Ahh … Passover:
• Chag HaMatzot — The Festival of Matzah
• Chag HaPesach — The Festival of the Passover Offering
• Chag HaAviv — The Spring Festival
• Z’man Cheiruteinu — The Time of Our Freedom
Z’man Cheiruteinu — The Time of Our Freedom. This is freedom? Cleaning out closets … scrubbing out the pantry … carrying dishes back and forth from one corner to another. More time is spent preparing for this holiday than we commit to observing it. What is going on?
This is a very special time for us; personally, as families and as the congregations/communities that we are. Six months ago we gathered to observe the beginning of the New Year, to reaffirm our commitment to Judaism and Jewish living. During the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, we endeavored to return to the path God has shown us as individuals. Now, on Passover, we step forward into the future along that path as a people.
One of the elements of this festival that makes it so meaningful is how, even as we celebrate in our homes and/or small clusters, we feel ourselves bound to each and every other Jew. There is something “cosmic” to our Seder. We can feel the presence of every generation sharing the same hopes and dreams and prayers as we do … and, because of their presence, in spite of the “empty chairs” that suddenly find their way around our tables every year, we find that much more inspiration in everything we do.
This is freedom? You bet!
• It is freedom from everything that holds us back.
• It is freedom to begin becoming everything we hope and pray and dream we can.
• It is freedom to reconnect and recommit to being the people that we are destined to be: plain and simply, Jews.
Along with being Z’man Cheiruteinu, this festival is also known as Chag HaMatzot. Change a few vowels and we read Chag HaMitzvot: The Festival of the Commandments. Six months ago, as we were gathered in our sanctuary to greet the beginning of what was then the New Year, we at Congregation Anshei Israel took that opportunity to engage in what I called a “Mitzvah Challenge.” I asked that we try to expand our engagement in Living Judaism by strengthening our observance of a particular mitzvah or doing something that we had not yet made part of our observance. The categories I presented were kashrut, Shabbat and tzedakah (righteous giving) — or, as Madeline Friedman, our president, quickly pointed out: “Eat, Pray, Love.” Among the responses, I found that 6 percent committed themselves to strengthening their observance of kashrut, 44 percent to Shabbat, and 50 percent to tzedakah (we are a very loving congregation). Where would you be if you had done the same? We can make our lives everything we want them to be. In the end, is that not what Passover is about in the first place, reminding us of the framework of that “everything” (the mitzvot) and the freedom to be the Jews that we are destined to be?
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” Janis Joplin sang. Or, is freedom the opportunity to gain that much more? It may take some effort. But doesn’t anything of value? Remember, it is never too late to begin!
Best wishes for a very healthy, happy and kosher Pesach to you and yours. Hag Sameach.