting your return." Said Ari as he kissed her and turned back to work on his painting.
The weeks flew by and Passover was approaching. Ari saw Jan off at the airport. He watched the plane as it seemed to magically escape gravity and glide effortlessly into the air; then, he turned to go. He walked to the car thinking about what he was going to do with himself. Perhaps, he thought, if he just stayed in his studio painting the work would occupy his thoughts and he wouldn't have to think about Passover. After all, it would be ridiculous to have a Seder for only one person. Yet, even as he tried to put Passover out of his thoughts he was reminded of the words of G-d. "And this day shall be for you a memorial; and you shall keep it a feast to G-d throughout all of your generations; you shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever." [Exodus 12: 14] No, to ignore it would be wrong; but how could he meaningfully observe it? He stopped at the grocery store to buy Matzah, apples, horseradish, honey, eggs and wine. Ari was still pondering how meaningful a solo Seder would be as he tossed several boxes of Matzah into his shopping cart. He looked at the items that filled the bottom of his cart and he suddenly had a tremendous idea-a miraculous, meaningful, wonderful idea. He hurried home to prepare.
The central part of remembering the miracle of Passover was the annual retelling of the story of G-d's deliverance of His people from their enemies. But Ari was alone this year--to whom would he tell the story? He looked around his studio at the materials available. He would tell the story to himself, to Jan, to the children they might have someday-to the world; he would tell the story in art.
Ari closed his eyes and thought about all that needed to be done. It would be a lot of work but, he was so excited by the thoughts he was having that he didn't care. First he gathered up all the crackers, bread, flour-anything that was not kosher for Passover, anything with leavening; then he put it all in brown grocery sacks and took it to his neighbor's house. His neighbor, Mr. Lewis, didn't quite understand at first why Ari wanted him to keep his groceries for him for over a week. Ari explained that it was against the rules of Passover to have chametz, leavened items, in the house; after all, it was the feast of un-leavened bread. Mr. Lewis said he would be happy to help and Ari left the sacks and hurried home to clean.
Cleaning had never been one of Ari's favorite activities; he did it when it was necessary but never with much enthusiasm. This, however, was different. This cleaning was part of the celebration. Ari finished cleaning the house and stepped back to admire his work. Jan would be pleasantly surprised when she came home and that was an added satisfaction. His mind turned now to preparing the Seder-the one he was going to memorialize. The actual beginning of Passover was only a few days away; he would have to move quickly.
Ari made his way to his studio and started opening drawers and cabinets, he would need clay and paint, something to serve as a background, and where was that adhesive? The project consumed him as he prepared the items that would make up his finished work. Carefully, he shaped four cups out of special clay and fired them in the oven; then he carefully applied the paint. He gathered flowers; gingerly emptied the contents of an egg--leaving an almost perfect shell. As Ari assembled his materials to begin putting it all together the story of Passover played through his mind.
"Remember the day on which you went forth from Egypt, from the house of bondage, and how G-d freed you with a mighty hand." It was not something that happened long ago to people far away-it was personal; it was the freedom of every Jew living--of every Jew that would ever live. Ari picked up the first small clay cup. He looked at it and thought of the promise of G-d which it represented. "I will free you from the slavery of Egypt."
Baruch Atah haShem, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-gafen.
Blessed are You, L-rd G-d, King of the Universe, who brings forth the fruit of the vine. It was a promise made in the middle of a horrible oppression to a downtrodden people by a G-d they could neither see nor hear. They had nothing to rely on but His word-and it was good. Ari affixed the first cup to the copper background.
His eye fell upon the dried flowers he had collected and the renewal they represented. He thought of the words from the Song of Songs:
"Come, my beloved, my lovely one, come. Behold, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth. The season for singing has come, and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first green figs and the blossoming vines smell oh so fragrant. Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come.
Come, my beloved, let us go to the fields. We'll spend the night in the village, and in early morn we'll visit the vineyards. We'll see if the grapes have blossomed, if the pomegranate trees are in flower. For then shall I give you the gift of my love."
A promise of longing fulfilled; love and freedom to love--but until that promise was fulfilled there was nothing but salty bitter tears. Ari affixed the dried greens to the copper and sprinkled a few drops of salt water on them. No one would ever see this contribution; it would only be felt by those who could truly see the work with their hearts.
