By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Readers: In response to questions from many, I am repeating this column from previous years with hopes of breathing some fresh air into the preparation for Pesach.
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m cleaning my house for Pesach as I have done every year since becoming more observant. I’m changing over the dishes to the Pesach ones, covering my counters and more. Although I know I need to do this, I’m having trouble getting anything spiritual out of all this cleaning and working. Could you give me anything to focus on which might help?
I think what’s bothering you bothers most women, and their male helpers as well, when going through the drudgery of Pesach cleaning. The traditional blessings around this time of year are to have a Purim sameach (a joyous Purim) and a Pesach kasher (a kosher Pesach). One Chassidic rebbe used to wish people a kosher Purim (it’s easy for Purim to be joyous, harder to make it proper and kosher) and a Pesach sameach (it’s often tough to bring Pesach in joyfully with all the hard work getting there).
If we take a new look at Pesach preparation in the context of understanding what a Jewish holiday is all about, we can take a fresh, redeeming look at Pesach cleaning.
The concept of a yom tov, or holiday, in Judaism is very different from that of the outside world. In the world at large, time is a continuum which moves in a straight line. We mark off times to represent days and dates, but those have no relation to the same date a year ago or many years ago. When one celebrates the Fourth of July, it is an important remembrance for events that took place over 200 years ago, but they happened then only, and now we just celebrate the anniversary.
In Judaism, however, as explained by the Talmud and the Kabbalists, time is not a continuum, rather a cycle that moves in circles. Every date takes us back to the source of that date. If at any given time of year G-d chose that date to reveal the Divine Presence and shine the great light of the Shechinah onto the world, when we return to that date of the year-cycle that light is still shining just as brightly as the day He performed the miracles of revelation. There are some who clearly see and experience that light, those who have elevated themselves to higher spiritual levels. But for all of us, that light is shining upon us in a hidden way; that hidden illumination is the source of the holiness of the holiday.
This leads us to a very different outlook upon our holidays. A Jewish holiday is not something you do, but something you enter. For example, to relive the feelings of love and heavenly protection in the desert, we need to actually leave our homes and enter a different physical and mind-space, and live in a sukkah for seven days. We don’t just observe Sukkot; we enter the world of Sukkot.
On Shavuot night, seven weeks after Pesach, there is a custom observed worldwide for Jews to stay up all night studying Torah. Through this total immersion in Torah we leave our worlds and enter the space of Sinai.
With Pesach as well, we are enjoined not only to observe Pesach, but to transcend our world and enter into the world of Pesach. This is implicit in the statement of the Haggadah that every year every Jew should see themselves as if they personally are leaving Egypt. That’s only possible if you leave your familiar surroundings and enter a new world, the world of Pesach.
This is the reason we need to clean our homes of the familiar foods, even sell them to a non-Jew through the rabbi, and put out special tablecloths and dishes. We are no longer in our familiar homes, but have left them behind for our new ones — our Pesach homes. In the new home we are empowered to enter a new mind-space, the world of Pesach. With every cabinet you clean and every rag you use, you’re one step closer to entering the world of redemption!
Wishing a wonderful, joyous and kosher Pesach to you and all the readers!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.