Sunday, March 10, 2013

Getting Ready for Pesach


How many of you have ever forgotten a birthday or an anniversary? 

There’s an app for that.

Most phones these days will remember your loved ones’ birthdays and anniversaries and remind you to say happy birthday. You can even ask for a reminder a week in advance, giving yourself time to write a card or buy a gift.

This Shabbat, Shabbat HaHodesh, is the equivalent of that email reminding you that you have a meeting.

FYI: the meeting is in two weeks, and you’ll need plenty of apples, nuts and wine.

Yes, Shabbat HaHodesh reminds us that we need to get ready for Pesach, but as Reform Jews we may not be as concerned with the Pesach halacha – the laws surrounding Pesach – as we should be about other things.

Most of us are not getting out the second set of dishes and kashering the oven. Instead, we begin a different type of preparation. Well, we do IF we get the reminder. And since tonight is the start of the month of Nisan, the alarm has just gone off.

That is not to say that we are not also cleaning out our cabinets and looking for the best deal on matzah, but I am suggesting that we take this announcement of the new month as a reminder that we need to prepare – a reminder that Pesach is only two weeks away.

But what, then, does Pesach remind us of? When we retell the Pesach story we are reminded that we truly became a people only after we were freed from slavery. The collective memory of that slavery inspires us to work for freedom of people everywhere. We have two more weeks to get ready to retell our story so that when we reenact our liberation from Egypt, we can honestly say that we are working toward freedom for everyone, everywhere. So that when you sit down at your seder in two weeks you will be actively working towards freedom.

And while we may not be forced to labor on cities in Ancient Egypt, there are many ways that we seek freedom from slavery.

There is personal enslavement. We can spend the next two weeks reflecting on the things that enslave us: bad habits that make us slaves to our weaknesses, electronic devices that enslave us to our work and email even when we truly need the rest, stagnation that enslaves us to our fears, holding us back from meaningful change.

We have two weeks to begin to make those changes, the small steps that we can take toward personal freedom from habits and fear that hinder our own journey. Moses chose to feel enslaved by his speech impediment, but God insisted that he speak to Pharaoh and the Jewish people anyway. How often do we make ourselves slaves to self doubt and negativity? 

Shabbat HaHodesh reminds us that we have yet another chance to start over, to begin to make the changes we want in our lives — so that we are on our way to a more personal sense of freedom on Pesach.

But we can also take real and meaningful steps to end slavery for others. In this country there are people enslaved by poverty. There are families enslaved by hunger and overwhelming medical bills. People enslaved by illness. 

We can take positive action. We can begin to take steps to lead others to freedom. While we are shopping for our Pesach foods we can fill a grocery bag for SOVA or another food bank. We can make a donation to Mazon, knowing that we can’t really invite all of the wandering and hungry to our dinner table, but we can make a donation to organizations that are able to.

There are people enslaved by relationships that are fraught with domestic violence. This year our TAS High students took steps toward ending domestic violence in teen relationships by creating a Facebook page for other teenagers directing them to resources about domestic violence. By creating a safe space specifically for teenagers –  created by teenagers – they have helped lead others to freedom from violent relationships.

Women in the Sudan and Congo are slaves to terror, unable to collect firewood or clean water without fear of violence. Jewish World Watch has taken the mission to bring freedom to people from all over the world. It is a slow process, one only has to read the news to see how many people live in constant fear for their lives, people who are not free to live their lives and raise their children in peace, and yet, Jewish World Watch reminds us that we are not free to ignore the problem just because it is too big to solve easily. Ending slavery worldwide is huge; the scope of human suffering is almost to large to comprehend and it would be easy to not do anything at all because each one of us can only make a small impact. The story of the Exodus reminds us that together we are powerful, and that each small part that we do together adds up to real and visible change. 

Our synagogue helps support the work of Jewish World Watch when we participate in the Los Angeles Jewish World Watch Walk in April. Shabbat Hahodesh reminds us that Pesach is coming and that we need to get ready. Now is the time to sign up with the TAS team and to commit to supporting the work of Jewish World Watch, the kind of work that brings solar cookers to women so they are free to cook for their families, the kind of work that genuinely makes a difference one person at a time and the kind of work that we you can participate in even from here, so that at your seder you will know that you are not just remembering what it is like to be a slave, you are actively working to end slavery. 

We all have moments that define our lives, where our lives split into before and after.
And we tell our stories over and over. We tell the stories of the things and people that shape us. We tell the stories of how we met our best friends, we tell the story of our wedding day, we tell the story of when our children were born, we tell the stories of the trips that changed our perspective on the world and we tell the stories about how we handle tragedy, we tell the stories of battling cancer, of finding our way after a loss, of changing jobs unexpectedly and of coming to terms with a difficult diagnosis. We tell the stories of the moments that change us. 

We don’t just tell the stories — we also relive certain stories, drive by places that matter, revisit where we were when events happened: that’s where we spent our first date, it used to be a Casa de Burger — some stories are so important that we reenact them every year, much like how a couple will reenact their first date, going back to eat at the same restaurant on an anniversary or return to their honeymoon spot on a trip.

For us, the collective us, the Jewish people, that moment is the Exodus, the story we tell over and over at Pesach. 

Shabbat Hahodesh is the reminder that the anniversary of our birth as a people is coming soon and we need to get ready. Yes, we need to get our homes and kitchens ready, but we also need to get our souls ready, we need to start now to free ourselves from the things that enslave us and we need to start now to work on the things that enslave all people so that when we sit down at our seders and say “I once was a slave in Egypt”  that it is not just reenacting a story, but that we are currently acting to bring freedom to everyone.

We join together to announce the new month, to remind ourselves and each other that it is time to prepare.

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