20 May 2015

How to Love Pesach

In the spirit of the Internet, here is my DIY guide to loving Pesach.


1. Identify the Quarry.
You can't love cleaning for chametz if you don't know what you're looking for. Call your friendly local halachic authority and find out what size and quality of chametz need to be out of your house by Pesach, rather than trying to “catch 'em all” when the pokemon in question are undefined. Know exactly what you're doing.

2. Put Your Ribbons in Glass Jars If It Makes You Happy.
Everyone says “Don't spring-clean!” and it's true that dirt is not chametz, Pesach-cleaning is not spring-cleaning, and the two should not be confused.
But Pesach-cleaning involves channeling the spring-cleaning instinct, not repressing it. So I say: start with spring-cleaning if that's what comes naturally. I started this year by rearranging ribbons on the sewing-shelf; we got to the kitchen cabinets eventually but every time I turned around I saw pretty ribbons in chromatic order and it felt... Pesachdik.

3. Appreciate that Love Is Born in Chaos.
Understand what the month of Adar is about.
Adar leads up to Nisan as Elul leads up to Tishrei. Pesach will not be all that it can be if you do not go through Adar first.
Adar is about chaos. Adar is about, I am so not in control of my life it's funny. Adar is about, Hashem is in control, not the king and not the vizier. Hashem.
Every Rosh Chodesh Adar something crazy pushes me into a corner so that I just have to throw my hands in the air and laugh. Will you will come into our school in ten minutes and extemporize teaching for four hours? The right answer is, No. But the righter answer is, Yes, and happy Adar to you, too.
Two weeks later, on Purim, we are so not on top of the situation that we can't even tell who people are by their clothes, and a good proportion of our social norms dissolve into one big happy day of giving food to everyone. If you try to maintain everyday order on Purim you'll short-circuit. It's a day when creation goes haywire.

Pesach flows naturally from Purim.

But suddenly people try to be in control again. Then they get frustrated and start wisecracking about how we give each other food for Purim just one month before all that food has to be cleaned out of every corner for Pesach.
What do you think, that G-d hates housekeeping? It's not an accident and it's not sabotage. While yes, you have to get all that chametz out, the very inefficiency of the arrangement pushes you to recognize that it's not about efficiency at all. It's not about having a clean house.

So, if not spring-cleaning, what is Pesach about?
It's about, Hashem came into Egypt suddenly to pull us out from nonexistence into existence and claim us as His own. The theme of the month is ahava, the love between G-d and the Jewish people. Pesach is the beginning of that relationship.
That relationship was formed in chaos. The feeling of not being ready is an essential part of Pesach. We threw the dough in the oven and ran.
No one said, “Wait a minute, G-d. This is too much chaos. I'd like to stay a slave in Egypt until my dough finishes rising.”
Lechtech acharai bamidbar be'eretz lo zarua, you followed me into the wilderness, into a place where the housekeeping was total chaos. Yeshuas Hashem k'heref ayin, it happened in the blink of an eye.
On Pesach we love G-d through chaos.
Just relax and enjoy it. You can get to places on Pesach that you can't get to the rest of the year. Make room for that.

4.  It's All about the Bottomless Supply of Chocolate.
A member of our community recently raised the question of how to explain the concept of chametz to her two-year-old.

My first thought was that before she switches her kitchen to Pesach mode, she could show the child how yeast produces bubbles (Loops like to cheer it on - “Eat, yeasties, eat!” - like Klara drilling Latin), and how those bubbles manifest in the finished loaf, but not in matzah.
But the truth is that when Loops was two, I didn't bother trying to explain chametz. It was all about look at these fancy pretty dishes with blooming irises on them, special for Pesach and here is your fancy new dress with pretty sparkly buttons, special for Pesach and here is matzah, special for Pesach. I hide all the things I want to buy her anyway in the closet for months and then give them to her special for Pesach.

Adults are big two-year-olds and the same principle applies.
In practice (says the halacha) this usually means that men buy meat and wine for themselves, dresses for their wives, and nuts and sweets for their children.

(My inner two-year-old also likes that the logo on the kosher-for-Passover seltzer bottles is the heroine from East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, which is my favorite fairy tale because it reminds me of Jewish history: the wife wandering the world with a candle in her hand looking for her polar bear husband.)

Childish pleasures are a real part of loving Pesach (thus codified in halacha) and not to be sneezed at.

5. Get a Handle on the Haggada.
The haggada is totally incomprehensible until you put in effort to understand it but then it unrolls and it seems obvious that each paragraph couldn't have been anything else. Apportion some time before Pesach to learn where it takes us and how.
Here is Rav Leuchter's explanation. (truffles truffles truffles)

Apart from that, the four cups correspond to the four stages of the exodus:
1. And I will take you out
2. And I will save you
3. And I will redeem you
4. And I will take you to me to be a nation

This isn't a number game, it's the progression the seder follows. In the course of the evening we relive the experience, starting with being slaves in Egypt, and ending with Hallel for having come out and then Nirtzah. On top of that there is a custom to stay up and recite the Song of Songs.

At the beginning of the seder we put away half the bread for later, “just in case”. By the end of the night, there is no more concern about “just in case”. We take out our reserve and eat it, before G-d, as a korban.

The seder is not about “each person comes out of his own personal Egypt” and it isn't necessary to go down that route to make the seder meaningful. It is about a historical, national experience. You were there.

To review:


1. Know exactly what you're cleaning for.
2. Start with spring-cleaning if that's what comes naturally...
3. ...BUT recognize that Pesach is about ahava, not spring-cleaning.
4. Please your inner two-year-old. This is halacha.
5. Get up an understanding of where the seder takes us and how.

Happy Pesaching!

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