Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Pesach Sameach"

This poem came out of the April 18, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] ng_moonmoth and [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "slavery" square in my 4-3-17 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] ng_moonmoth. It belongs to the series Clay of Life.

"Pesach Sameach"

In the month of Nissan,
the time of Pesach drew near.

Menachem turned their route
toward the prosperous town where
his old master kept a smithy, so that
he could celebrate the holiday with friends.

Nachman greeted him with open arms,
saying, "It's so good to see you again,
my boy! But who is this?"

"This is my apprentice Yossele,"
said Menachem. "Yossele, here is
Nachman who taught me smithcraft."

Yossele grinned and bobbed his head
in thanks, for if Nachman had not taught
Menachem how to work the forge,
the golem would have no feet.

Nachman's daughter Eliana
tugged upon his sleeve. "Abba,
how can a golem celebrate Pesach?
He can't drink the four cups of wine,
or eat the feast, or sing the songs."

Yossele slumped in his place,
for all of those things were true.

"Do not worry," Nachman said.
"We will find things for him to do."

"Yossele is very strong and
good at carrying things,"
Menachem offered, and
the golem nodded.

So Yossele was given
a great bag of canvas, and
he stood in the courtyard while
Nachman's family emptied
their house of chametz.

Menachem helped pack away
all the bread and grain and leaven.

Then both of them walked away
from the nice neighborhood where
the Jewish merchants and crafters lived
to a part of the town where Gentile laborers
dwelled in the small, shabby houses.

"All who are hungry, come and take
this bread," Menachem called out, and
the poor eagerly approached to trade
their thanks for something to eat.

When they returned to the house, then
the ceremonial search for chametz commenced.

Eliana and her siblings were greatly amused
to see the big golem going about so carefully with
a candle cradled in his clay hands to light the way
as their mother Chava swept for crumbs.

The children hunted diligently for
the ten hidden packets of chametz
which they brought to Nachman.

In the morning, everyone gathered
for the ceremonial burning of chametz.

Nachman's apprentice Berel
built the fire in a portable forge.

Nachman recited the nullification,
and Menachem spoke about
the renunciation of bad habits.

For Pesach, they baked matzah
then set out a Seder with maror
and a shank of the Paschal lamb
that had been blessed by the rabbi.

Chava opened the door and stepped
onto the porch. "Kal dichfin yeitei v’yeichul,"
she called. "Let all who are hungry come and eat."

Other calls echoed from the neighboring houses.
Then the poor who had been waiting patiently
in the street came indoors to join them.

Yossele could not eat of the bitter herbs
but he could listen to the prayers and songs,
rocking quietly in his place at the table.

After the recital of the Haggadah,
Yossele pointed to his iron feet.

"My friend Yossele has his own story
about slavery," said Menachem.
"Would you like to hear it?"

Eliana and the other children
all clamored after it, and so
Yossele told his story with
gestures and pictures and
a few scribbled words.

Menachem translated when
necessary, and so everyone
heard about the faithless rabbi
who refused to let Yossele rest on
the Shabbat, how the golem rebelled
and then Judah tried to destroy him,
the desperate flight from Prague and
the way Yossele and Menachem
eventually saved each other.

"Abba, you keep apprentices,"
said Eliana. "How is that
different from slavery?"

"Some people do make slaves
of their apprentices, but we are
forbidden from keeping slaves,
for we remember how bitter it was
to be slaves in Egypt," said Nachman.

Menachem grinned at the memory
of his days as Nachman's apprentice.
The work had been hard, but he had
learned so much. Now he could
teach others as he was taught.

"Do you remember seeing Berel
light the chametz fire?" Menachem said,
and the little girl nodded. "Well, that was
my job when I served as an apprentice here.
Every year at Pesach, the apprentice of
a Jewish master may leave without paying
the parting fee, if he has been mistreated.
Thus we show that we keep no slaves."

Yossele joined in with signs
and traced images on the tabletop,
agreeing that he was a free worker
and enjoyed learning from Menachem --
who had in fact taken him on without
the customary payment, as a mitzvah.

They spoke of slavery and freedom
and service, the challenges they had
met and overcome, and their friendship.

The guests who had come from
the poor quarter also shared their stories
about struggling for survival, which
fit right into the Pesach season.

It all filled Menachem with
a great swell of gratitude, that
he could spend the holiday with
his master's family who had
become as close as kin to him.

"Pesach Sameach," he murmured.

Yossele wrapped an arm around
Menachem and hugged him close.

* * *


Nachman is Menachem's old master.

Eliana is a little girl, the daughter of Nachman and Chava.

Chava is Nachman's wife and Eliana's mother.

Berel is Nachman's current apprentice.

* * *

The search for chametz is part of the Pesach festivities. Since the house has customarily been cleaned already, packets of bread are hidden for children to find. There are various ways to dispose of chametz prior to Pesach, including selling it to a Gentile and then buying it back again after the holiday. Well-to-do families may give their chametz to the poor.

The next step in Pesach preparation is burning the chametz. This fits nicely with the custom of using Pesach to break bad habits, due to the symbolic destruction.

Seder is a feast with storytelling, the heart of Pesach.

Matzah is unleavened bread, typically a type of cracker. There are simple and complex ways of making it, depending on how fussy people are; denominations and family traditions vary.

Maror are bitter herbs, eaten in remembrance of the bitterness of slavery.

Historically, the Paschal lamb used to be a central part of the Pesach meal, then fell out of official use, but some people still associate lamb with this holiday and serve it in various recipes. In the context of this storyline, the custom is to sacrifice one lamb per household or other sizable community IF there is a Jewish temple or synagogue with a rabbi available to do it. Otherwise, they omit the lamb, rather than butchering it at home the way some people have also done. The Jewish culture in this setting is not homogenous or ubiquitous, but is thriving well enough that many people enjoy these opportunities.

"Let all who are hungry come and eat" is a traditional part of Pesach liturgy. Some people don't really advertise it, but others consider it lucky or pious to invite poor people to join the feast.

Haggadah means "telling" and refers to the book used for the Pesach liturgy.

Jewish views on slavery have varied over time, with some silent or complicit and others vigorously opposed to it. Today, some Jews use Pesach in the movement against modern slavery.

Historically, apprenticeship offered an opportunity to learn a trade, still used in some traditions such as blacksmithing. However, in some contexts, apprenticeship functioned the same as slavery, and was used to extend slavery even after it was officially banned. In this setting, Jewish culture considers slavery repugnant, and has taken formal steps to ensure that Jews do not keep slaves or keep anyone in slavelike conditions. The option of leaving at Pesach provides an escape route if necessary.

Charity is a mitzvah. Jewish tradition lays out eight degrees of giving, the highest of which is helping someone to become self-sufficient. By teaching Yossele a trade, Menachem will make it possible for Yossele to support himself in the future and to benefit other people with his skills.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, holiday, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, weblit, writing
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