Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pesach, the Holiday of Freedom?

I had borrowed a vacuum cleaner from a neighbor and was unlocking my apartment when a lady wished me a Happy Passover and said - holiday of "freedom" right?! Passover cleaning does not rank high on my "fun" meter (and obviously not hers either).

That being said, it is true that Passover is a labor intensive holiday - it requires more elbow grease than any other holiday on the Jewish calendar. But what is it that we're cleaning for? Chametz. Chametz is not dirt. Chametz is the stuff that goes into our bread, cookies and pasta. It's the leavening - the stuff that makes bread rise.

During the holiday of Passover we not allowed to have chametz in our possession. We are not only supposed to get rid of our physical chametz, but also our spiritual chametz.

At this point we have to examine ourselves. Who are we? What are our priorities? What drives us? Ourselves or others? What is our spiritual chametz?

Let's look at the concept of freedom. What is freedom? Is it the ability to do whatever you want without restriction? No, that would be chaos. What's interesting is that Pesach - the holiday of "freedom" is followed seven weeks later by Shavuot, the holiday of the Giving of the Torah. Our rule book. G-d took us out of Egypt to give us the Torah. G-d gave us "freedom" in order to become a Holy Nation, the Nation of G-d.

The holiday of Passover is one of introspection, not just physical work. The physical work removing the chametz from our surroundings is supposed to be the reflection of the chametz we are removing from our spiritual beings. We should look at our surroundings - not only for physical chametz, but also to see who we are friends with, what we do for fun, what we do to "kill time" - are these people/activities those that build us as G-dly people, or bring us down?

We have two souls. The animal soul - enjoys the physicality of the world around us and the G-dly soul - the part that enjoys doing good deeds.

Our job is to elevate the animal soul - not to destroy it. We elevate it by doing physical activities for spiritual purposes. Eating can be a spiritual activity, if we remember that food is there to help us stay strong to do mitzvot and G-dly things - like helping others. Working out can be a spiritual activity, if we remember that it's important to be healthy - since we can do mitzvot easier when we keep in shape. Cleaning for Passover can also a spiritual activity if we remember what Pesach is about.

Passover is the Holiday of Freedom. Not unrestricted freedom, that leads to destruction. The Freedom of Passover is the freedom to be G-d's People. We know we have only One to answer to. When we realize that we only have G-d to answer to - we become free from all the outside influences that bring us down and away from G-dliness. We are looking to become better people - to improve ourselves and the world around us.

Passover is the first step on our way to Shavuot and receiving the Torah. We are getting rid of those things that lead us away from spiritual things. But we cannot leave a vacuum - once we remove what isn't good for us we must move on to replace those things with activities and friends that will point us in the right direction. We are on our way to receiving the Torah.

Between the holiday of Passover and Shavuot we take a few minutes on Saturday/Shabbat afternoons to read a chapter of Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers. This is a short book focusing on ethical matters.

Whether you pick this book up or another Jewish book - I sincerely ask everyone out there to examine themselves closely to see how we can all do better. Each mitzvah brings us closer to G-d and brings the world that much closer to the coming of Mashiach. This is the holiday of Pesach - the original redemption. May this year bring us the final redemption - and the end of suffering around the world.

For more information:
Passover at Aish HaTorah

Passover at Chabad Lubavitch