Tonight begins the 7th day of Pesach . . . for those of us living in Israel, the end of the holiday. Those of you still living in "galut," in the Diaspora, still have an extra day beyond that.
Chol hamoed Passover is certainly a very different experience in Israel than anywhere else.
When I was living in the US or Canada, Passover week always felt quite difficult. The rules about not eating "chametz," any leavened products, are much stricter than even the usual rules of keeping kosher. So the week of Passover meant a week without eating out AT ALL, it meant a lot of matzah, and in general a feeling of being afflicted such that by the end of the week I couldn’t wait to get back to "normal."
Here in Israel it’s completely different. We made a little road trip over the last few days, staying in the Galilee for a few days and touring around the Golan Heights. Every roadside rest stop had kosher for passover snacks, with the "chametz" items put away. There was no shortage of kosher restaurants open for Passover. We had a few meals, one at Arte de Cocoa in Karmiel, and one at Dag al ha Dan, that were EXCELLENT–and would have been excellent even if it hadn’t been Pesach. No need to make any excuses!
Besides matzah, a lot of places serve sandwiches and thing on "Passover bread," kosher for Passover bread which is a little drier and less interesting than regular bread, but still certainly an improvement over an unending diet of matzah! With all the excellent Passover products readily available, it made Passover feel like hardly any sacrifice at all. I wonder, just a little, if this sort of defeats the purpose of avoiding chametz for a week . . . but I will gladly consider that theological / philosophical issue while enjoying a glass of wine and a fine meal at a kosher for Passover restaurant!
Those are just a few of the many benefits of living in a state of "physical redemption," of being at home in Israel. Our days touring in the North were wonderful — we spent time at Gamla, which is known as "the Masada of the North," a place where 9,000 Jews held out against the Romans for seven months during the Great Revolt. An amazing place, literally built onto the side of a steep mountain. From there we went to Nimrod’s Fortress, which was one of the most impressive old fortresses I’ve ever seen — like most fortresses, perched on top of a mountain, this one also in the Golan Heights overlooking the Damascus Road. The largest complete fortress anywhere in the area. It doesn’t get as much attention on the tourist route presumably because it’s not a Jewish historical site — it was built by the Arabs in the early 13th century to fend off Crusaders — but it is amazing nonetheless, and deserves to be better known.
On the way home we had an excellent meal at Dag al haDan, a fish restaurant where they serve fish so fresh it’s practically still flapping. The produce was equally fresh and tasty. Our table was about four feet from the water … we could have dangled our feet in it if we were so inclined. Beautiful wooded setting, excellent food . . . was just like Northern California! 🙂
A couple of weeks ago, my rabbi, Barry Schlesinger, gave a great drash which included the thought that there is a bracha we say expressing appreciation for trees; in the siddurim here in Israel, it specifies to say that bracha in the month of Nisan, this month, the month of Passover. It’s kind of a tikun, a repair, for the spies who visited the land and came back with a negative report. Instead of complaining, we express our praise!
I certainly felt full of that praise after enjoying a couple of beautiful days in the North. However, at the same time, as we approach the end of Passover it is good to remember that our redemption is not yet complete, the Messiah has not yet come, we don’t yet have peace in the Middle East. I may be living "physically redeemed," in the land of Israel, but spiritually all of us are still in galut, still in Exile, still not as close to our Creator as we might be, still longing for redemption.