Pesach is Coming - Why oh why oh why?
This week we read a Maftir portion designed to awaken us to the arrival of Pesach. Rosh Hodesh Nissan will be marked this coming Monday night & Tuesday and the Sedarim beckon on the 14th (& 15th) of Nissan, this year falling on Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th March. I want to suggest three reasons why; why care about Chametz, why clean and shop and cook and go to shul and don’t go to work, and even why we should put up with the grumbling sense that this is all very expensive. (I will have more to say about the financial piece next week).
Pesach is an obligation. We are ‘mechuyah.’ The word shares an etymological root with words like ‘debt.’ We get to live, to breath and we therefore owe an obligation. As Jews we get to be free, we are not enslaved, we could easily be, and therefore we owe an obligation. As Jews we get Torah, a world-view which enhances the brightest moments and holds us in our darkest times, we get to inherit a tradition of beauty, might, spirit and wit, and therefore we owe an obligation. Pesach, with all its cleaning and cooking is how a Jew pays-back in deference to the incredible miracle of our existence. The place of God as obligator is, for some central, and for others peripheral. I would encourage those for whom God plays only a peripheral role as obligator to consider this difference as semantic, rather than substantial. We have so much to be grateful for, we owe this debt to whomever or whatever we consider awarded us such extraordinary bounty.
Pesach is a ritualised spring-clean. Leaven is fermented; it is part of last year’s harvest. At Pesach we forgo leaven; we use only the new harvest. Pesach is a time to clear out old stock. We check the inventory not just of our cupboards, but also of ourselves. We have the opportunity to scrub away at the accreted grime of another year and through our cleaning and observance of Kashrut we become renewed.
Chametz also represents, mystically speaking, the aspect of impurity surrounding the holy spark inside every human. Other language used, in the tradition, to approach the same idea is that of a husk, surrounding a kernel. We all need husks to protect us. We all need to get mixed-into the day-to-day world with its very real challenges (we all need to knead?). But we also need a moment to cast away the husk, to seek out and discard the Hametz and to allow the pure divine spark inside each of us to shine freely. That is the spiritual essence of Pesach.
Two weeks, two days and counting.