5 April 2008
28 Adar 2, 5768
This Shabbat is one of the special Shabbatot leading up to the holiday of Passover, and it is called “Shabbat HaChodesh”, the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan (this Sunday), the first day of the month of Nissan, during which Passover falls. We read a special Torah Portion (Exodus 12:1-20), which describes the first Rosh Chodesh in Egypt, the commandment for us to sanctify the new moon each month, sanctifying time through our cyclical calendar. In this text, God also commands every family to take a lamb, one for each household, which they will watch over until the fourteenth day of Nissan, on which they will perform the korban Pesach, the special Passover sacrificial offering. Although this korban Pesach no longer applies to our lives or our ritual observance of Pesach, for me the reading of this ritual this Shabbat is a reminder that if we have not yet begun to prepare for Passover – whether cleaning our houses, planning our Seders, or reviewing the haggadah and the Passover story – now is the time.
Just as the meaning and quality of our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur experiences – six months ago and six months from now – depend on our teshuva process, the extent to which we reflect on who we are and who we want to be during the days and weeks before the holidays themselves, so too does our capacity to intellectually and spiritually relive and recreate the experience of the Exodus on Passover depend on our process of both literally and figuratively cleaning out our chametz (our leaven). As a community, we have begun to prepare for Passover this week through study and reflection on the themes of slavery and redemption, and Jewish identity in the modern world. Last Sunday, we opened our parents’ day of learning by studying a passage from the hagaddah, “ha lachma anya.” We discussed the various dimensions of being hungry, needy or afflicted, what it means for us to see ourselves today as slaves who are about to be freed from Egypt, and the mitzvah to open our hearts and homes to others in need of food or a family with whom to tell our story. This Wednesday, our guest speaker Mitchell Silver, a professor of philosophy and active member of the Workman’s Circle, talked with our students about secular Jewish identity, challenging us about what it means to be Jewish and about the relationship between faith, religiosity and Jewish identity. When asked how one becomes Jewish in his eyes, his response emphasized a core theme of what we try to accomplish at the Passover seder each year: being Jewish is about finding one’s own place in our history and community and seeing oneself and one’s life as part of our ongoing communal story.
On a more personal note, my family has identified one of the ways we are enslaved right now, and what we need to do to leave Egypt this year. It has been almost one year since we moved into our home, and with three small children, I must admit, we are oppressed by clutter. For those of us who struggle with clutter, it feels constricting and overwhelming, impossible to escape. This year, my wife and I determined that our clutter really is our Egypt and that in addition to cleaning out our literal chametz, systematically ridding ourselves of clutter in the days leading up to Passover would be one of the ways that we will experience Yetziat Mitzraim (the coming out of Egypt) this year. Amazingly, now that we have identified what is enslaving us, our process of cleaning for Passover has transcended an obsession with details and minutia, and has been infused with the cautious optimism and excitement of setting ourselves free.
As Rosh Chodesh Nissan approaches and with Passover following close behind, may we be energized by our early preparations, by beginning our process of leaving Egypt this year; and, may starting to prepare now help us find ourselves in our story anew, so when we march through the parting waters of the sea at our seder tables two weeks from tomorrow, we will be able to deeply experience the elation of what it means to be free.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,
Rabbi Marc Baker