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Sunday, September 21, 2014

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The privilege of preparing

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It seems that once we get anywhere near Tu b’Shvat, we already sense Pesach slowly approaching. Certainly as Purim draws near, we feel the Pesach reality coming into focus. Most assuredly, when Purim has come and gone, we’re dreading the fast-approaching Pesach preparations, and before we can blink, Pesach has arrived.

Preparations for Pesach can be quite onerous, leaving us anxiously awaiting seder night, if only to put an end to preparation. At that point, it is what it is. But in today’s world of multi-focusing and multi-tasking, where we must enact laws to stop doing 15 things at once (such as texting while driving), we should regain our focus around Pesach.

Pesach is a time of rejoicing and a recurring experience of redemption. There aren’t too many things in our lives to which we can attach such meaning. In terms of preparation, I advocate separating spring cleaning from Pesach preparation. Spring cleaning focuses on actual cleaning. It’s concerned with rearranging rooms and wardrobes in an “out with the old and in with the new” approach.  Pesach preparation has everything to do with understanding the things that weigh me down and how I can rid myself of them, while feeling more and more liberated as I go. I’m not concerned with cleaning, which addresses the past mess, as much as I’m concerned with preparing, which addresses what’s coming in the future.

The Shabbat after Purim is called Shabbat Parah. Its Torah portion deals with the ritual of the red heifer, which is performed when someone has been classified as “tameh met,” ritually impure due to contact with a dead body. It’s the most drastic of all ritual impurities, and it prohibits that person from participating in the Pesach sacrifice or ritual. The only way to rid oneself of this ritual impurity is through the unusual red heifer ritual.

Interestingly, in the book of Numbers, when Moses reminds the Israelites that Pesach is approaching and that they need to begin their preparations, a group of men approaches him with an unusual question. They’re ritually impure due to contact with a dead body and thus not able to participate in either the preparations or the actual Pesach sacrifice that the rest of the nation is involved with. They ask Moses why they should be deprived of this privilege.

Their very question speaks volumes to us. It wasn’t any easier in the ancient world to prepare for Pesach than it is in the modern world. Remember that as Israelites in the wilderness, they didn’t have non-Jews to sell their chametz to. They had to actually get rid of it. And yet the general view was that preparing for Pesach is a privilege and sitting together for a ritual of redemption is a privilege.

At times we can become overwhelmed with the amount of work involved in preparing for Pesach. We need to remind ourselves that the ancient Israelites considered it a privilege and argued to be included. The midrash teaches us that the one who loves commandments will never be satisfied with commandments. They are our vehicle of growth, and having them in our lives is indeed a privilege.

Rachael Turkienicz is director of Rachaelscentre.org.

 

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