Bitter herbs – maror – that’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about “bitter” in the context of Exodus, and the upcoming Seder. Maror – representing the bitterness of slavery suffered by our ancestors. A life of hardship, of constant toil, and no rest. A bitter pill to swallow.
Yet our ancestors felt bitterness in freedom as well. In a life of the unknown, learning to trust after generations of having no-one to trust. The bitterness of failure – of letting Moses down. Letting God down. Maybe letting themselves down.
Perhaps Moses felt bitterness when he was let down by the Israelites, time after time. The Golden Calf, the 10 spies who brought back reports so filled with fear that the Israelites wanted to return to Egypt. Such bitterness that he smashed the first set of tablets written by God for the Israelites.
It feels to me that God was embittered by the betrayals and lack of faith of the Israelites. So much so that he killed some of them, and wanted to annihilate them all at one point.
Maror – the horseradish we eat at the Seder – has an unexpected benefit, however. It serves to clear our sinuses (those of us who brave the real stuff, anyway). When I eat the maror, even my eyeballs sweat! Yet afterward, there is a clear path to breathing – to ruach. At this moment, I feel touched by God’s breath, the ruach that breathed life into me. On the heels of bitterness is ineffable sweetness and holiness. For me, at least.
At many Seders (mine included), we also mix the maror with charoseth, making a Hillel sandwich, combining the bitter and the sweet. After all, isn’t that like life? It’s not all of one or the other. Life is filled with sadness and tears, and also with happiness and moments of joy.
I think about this when we dip our herbs in salt water and then eat them, representing the bitterness of tears. Tears caused by oppression. By cruelty. By hopelessness. Yet tears also represent sorrow, sweetness, and joy. Haven’t we all cried tears in our happiest moments? One of my friends said that my daughter’s naming ceremony was a “three tissue box” event. Not a dry eye in the house – least of all her moms’.
Bitter and sweet. Sweet and bitter. Oppression and freedom. Freedom from oppression. Once we were slaves, now we are free. Free to have bitterness and sweetness. Our choice.
I’m participating this year in #blogExodus, a daily series of posts, tweets, and status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. The series lasts for 14 days – not nearly as long as the Jews wandered in the desert all those years ago. You can find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.