From Slavery to Freedom

We have entered the month of Nissan, and the two week manic countdown to Pesach has begun.  If the blogging on this site is less regular than usual for the next two weeks it is because we will be shlepping, scrubbing, kvetching over the cost of kosher goods, and watching our children become automatic chametz dispensers in those areas of the house that have been fully quarantined. 

I read a well intentioned piece of commentary by Aish HaTorah, that was sending the message to enjoy the chag and not be burdened.  A well organised preparation can assist.  The practicalities of the advice were however more than slightly utopian, and somewhat amusing to my better half:  “here’s one last tip: Pretend that the holiday starts a day earlier. Prepare your home as usual and enjoy a low-key day before Yom Tov. Plan a morning outing with your family and rest in the afternoon for the late night ahead. You can even arrange for a neighbor to drop in and take a family picture, wearing your Yom Tov clothes in front of your beautifully set Seder table. Your whole family will feel refreshed, relaxed, and ready for the best Pesach holiday ever.”

Unfortunately the sheer amount of preparation hardly makes this advice practical.  But the one and only advantage of a Moitze Shabbat Seder is that we do in fact have some wind down time before the big wind up. 

I know a number of people who have commenced their Pesach cleaning and provisioning today.  I have also noticed something of a somewhat mean spirited approach by some people to their work.  I’d like to address this in a communal sense. 

Firstly, Pesach is not all about the chopped liver and matza balls, a few jokes about the plagues, and a skip through the Haggadah.  To take out of the festival you have to put in.  I feel sorry for those people who drive to their relatives on Yom Tov, park their car over the newly planted rosebushes on the verge, fress a little, and then head home to shmutz and complain about how meshugga frum their in-laws family is.  How can one possibly appreciate the effort that goes into putting a seder meal on the table if they have not had to kasher their kalim, clear out their chametz, and contemplate the deep spiritual significance of the journey from slavery to freedom, from family to nationhood, from exile to redemption?

Then their is the other end of the scale.  Those who are so frum that the water and toilet paper for Pesach has a chametz free hashgacha, but whose attititude towards chag hamatzos lacks any form of interpersonal experience, humility in communication, or derech eretz in demeanor. 

As we enter the stressful days of approach where will will be working hard both professionally and in the home, here is my reminder about the care that must be exercised during this period. 

Firstly, community is a two way process.  Don’t expect to take without giving.  If you want to post a message to a discussion group about where to buy eggs, or fish, or other interesting provisions, don’t just ask where the best place is.  Also offer to collect on behalf of others, so that they may be spared a trip.  Give a little Tzedaka to assist those who cannot afford Seder.  Do a few extra mitzvot to help others in their preparation for Chag.

Secondly, don’t get too reliant.  Don’t expect every last product in your cookbook to be on the shelf, and don’t take for granted that facilities like KAWA fish shomering, Mikveh dunking, communal agalah, Bnei Akiva BBQ, and all the other luxuries that assist us to be ready just happen by themselves.  Some appreciation is good.  Demanding flexibility to suit your own timetable is poor taste when people are giving of their resources at this time of year.  There was a time not so long ago when matza, meal and wine were the only commercial provisions available for Pesach.  Everything else was prepared in the home, and all the kashering was left to the household.  We should not forget that families in Perth made do, and appreciated the basic simplicity of Pesach in a way that perhaps no longer exists.  

Finally, Pesach is for the family, not the individual.  Involve everyone, and don’t lose sight of the reason why we put in the effort to be super-kosher for a week.  Its not so we can get on each others nerves.  When you get tested or testy, show some character and realise that controlling your own temperament is an important personal test of will.  When the dog bites into a bag of breadcrumbs, and drags it through the ready prepared dining area, how will you respond?  Will you be a tzaddik, remain calm, learn from the experience and start over?  Or will you be driving Fido to the dog pound for some disciplinary training?

Pesach itself is a very important time.  In some ways, the lead up to Pesach is even more important, as this is the time of year that we show ourselves and those around us what it is we are truely made of.