Ari slide his finger under the flap of the box containing the Matzot. He carefully reached inside and removed three perfect Matzot. The first two he set aside and he broke the third with a quick snap of his wrists. The bread of affliction, of haste-of slavery-of those who have no time for themselves; the only thing you can do with such bread, the only way to bear it, is to share the burden. Such bread forms an unbreakable bond. Ari carefully coated each piece of Matzah with a sealant and affixed one to the copper background.
Freedom means having a choice. Only those who are free have the freedom to choose or to question. And, it is by questioning and gaining the answers to those questions that we truly become free. Each year the Maggid, the story of the Exodus, begins with a question: Mah nishtanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-laylot? Why is this night different from all other nights? Why only Matzah tonight? Why the bitter herbs? Why do we dip the herbs twice when we don't usually dip them at all? Why is tonight so special? Ari could remember asking his father the questions as a child; then the story would begin.
The children of Israel had descended into the land of under the direction of Joseph, the son of Jacob. G-d had elevated him to a position of power so that he might save the lives of many during a terrible famine. Jacob and all his family went to but, as they grew in numbers and blessings, the Hebrews became hated among the Egyptians. The Pharaoh ordered the deaths of innocent babies as they were born and, when that failed, he tried to control the numbers of the Hebrews by throwing their male babies into the Nile.
The Hebrews suffered many cruelties from the hands of the Egyptians; they were forced to build immense cities and granaries in ever sinking sand. Perpetual, endless, meaningless work-it was all they knew for four hundred years. Their cry arose to G-d and He visited His people and saw their suffering and remembered His promise to deliver them. He sent them a deliverer, a great leader - Moses. Moses went before Pharaoh to inform him of G-d's request for His people's freedom; but Pharaoh was a stubborn man. He refused to allow the Hebrews to go free. So G-d stretched out His arm and touched Pharaoh and his land with ten plagues while the children of Israel waited in safety. Yet, G-d loves all of his creation and forbade rejoicing over the fall of the enemy.
Ari thought of the words of the rabbis: "The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied." True, he thought, but it is never cause for rejoicing, even when it liberates. In memory of the ten plagues and the suffering they brought, Ari took wine and dropped ten droplets on to the work. Dam, the waters turned to blood; Tzfardeyah, the frogs, which the Egyptians worshiped as a god, overtook the land; Kinim, lice which irritated to madness; Arov, swarms of flies; Dever, blight which caused the cattle and the herds to die; Sh'chin, boils of tremendous proportion everywhere; Barad, hail that burned as it fell and destroyed crops; Arbeh, locusts which consumed everything that was green; Choshech, darkness-terrifying, blinding darkness; and finally, Makat B'chorot, the death of the firstborn.
Ari thought of the evil that the Hebrews escaped-that he had escaped, and covered his eyes with his hand. A moment later, he began to prepare the shank-bone while he sang Dayenu softly to himself.
Dai, dayenu, day, dayenu, day, dayenu, dayenu, dayenu.It would have been enough.
Ari continued telling himself the story as he added more to his work. It was time for the second cup-the cup of Deliverance. Baruch Atah HaShem, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p'ri hagafen. He carefully attached the cup to the copper background.
The shankbone recalled the Passover lamb, whose blood smeared on the doorposts in obedience to G-d, kept the children of Israel safe from the Angel of Death. Ari affixed the shank-bone to the work beside the second piece of Matzah-the bread of slavery, haste and simplicity.
Baruch Atah haShem, Melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b'mittzvo-tav v'tzivanu al a-chilat matzah.
Near that, he placed a representation of Maror, the bitter herb.
Baruch Atah HaShem, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b'mtizvo-tav, v'tzivanu al a-chilat maror.
That was life; the bitter with the sweet-the maror, horseradish, and the charoset, the sweet mixture of apples, honey, cinnamon, nuts and wine. The two dance an eternal lovers' dance-each tempering the other. How sweet to remember the holy temple, how bitter to remember it is no more. In the memory of the temple, Ari attached his fragile egg to the ever-developing work of art.
