I know that some of you may be wondering what planet I live on, but to me Pesach is around the corner. To you it may be weeks away, and feel like you don’t really have to think about it quite yet. The pre-Pesach feeling is just in the air here in Yerushalaim. The OCD tendencies that lurk under the surface of so many homemakers are beginning to awaken within me. I found myself “looking for chometz” by taking down every half- finished manuscript, every dusty photo album and my mini-gallery of pictures that have beautiful frames but will never make it to the walls. While I didn’t find any leavened items (surprise surprise), I had the good feeling of being able to say, “I did a closet”.
There is something else there too. Inside I know that Pesach is the beginning of being redeemed. The word “redeemed” is really tricky. Like “salvation” it manages to sound archaic without sounding poetic. What does it really mean? Maharal says it is the ability to go back to being your truest self. This can take place in your personal life, when you decide that you have had enough of wearing mask after mask. You don’t want to define yourself as successful, brilliant, gorgeous, or even Very Frum. You want to figure out who you really are, and embrace what you discover. Use erev Pesach to head towards redemption. Cut out the nonsense. Be yourself. This can be dangerous. The word “self” can easily be kidnapped, so that even you think that your mask is your face. The first step in figuring out who you are is easy. Try to go back to thinking about how much Hashem gave you. His will is what gave you the specific backdrop for your specific life. He gave you the inner capacity to be who you are today.
Redemption also has a national component. The Jewish people’s unique history opens the door for us to have a collective definition that goes beyond having a common language land or even culture. What you have as an individual and as part of the Jewish people is the ability to let Hashem and His will be with you no matter who you are, and no matter where you find yourself. Pesach did this for us the first time. If you were there, you would have seen unbelievable miracles, in which it was clear that the One who you don’t see, sees you; differentiates between you and your Egyptian neighbor; creates nature anew every day, with laws that He will break for your people.
One of the first steps in being redeemed is being willing to feel connected to the rest of the Tribe. Last week’s Parshah discussed the fate of those who followed the story of the Jews to Egypt. You can feel what the oppression meant, grasp what standing before Hashem on Mount Sinai meant, but then you can be found still asking a serious question. The name of the question is “Now what? How can I use all of this information? Where do I begin? ”
One answer is that you can stop seeing yourself as an island in the great sea. You are part of the Jewish People. In order to discover who you are, and who you can be, you have to acknowledge that your being whole depends ironically in seeing yourself as half. Every Jew had to contribute a half shekel to be counted. You will never discover what you have, until you know how to give, and simultaneously to receive. If you see yourself as whole, needing nothing and receiving nothing, you aren’t part of anything bigger than yourself. What does this look like when it happens?
I came across a group of people who call themselves “Misamchim”, which means people who make others happy. They are a rather informal group who visit patients in the various hospitals (including mental facilities) They may play some music, maybe tell a story, and maybe just listen. I was visiting my friend Marcy at the French Hospice. There are no meetings, rules, or hierarchy. Just being there for other Jews is what it’s about. What I liked the most about the volunteers who I met was how clearly they knew themselves, what they can give, where they can be, and how much they receive from the patients.
In this coming week’s Parshah, Vayakhel and Pekudei, you have a listing of what the people contributed towards building the sanctuary in the desert. Each person had to figure out what they can give, and at the same time aim their gifts towards building something that was much bigger and more inclusive. They were so free! No ego. No status signs. No masks.
Only Hashem knows who you can be, and how the self that is inside you can be expressed without getting lost in the forest of ego and illusion.
Shabbos gives you a self that is dedicated, real, and focused. Six days are about who you are, what you can give and take. One day is about what it all means, what the bigger picture is about. You can’t see the picture when you are in the picture. Shabbos lets you move beyond the limitations that being in the picture force on you whether you feel it or not.
I will be travelling to Poland for this coming Shabbos. No place is less holy. No place is more like ancient Egypt. I was there before, and the worst memory was of how beautiful and cosmopolitan Warsaw is. How near the camps were to where normal people live.
It wants me long for redemption for me, and for all of us.
PS NOW yes NOW is the time to think about where you will be for the seder!!!