The main theme for my approach to Passover this year is that of opening. Think of the number of times we make openings at the seder: We open the door to welcome our guests, to proclaim ‘Let all who are hungry come and eat,’ and again to welcome Elijah the Prophet. We break open the middle matzah as we begin the Maggid section of the seder, symbolizing our opening up the story and opening ourselves to it and to one another.

The French rabbi-philosopher Marc-Alain Ouaknin explores this theme in his Haggadah. In his final comment, on opening the door for Elijah, Ouaknin quotes the story in which Elijah goes alone to a cave on Mount Horev in the desert. God brings a great wind, and then an earthquake, and then a fire—but God was not in any of these. Instead, after the fire, he finds God in ‘a still, small voice.’ (1 Kings 19:11-13) Ouaknin comments:

One must have sharpened one’s hearing, to be led to the absolute level of attention, to become capable of perceiving such a tenuous breath. One must have sounded oneself, have explored oneself in the darkest places of consciousness, to the furthest of thoughts, to have made the circuit of one’s inner domain many times, in constantly growing but nevertheless tightening circles, so as to attain the intimate desert of self-forgetfulness, to be able to be stroked lightly, touched, visited by such an inaudible sigh.

The point of concluding the seder with opening the door for Elijah is to signify that this journey in ‘the intimate desert of self-forgetfulness’ is the ultimate intention of the seder. While we aim to find ourselves on seder night, to reconnect with the story of our people and see ourselves as having personally left Egypt, remembering who we are paradoxically requires losing ourselves at the same time.

This paradox is physically enacted in opening the door of our home. Think of the security, the faith, it takes to open the door late at night, or to go to sleep with it unlocked, as is the custom on this ‘Night of Watching,’ this leil shimurim. By doing so to welcome the mysterious Elijah, we demonstrate a confidence in ourselves that empowers us to make ourselves vulnerable. We enact the definition of home propounded by my own Hillel rabbi in college, Jim Ponet: Home is the place we can welcome guests. In opening our doors at Pesach, we show that we are at home.

In The Dignity of Difference, his groundbreaking exploration of globalization and religious identity, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain imagines what faith in a globalized world could look like:

It would be like being secure in one’s home, yet moved by the beauty of foreign places, knowing that they are someone else’s home, not mine, but still part of the glory of the world that is ours… It would be to know that I am a sentence in the story of my people and its faith, but that there are other stories, each written in the letters of lives bound together in community, each part of the story of stories that is the narrative of man’s search for God and God’s call to mankind. Those who are confident in their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faith of others. (pp. 65-66)

This is the paradox of Pesach, the paradox of opening the door. Passover is our people’s most nationalistic holiday. At the same time, in order to connect with our identity as Jews, in order to be at home, we have to open ourselves—to the Haggadah, to one another, to guests, to the world.

Chag sameach. My sincere wishes for a joyous, meaningful, and liberating Pesach.

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