The broken piece of Matzah was next--the Afikoman. Ari laughed to himself as he remembered searching for the Afikoman as a child with his sister. Whoever found it could demand a reward-they held the Afikoman hostage every year-without it the Seder could not continue. He remembered the typical exchange between himself and his father.
"I found it!"
"Alright, let's have it."
"Not so fast, I want $20.00 for it."
"Twenty dollars? You must be insane."
"Alright, Ten. You know can't continue without it."
"Ten dollars? You have a lot of Chutzpah."
"Ten. That's firm."
"Then it is ten. But you'll get it in two fives-share with your sister."
Still smiling at the memory, Ari attached the two pieces of broken Matzah.
It was time for the third cup-the cup of redemption. "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgment." Redemption is an act which gives worth. G-d revealed for all time the worth he placed on His people as He lead them out of . Ari attached the third cup to the collage. It was almost alive-soon it would begin to breathe its ageless tale.
Ari paused for a moment and looked at the clock. He began to do the mental arithmetic necessary to figure out what time it was where Jan was on the other side of the world. He missed her; but, it could not be helped. She would be asleep about now, he thought. He knew she felt bad about having to go. He wished he could send her a thought message just to tell her he was ok, he loved her and it was alright. Momentarily lost in his thoughts of Jan, Ari reached for the next object. The feel of it brought his thoughts back into focus.
The next item was very special-it was Kos shel Eliyahu-Elijah's cup. This is the cup from which no one may drink until all the world is redeemed from pain, injustice, denial of love, brutality and evil. Ari whispered a silent prayer that such a day would come soon. As his prayer ended, there was a knock at the door. Ari opened the door and a wry grin of recognition crossed his lips. Standing on the other side of the threshold stood an old man wearing what was once a mediocre suit, now threadbare at the lapels, cuffs and elbows. He wore no tie and the rumpled white dress shirt with bright blue stripes wrestled loudly with the brown suit coat. Covering his disheveled gray hair was a fedora, which looked as if it had made the acquaintance of a cow's hoof--it was dented and reshaped many times. His long silky beard however, was meticulously groomed.
"Well, its about time. I have been waiting for you for about 42 years now. What took you so long?" Asked Ari.
"Forty two years? What is forty two years? Forty two years is nothing. Forty two years is -feh-nothing! I could stand on my head in hell for forty-two years! Oy! What, you're not going to ask me to sit down? Some host you are! Leave me standing at the door. No wonder nobody comes to see you." Said the rumpled old man that faced Ari.
"Come in-of course come in. Sit. Anywhere you want. Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat? Drink? Anything? Name it and its yours." Offered Ari.
The old man crossed the threshold of the home as though he had been there many times before; proceeded through the rooms and went straight to Ari's studio and sat down in the chair in the corner. Ari followed him into the room but the old man wasn't looking at him anymore; instead, his eyes were fixed on the work of art in progress.
"So-- can I get you something to drink?" Ari finally asked, trying to gracefully remind his guest he was still, in fact, present in the room.
"Sure. Something strong. No ice. I hate ice." Mumbled the old man as he looked carefully at the work.
"Would you like some food?"
"Gevalt! Are you going to pester me all day? Of course I want some food! You are terrible at this! Don't you have a pretty wife somewhere who knows a little something about hospitality? If she were here, I would have been happily eating and drinking by now; with you its questions. Always questions!"
"I know who you are."
"Wonderful. I am happy for you. Do you know what I am? I am a tired, irritated, hungry, thirsty, cranky old man! Now get out of here and find something for me to eat!"
Ari spun around on his heel. He had an Uncle once with a similar disposition-a bear until he was properly comforted and fed. Ari went to the kitchen; he pulled out a skillet and some butter; expertly cracked eggs into a mixing bowl and whipped them until they were a frothy lemon yellow. Then he crushed some more Matzah. Soon the smell of Matza Brei was filling the house. It brought the old man out of the studio nose first. Ari served it to a plate and set it down in front of the man who was already seated expectantly at the table. The old man looked at the place where his drink should have been and looked at Ari with one raised eyebrow. With a snap of his fingers Ari was gone and just as quickly was back with a cup of wine. It was a special cup. It had been used only once a year for as long as he could remember and no one ever drank from it. It was his family's Kos shel Eliyahu. His mother had given it to him as a gift when he and Jan married. She had received it from her mother. The cup had traveled the world held safe by different family members through dark and terrible times but had found its way back to his mother. Ari set the cup down and watched the man's face. The old man looked at him with amazement, opened his mouth and recited the blessing over the food and the wine. Between bites and sips he talked to Ari.
