My Favorite Time of The Year
This week, our world will be shrinking.
This is not a deep or philosophical statement. It has nothing to do with current events or geopolitics. It's all about Pesach, and where we are not allowed to be.
In a very real way, spaces and places in our homes that are usually fair game will soon become out of bounds. The living room used to be a fun place to munch on a chewy bar but not any more! Invisible boundaries will quickly materialize; that which was normal yesterday, will become strictly off-limits.
Our kids do not enjoy this process. “Don't touch that! No food in that room! Pasta gets eaten outside!”
Most upsetting for our children is the steadily depleting supply of snacks – which will not be replenished until after Pesach. Last year, two days before pesach, one of my children opened the pantry to find nothing of interest, other than raisins (Gasp!). It was a tough day in the Blumenthal home.
Aside from the first-world-problems that our children are subjected to, we, as their parents, will be having a challenging week as well.
On a practical level, the demands of cleaning, kashering and cooking require meticulous attention, list, plans and hours of time. Historically, there is no other week in all of Halachik literature that is more animated.
Of course, the questions that arise most commonly in our generation are not always the same as those that came up in centuries past, but they are by no means less taxing or significant.
It is true, that most of us are not milling our own flour, drawing our own water and baking our own matzah. Then again, most of us have far larger homes than our ancestors. We have far more to clean and kasher, and our appliances and materials are far more complicated.
Even for those who are traveling for Pesach, there are complications: When to search for chametz? When to sell chametz? What foods to bring along? Which time zone will I be in?
Food today is more confusing than ever before. Generations ago, sugar was sugar and flour was flour. Today, even the products that were once simple to understand, now require advanced degrees in chemistry, and a deep understanding of the global supply chain.
For those that have medically specific diets, the questions are innumerable, and the solutions are complex. For so many, this is a week of sleep deprivation, manual labor and exorbitant grocery bills.
Despite all of this, as a Rabbi, this week is my favorite week of the year, and I'd like to share the reasons why – perhaps it will give you some Chizuk for the crazy week ahead.
1. Generosity and Empathy is Everywhere
Ahavas Yisroel is at its highest this week. We share the simple understanding that everyone is dealing with Pesach related pressure. This knowledge opens the wellsprings of empathy, that allows us the space to reach out with generosity to those who need a hand. I love getting the phone calls and texts: “Rabbi, how can I help? Who can I help?”
The Berdichever notes that Rosh Chodesh Nisan is listed as a Yom HaDin – a day of Judgment. What is the judgement of Nisan, how is this different from Tishrei? He explains:
On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem judges to see if the world loves Him and fears Him. In Nisan however, Hashem judges each and every person to determine their love the Jewish people. (For this reason, Paroah met his downfall in this month.)
To those who want to help: Don't be afraid to offer. You are needed! To those who are looking for assistance – from financial pressure, to emergency recipe advice and ingredients – there is no shame in reaching out. Your friends, neighbors and community want to be there for you.
2. Everyone Wants to Do What's Right
There is a misnomer in our communities that Modern Orthodox Jews are not as meticulous in our mitzvah observance as we know we should be. Of course, I will not deny that many of us (myself included) have much work to do in many areas of our lives, but this week is a refreshing counter to that mistaken trope.
This week, we are all trying to do the right thing. Avodas Hashem is gorgeously tangible, Yiras Shamayim is at an all time high, and I am constantly impressed by the level of Dikduk in Mitzvos that we are trying to achieve. In so many ways, Pesach brings out our best Halachik selves.
3. Our Work is Heavy, but Our Emotions are High
The Yamim Noraim season is another time of Jewish intensity. But while Tishri arrives with mountains of guilt and unrealized potential, Nisan carries little of that baggage. The goal of Pesach, after all, is to celebrate.
Pesach represents the deep truth that hard work and Avodas Hashem is not antithetical to genuine Simchas HaChaim. Indeed, the challenges of preparing for Pesach, can even enhance the feelings of fulfillment when we arrive at the Seder. It's a lesson that we can apply to many other areas of our Yiddishkeit and personal growth.
4. Touching the Pulse of Jewish History
Perhaps the thing I love most about this week is the opportunity to connect my friends, family and community to generations of Talmud Torah.
I remember the first time I opened a Shulchan Aruch to learn it for real. I was eighteen at the time, learning in Kerem B'Yavneh. As I made my way through the texts, I felt like I was touching the pulse of Jewish History. On any given page of Shulchan Aruch there is a host of conversations, spanning centuries and continents, all talking about my pot of chicken soup or your knife and cutting board.
At a first gloss, these seem like the little things in life. But it's always the little things that add up to a substantive and fulfilling existence. These details define as people, as Jews, as connected to Hashem.
For these little details hundreds of our greatest geniuses spent their lives committed to balancing their deep love of the Jewish people, with a profound sense of Yiras Shamayim. Every word is weighed, every letter analyzed; all to ensure that the Psak rendered is our best understanding of Ratzon Hashem.
I have been blessed with this classic education in Talmud and Halacha. But our day-to-day lives today already account for most situations. And when greater issues arrive, they are broad enough to be outsourced. But this week, more than any other, I have the pleasure to share a small piece of the world of practical Halacha with so many Mevakshei Hashem in our community. Together, we discuss the details and eccentricities of lives, and the opportunities to perform mitzvos. It's unique and humbling to make these connections.
This week, more than any other, Klal Yisrael is rising from the dust of history. Every spare moment is taken up by mitzvos. It's exhausting, no doubt, but inspiring and beautful as well.
Hashem in His infinite wisdom insists that if we want to get out of Mitzraim, we all need to get involved: בִּנְעָרֵינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵינוּ נֵלֵךְ בְּבָנֵינוּ וּבִבְנוֹתֵנוּ... נֵלֵךְ כִּי חַג ה׳ לָנוּ – With our young and old ones we will go, with our sons and daughters we will go, for tomorrow is our Festival with Hashem.
Hashem should help us to arrive in good health, and better spirits, in love and gratitude.