As Pessah approaches, Jewish homes are busy preparing for this most demanding of our holidays. We are all familiar with the physical aspects of pre-Pessah preparations. The koshering process of the kitchen and eating utensils, the general spring cleaning which has become part of Pessah preparations, the purchasing of Pessah foods and in many cases the confirmation of hotel reservations all are very familiar to us. In addition, Jews usually participate in great fund-raising drives for the needy for Pessah and this is also the season for purchasing new clothing for the family, and painting and otherwise refurbishing our homes.
In short, it is a busy time for all of the myriad and detailed items that must be accomplished before we sit down, somewhat exhausted but nevertheless exhilarated, at the Pessah Seder. The financial demands of all of this pre-Pessah activity are not to be minimized and always consume a substantial portion of our annual household budget. Because of the work, the expense, the requirements of holy ritual and the additional pressures of regular everyday life engendered by all of this, many times the period before Pessah carries with it tensions and stress in the home and family. It is precisely because of this heavy and potentially dangerous physical load that pre-Pessah duties impose on us that we should seek relief and serenity in another non-physical aspect of the preparations.
The spiritual aspect of pre-Pessah preparations is twofold. One is the historical contemplation of Jewish life and existence over the centuries of our story. It is 3,919 years since the Exodus from Egypt. So many different eras, empires, civilizations and technological and political revolutions have occurred during this time, that it is difficult to imagine that a small and stubbornly different people could have survived it all and still continue to prosper and to influence the world in so many ways.
Thinking about Pessah makes us also think about how special we truly are and what our purpose and responsibility in life and in this world and should be. Jewish history is not only facts and dates, scholarship and academic disciplines. It is more importantly inspiration and faith, guidance and hope, vision and destiny. And for all practical purposes Jewish history begins with Pessah, with the Exodus from Egypt.
It is ironic that there are those in the Jewish world who for whatever unfathomable reasons of their own have attempted to deny the entire narrative of the Exodus. All of Jewish history and the fact of Jewish survival itself put the lie to such attempts and theories. Judaism is based upon the simple notion that my grandfather was not a liar. All of the deniers of the Exodus are modern scholars. We are witness to the fact that many truths, such as the Holocaust, can spawn a denial industry. But that will not change the fact of the truth of that fact. So, knowing the Jewish story is itself a great high point of our pre-Pessah preparations.
The second spiritual aspect of pre-Pessah planning lies in an appreciation of the innate demand of our souls to be considered free in the highest sense of the concept of freedom. Judaism's definition of freedom contains within it strong limits and rules of conduct to govern that freedom. Freedom does not allow a person to be dissolute, addicted, violent or immoral. Freedom demands purpose and goals, accomplishments and creativity.
In other words, freedom must be comforting to the inner sense of the person. If it only engenders an insatiable appetite for more and destroys any sense of appreciation for what is, then this type of freedom truly becomes a form of addictive slavery. Freedom means a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, an appreciation of life and family, health and accomplishment.
Pre-Pessah preparations include the development of this Torah sense of freedom. For even though physical freedom is necessary to develop this necessary sense of well-being and self worth, without a sense of spiritual freedom to accompany and complement it, its benefits will remain temporary and hollow to us. The rabbis of the Talmud taught that proper preparation is the key to both physical and spiritual success and happiness. I think that this is doubly true concerning the blessings of the great holiday of Pessah that is fast approaching.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator (rabbiwein.com).