"So, you know who I am. Interesting, this disguise usually fools them all. It is one of my favorites actually. I like the clothes and the hat."
"Very sharp." Replied Ari.
"Thank you, I think so; but you'd be amazed at the number of people it puts off."
"Yeah, well, gold is often found in unlikely places." Answered Ari.
The old man just smiled and exhaled with a soft chuckle.
"You don't cook half bad! Not that its half good either mind you!" This joke he found particularly funny and he laughed loudly at himself.
"What was it like?" Asked Ari.
"What was what like?"
"I have read all the things the Haftorah says about you. The floating ax-heads, the calling down of droughts, fire from heaven, miracles of endless oil and flour, raising a little boy from the dead, riding into the heavens in a chariot of fire-now that's an exit! Its all very impressive. What was it like?"
The elderly guest closed his eyes for a minute before answering.
"What can I tell you? Sometimes it was pretty good; most of the time I was just plain tired. Being a prophet is no great occupation. There's always the credibility issue and, even if you did hear G-d right, odds are your audience won't like the message; that tends to make life difficult for the messenger. I remember a woman who would've liked to have used my innards to string her Ukulele--Jezebel was one cold woman. All I did was ask G-d to defend His name--He answered by fire, she blamed it on me! I had to hot-foot it out of town! I got about a day's journey outside of Beer-Sheba; I was so tired and upset I actually asked G-d to take my life. Can you imagine? Yes, I see you can-you've been there a time or two yourself. I was so tired of it all. I sat down under a juniper tree and cried to G-d; I cried until I fell asleep. When I got awake, there was a man there-he told me I was to get up and eat. I looked and he had made pancakes for me. I ate them; they were the lightest, fluffiest buttermilk pancakes I ever had. Oh, they were good! Just golden brown on the outside, perfect in texture-delicious! I ate and slept again and when I got awake the second time there was a second helping of those pancakes waiting on me."
"And your point is?" asked Ari somewhat impatiently.
"My point is; G-d puts us in situations that seem to us very difficult sometimes, if not impossible. But, we are never asked to go through them alone. It may seem to us that we are alone; however, He is always right there in the situation with us. We just don't always see it right away. Take the story you are telling in your artwork. For four hundred years it seemed that G-d had left the children of Israel all alone in slavery in ; but he hadn't. He actually went down into with them-He was there the whole time. The experience was not without purpose. It turned a squabbling family into a united people. Many things in life are that way; hard to understand at the time. If G-d loves us, then why did this happen, why did that happen? And the answer is I don't know; but if He is trustworthy enough to redeem His people from the hands of Egyptian taskmasters, then He may be trusted for everything else too."
"Elijah?" Asked Ari in a quiet tone.
"Yes?" Replied the older man looking at him with a soft, fatherly gaze.
"When will the Messiah come?"
"He is coming; right now. You are bringing him."
"When will he arrive? Hasn't the world suffered enough? How am I bringing him? I don't understand."
"Soon is the only time I can tell you-but, you have to remember that to G-d, all times are soon. Hasn't the world suffered enough? What kind of question is that? Enough? Of course enough--too much! Its all too much; there's no such thing as too little suffering. You help to bring Messiah a little nearer everyday by what you do and who you are deep in your heart. You have taken a wandering old man into your home, given him food, drink and good conversation. That is a good thing. You try to see the best in people and show them beauty in life and that's nothing to fluff your whiskers at either."
"Where is she, anyway?" asked the old man.
"Your wife, you were just thinking about her."
"How did-she's away on a business trip. She had to go. Her boss would have fired her if she hadn't gone; she didn't want to go. She had to."
"I just asked. I didn't say she shouldn't have gone. Sometimes we do what we have to do. I once ate meat brought to me by ravens--dirty ones--and it was a blessing. G-d does that--sticks blessings in unlikely places--you never know how they're going to come at you." He said, clapping his hand down on Ari's shoulder and looking toward the studio.
"Goodbye? You're leaving? You just got here!"
