Purim to Passover: Bring on the Shine! By Lauren Shaps
Hey to the Chevra,
Last week, we celebrated Purim, and now, we begin our pre-Passover panic. We are frantically trying to eat up all the carbs delivered with our mishloach manot (Purim gifts). Meantime, the shelves in our local grocery store are filling with Pesach products, and we are already complaining about what we can and cannot get, and how much it will all cost this year.
Today, as I was driving home from that very grocery store, I thought about the connection between Purim and Passover. Is it coincidental that they occur one month apart in the calendar year? Are they two separate events with very different messages that took place in two very different countries 950 years apart, or are there some themes that develop as we move from holiday to holiday?
In the land of Israel, and for those of us in more northern climates, Purim is the end of winter. It is cold, and precipitation, whether rain or snow, is still abundant. The days are only just starting to feel longer after the dark and cold of winter. Esther is referred to in the Talmud as Ayelet haShachar (the first morning light). When does the first light appear? Only after the deepest darkness of night. So, too, that period of time in Persia was dark and it was difficult to see the hand of G-d working behind the scenes. The miracles of Purim were hidden within the seemingly natural course of events. One could choose to believe in G-d or choose otherwise. How appropriate that we celebrate a holiday that recognizes darkness, and the appearance of the first morning light, at the very time when darkness is finally beginning to diminish. How meaningful that we celebrate a holiday that reminds us of the hand of G-d hidden within history and nature, at the very time when the ground (at least here) is covered with snow, when the grass is brown, the trees bare. A person experiencing the cycle of nature for the first time might think that all is lost, dead, finished, never to return.
But, that first morning light grows brighter and our Yom Tov of Pesach signals the birth of Spring. The snow melts, the rain stops, the sun shines, the bulbs blossom. We open our windows, clean up our homes and our souls. Just when we thought all might be dead forever, we are greeted with the birth of baby animals, the rebirth of plant life and the birth of our nation, the Jewish people.
Every Jewish holiday is more than a commemoration of a past event. Each has a specific message to deliver, lessons to teach. Perhaps the first step for Passover preparation is to take ourselves out of hibernation. If Purim is a holiday where spirituality is hidden within the physical, Pesach is the holiday that reminds us of times when miracles were open and clearly evident to all who wished to see them. When snow covers the ground, it is hard to believe that life exists beneath it. When spring arrives and my bulbs bloom, I am reminded of how miraculous the cycle of the seasons is. We are energized by the warmth, the sunshine, the return of birds to our bushes, children to the parks, cyclists to the streets. With spring comes renewed energy and excitement for life.
It is easy to focus that energy and excitement on all of the hard work necessary to prepare for Passover. For many of us, matzah on the store shelves is the immediate trigger for spring cleaning. Closets get emptied and old clothes are given away. We sort and dust and mop, and by the time Passover arrives, we feel less burdened. Exhausted, yes, but somehow freer. Of course, any rabbi worth his salary would tell you that Pesach preparations should not be confused with Spring cleaning. It's OK to ignore the cluttered closets and piles of paper that need to be sorted, and filed as long as our homes and our heads are chometz-free.
Our rabbis teach that chometz, which comes from the process of dough being left to rise, represents our puffed up egos. When we rid our homes and menus of chometz, we are reminded of the importance of keeping our egos intact. It is not always "all about me." Just as I should clean my home, I should also give myself a good, fresh look. Just as there is growth in the world, birth and renewal, this is an opportune time for me to ask myself about my own rejuvenation. Ideally, we should approach each day as a chance to be a better, fresher, newer person. Come Spring and Passover, I can take a fresh look at myself in the newly polished mirror.
Back in the fall, prior to the High Holidays, I wrote about having the big picture and then working slowly over time to fill in the pixels. Spring and Passover give us the opportunity to take out that picture and ask ourselves how we are doing. We are midway through the year. Did the cold and the dark provide excuses for inaction, complacency, couch-potatoism? Just as my kitchen needs a good cleansing, perhaps so does my mouth, my mind, my psyche. Or maybe over the winter, I have grown in ways unexpected. Just as my bulbs are buried underground, long forgotten but actively preparing to make their appearance come Spring, so, too, I may have used these months of hibernation to recharge my batteries. I may have worked to achieve more internal but less visible growth. Perhaps I have worked on developing qualities like patience, humility, contentment, gratitude. I may have tried out daily prayer or blessings before eating or only buying kosher food.
In just a few weeks, we will sit down together with family and friends to the Passover Seder. Our gardens, our homes, our tables will sparkle. And, what about our souls? My guess is that with a little bit of polish, we, too, will shine.
Lauren Shaps is a JWRP City Leader and full-time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps, and they are blessed with five children.