1 Year Anniversary!
Get Ready for Passover
By my count, save for a few weeks due to vacation, the high holy days, and Thanksgiving, we’re coming up on a full year of pieces here. First off, thank you for reading. Whether you’ve been in from the beginning or you just joined, I do not take your being here for granted. It means a lot to me to know you’re out there reading this. Here’s hoping for many more years of writing, learning, and reading together. Now, on to this week’s post!
I should’ve known that I was on my way to a life as a Jewish professional when Shabbat Ha’gadol became one of my favorite rituals growing up. Although its origins are up for debate, it is the name of the Shabbat that immediately precedes Passover. It is a custom on this Shabbat’s afternoon to continue preparation for the sedarim by learning through a part of the maggid section.
For me, this was a sacred time with my dad. We would head to his room and crack open our favorite haggadot and see what new gems we might unearth. Perhaps there may have been some years during my teens where my desire waned, but the memories I have are rich and vivid.
There is, of course, all sorts of physical prep work that many of us find ourselves in now. We’re cooking, cleaning, kashering, re-cleaning, and shopping countless times. Pesach is also a time for intellectual and spiritual preparation. That is what Shabbat Hagadol offers us.
In that vein, I wanted to share three pieces with some prompts that you could use to get ready for your own Pesach. If you’re able to carve out space on this Shabbat, great! If not, try to find some time in the week ahead to meditate on these thoughts, take some notes, and if you’re comfortable, share some of your answers back with me. You’re also welcome to bring them to your own seder!
On Avadim Hayinu, that prayer that talks about how we were once slaves in Egypt, the Sfat Emet1 wonders why it says “we” and not “they?” After all, we in the modern world didn’t go through what the ancient Israelites went through. He answers that just as we believe that all Jewish souls were present at revelation at Mt. Sinai, so too was every Jewish soul enslaved in Egypt. That also means that every Jew also has the ability to find redemption as the ancient Israelites did. This year, what do you need to be redeemed from? Is it something internal or external? Can you actively find time to name that now and begin the work on it?
Right after “v’hi she’amdah,” we are told to “go out and learn what Lavan the Aramean did to our forefather…” Rabbi Aharon of Karlin2 wonders why the text says “go out and learn” as opposed to “come and learn”? He answers that when one arrives to learn, one has to leave worldly matters behind in order to really learn something. You have to go out from something. So, this week, take stock of what you feel is encumbering your mind. Then, on Friday of the seder, make a list and burn it with your chametz. See if it opens up your seder experience.
Noted Torah scholar Aviva Gottleib Zornberg highlights that the word used to describe the haste with which the Israelites left Egpyt, hipazon, reflects an explosive spontaneity. Leaving Egypt at that speed and eating the paschal lamb at that pace has the power to break us open and transform a known reality. Spontaneity is the key to growth. We all strive for intentionality and living methodically but we could also use more of this hipazon. Pick an area of your life where you could try to be more spontaneous. As you try it out, see if it brings up any changes for you overall.
As you mark this Shabbat Hagadol, I invite you to sit with the haggadah. If these questions don’t work for you, read through the text and see what comes up. As much as it is a communal celebration, exodus and redemption are also part of a deeply personal journey. Sending wishes for a meaningful and joyous Pesach.
Happy Weekend and Shabbat Shalom!
Yehuda Aryeh Leib Altar-19th Century Poland
19th Century Northwest Russia