"I've got appointments--I work a tough schedule you know. I don't like to be hasty; I like to schmooze a little--why do you think it took me 42 years to get to you?" Elijah said with grin. "But right now there's a haberdasher in Tunis who is short an egg for the Seder."
"Don't go. Stay for Passover, please."
".and he's very depressed about it. Some national chicken calamity driving the price of eggs through the roof."
"I don't have much, but I'd be happy if you'd share it."
"With you? Listen, not much--when its enough--is plenty. But, like I told you, its a chicken and egg crisis over there in Tunis."
"At least stay the night. You're tired--I'll make you potato flour pancakes in the morning."
"You got more eggs?"
"All you want."
"You didn't use them all up on the Matza brei?"
"I got plenty of eggs. If there's one thing I have learned in the 42 years I've been knocking around in this world, you can never, ever have too many eggs. Don't move; I'll make a place for you to sleep."
"Just remember; soon." Elijah smiled warmly and eyed the kitchen.
"Yes, I'll be right back." Ari went to find some bedding. As he was gathering the sheet, blanket and pillow, he could hear the old man benching-saying thank you to G-d for the meal he had eaten. But when Ari returned with the bedding under his arms, there was silence. He looked around for the old man. Then he saw the door was opened. Ari sighed and shut the door. Returning the bed sheet and blanket and pillow--each to its proper place, he sang softly to himself to push away the quiet that comes when company is gone.
Eliyahu ha-Navi, Eliyahu ha-Tishbi,
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu ha-Giladi,
Bimheirah, B'yameinu yavo eileinu,
Im Maschiach ben-David, im Maschiach ben-David.
Eliyahu ha-Navi, Eliyahu ha-Tishbi,
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu ha-Giladi.
He walked back to his studio. Elijah's visit left him as one awakening from a dream; but as he glanced at the chair in the corner of the studio he saw the fedora. "Hmm," Ari thought to himself, "I guess I can't say I was completely alone for Passover, but who would ever believe such a story?" As he glanced back at the collage, he saw that Elijah had indeed touched his art. "It is almost complete." He said. He picked up the fourth and last cup-the cup of acceptance. Baruch Atah Hashem, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-gafen. The world was still not redeemed, still not as G-d wanted it to be; but there was a promise of hope. "And I will take you to be my people, and I will be your G-d."
No, the world was still not redeemed, Ari thought, but it could be changed-one person at time, beginning with himself. He put the cup of acceptance into its place and stood back to take it in. It was something; not much maybe, but enough. And that was plenty to share.
The days passed and Ari went to airport to pick up Jan. He had missed her but he had not realized how much until he saw her step off of the plane.
"Welcome home, stranger!" He said and kissed her.
"Its good to be home. Was it horrible being alone over Passover?"
"No-it turned out that." Ari began.
"You know the strangest thing happened to me while I was away. I actually met a relative of yours; your great uncle Eli, on your mother's side. Sweet old man--horrible dresser! He had this rumpled brown suit; threadbare at the seams, a loud blue and white striped shirt that looked as if he slept in it. Did you tell him where I was staying? You must have. He knocked on my door. Well, I was hardly going to just let him in but then he introduced himself as your Uncle. He talked about you when you were a little boy - he is very fond of you. He wanted to know what I was doing for Passover and I told him how bad I felt because I wasn't with you. He offered to help set up a Seder table with me. We set the table up together--I don't think he let the conversation lull once--and Ari, it was strange, but I could swear his pockets were bulging with eggs and he kept feeling the back of his head like he was checking for something. The whole time he was there he talked all about you. I wanted him to stay with me for Passover but he kept on with some nonsense about a haberdasher in Tunis he needed to see and some kind of egg crisis. I didn't press him for an explanation. Having him there and setting up the table was almost like being at home with you. It wasn't the same, but it eased the ache of not actually being with you--and that was something anyway."
"Hmm-mm," said Ari with a gleam in his eye, "it was just enough. I made something while you were gone."
"I'll show you. Let's go home."
"Where did you get that hat?"
L'Shanah ha-ba-ah birushalyim! Next Year in Jerusalem
from the April 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
Material and Opinions in all Jewish Magazine articles are the sole responsibility of the author; the Jewish Magazine accepts no liability for material used.