Seven weeks ago, as I was doing my weekly food shopping, I came across and aisle of food set aside for Passover products. Jewish law is very strict regarding what can and cannot be consumed on Passover.
As such, Jews spend days and weeks before Passover planning and implementing our cleaning, shopping and cooking schedules in order to ensure that Passover can be celebrated in its proper was at the proper time. Additionally, each of those tasks is not simple. For example, when it comes to food shopping, it is an overhaul of all one owns during the year and buying replacement Kosher for Passover products for the one week holiday in addition to needing to know in advance what and how much one needs to purchase. As one can imagine, this preparation becomes all-consuming.
Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt of the Israelites 3,500 years ago, a story of going from slavery to freedom, exile to redemption. And yet, in working to prepare for Passover, one gets the sense that there is an irony to celebrating freedom by slaving over our preparations to celebrate. Yet, when we look into the value of freedom versus slavery, we recognize that freedom in not always absolutely lack of methodical conduct that one must engage. Rather, freedom is having the ability to have dignity and self worth in the midst of a legal system, a legal system that is ideally established to protect its citizens.
Perhaps this is the lesson of the excessive preparation before Passover. The Jewish mystical tradition presents a fascinating re-read of the laws regarding removing leavened products from one’s home for Passover. Instead of reading the law in the literal sense, it is re-conceptualized to teach people that Passover is a time of introspection, specifically a time of investigating one’s humility in relationship with G-d. We are to remove the arrogance, the leaven, in our hearts, humbling ourselves, symbolized by Matzah, something that doesn’t rise.
While Passover cleaning cannot an should not be the same as spring cleaning, which it becomes for many, there is also a lesson in similar vein regarding the hard work of preparing for Passover.
To truly be able to fulfill the mandate of seeing oneself as having been redeemed from Egypt, which would require a certain humility of perspective as one would be focusing on the idea of redemption from being enslaved, one can see the preparation for Passover as a microcosm of burden before celebration.
May each of us find humility in the renewal time of the calendar, and may we find meaning in the challenges of preparing to celebrate the holiday the truly embodies freedom.
-Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner, Wilf Campus