Daffodils on the Seder Table

Rafi Dover

Much like everything else to do with Pesach, its names come in a group of four; Pesach, Z’man Cheyrutenu (The Time of Our Liberation), Chag HaMatzot (The Festival of Matzot), and Chag HaAviv (The Festival of Spring).

The first three of those names enjoy exalted, prime places in the vocabulary of Pesach, as the common, ubiquitous term for the festival, and the two names by which the festival is referred to in liturgy respectively. The black sheep is the name Chag HaAviv, which is almost never mentioned. It also stands out as it is the only name that does not allude to some aspect of the Exodus narrative.

It is a clear reference to Pesach’s additional role as an important part of the celebration of the annual agricultural cycle. The Shalosh Regalim have a dual purpose, both to commemorate specific events from the Torah, and to mark important points of the agricultural year. Why, then, is there pretty much no allusion to spring in any of our practices? The Mishnah even goes so far as to institute a secondary festival to act as curtain-raiser to spring two months beforehand.

I believe the reason to be that through pretty much the entirety of the period of time in which our faith has been practiced, we haven’t needed to. It would have been blindingly obvious that spring was coming to typical agricultural Jews, because as a farmer this onset of new growth would have dominated their life. The difference in day to day activity as a farm worker between a typical spring day and a typical autumn day is vast, and as such they need no reminder of the beauty of the yearly cycle.

Nowadays, we are no longer anywhere near as connected to the cycle of the seasons. A mix of international freight and innovative new food storage techniques means that there is no food item that the seasons prevent us from having, and our insulated urban box homes stay at the same temperature all year round. Essentially, we have totally withdrawn ourselves from the up-and-down of seasonal living almost perfectly. We therefore leave this aspect of G-d’s creation, so important to the lives of our forebears, unrecognised.

It does not sit well with me that this is the case. What, though, can be done? A possible answer is to invent some minhagim.

This may sound more than a little outlandish, but hear me out. Minhagim may originate from an organic process that reflects Jewish (and, to an extent, personally ancestoral) lived experience through the ages, just like Halakhah, but the important difference between Minhag and Halakhah is that Minhagim do not profess to be binding. Every minhag comes from somewhere, and as a result of their lack of formality and rigidity, we should feel confident enough, provided we are not trampling over previous practice, to contribute some of our own. We should therefore invent some new customs to allow ourselves to revel in this wonderful aspect of our world. Anything that we invent would feel gimmicky at first, but within a generation or two would feel like a permanent fixture in our Judaism.

So why not, on Shvii Shel Pesach, Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret, do a tasting of seasonal fruit and vegetables much like the sweet foods of Rosh Hashanah, and read Kohelet 3:1-8? Why not spend time in and around Succot preserving fruit and veg, for the winter ahead. Why not put daffodils on the Seder table?

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