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Preparing for Holiness
What is the strangest place you cleaned for Passover?
What is the strangest thing you found while cleaning for Passover?
Last week the Kotel (Western Wall) was cleaned for Passover. There was no soft scrub or tin foil involved. Rather the Kotel gets cleaned before Passover of the notes that get stuffed into the cracks of the wall by the millions of people who visit it every year. Didn’t you wonder how there seemed to be an unlimited amount of space for notes? Did you think that was part of the magic of the kotel?
To make way for new notes, the management of the kotel removes the notes every year before Pesah and the notes are then taken to a special site on Har HaZeitim, the Mount of Olives cemetery where they are stored. The notes are removed with special wooden poles that have been dipped in the mikvah, the ritual bath, placed in plastic bags and then buried in a place overlooking the Wall from which they came.
Looking at the photos of the workers reaching into the crevices of the wall and pulling forth a waterfall of notes to God strikes me not as silly but as touching. A reminder that in our physical preparation for Passover there is a great deal of spiritual preparation as well and that they two are inextricably linked.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik famously said ein kedushah b’li hachanah – there is no holiness without preparation. This is an idea that lies at the heart of Judaism, and really at the heart of everything we intend to do well. (Review of Rabbi Gideon Rothstein, “As If We Were There”) To truly experience the kedushah, the sacredness that happens at Passover, we cannot just show up at the Seder table and expect to be awash in the magic of the moment. The sanctity of Pesah is enhanced or even best accessed by those who have toiled to prepare for it. For through that preparation, both physical and spiritual, we prepare ourselves for the experience of redemption.
Many of us are very accustomed to preparations. We were raised by mothers and fathers who taught us to always be prepared. We use the rest room even if we don’t really have to go. We don’t wait for the warning light to go one before we fill our cars with gasoline. We wear layers and pack extra underwear and socks. We charge our cell phones each night and buy salt before the first snow storm of the season. (“Always Be Prepared” by Rachel Eisen for Mayyim Hayyim) and we do all those things not only because we breathe easier when we are prepared, but also because that preparation is part of who we are. The preparation itself is as much a part of the ritual as the ritual itself. I’m one of those people who thinks planning a vacation is more fun than actually taking it.
In the case of Passover, and also other occasions on the Jewish festival cycle, planning for a mitzvah is also a mitzvah. Even in Egypt the first Passover didn’t just happen. The Torah records a command on the first of the month Nisan to begin preparations on the tenth of Nisan. That would have been Thursday and I know you began long before Thursday. The point being that it was only the period of advance preparation that facilitated the Israelite people leaving Egypt at the appropriate time.
In the case of preparing for Passover, the preparation is an end itself. Ein kedushah b’li hachanah – there is no holiness without preparation. We do the mitzvah of preparing for Pesah so that we might find the sacred in Pesah.
This weekend, even if you are not making a seder, even if you are not having a single guest, even if you don’t have to host or cook a single meal, find one small thing, or not so small thing, you can do to prepare for Passover. It could be reading a poem about spring or freedom. It could be cleaning out your pantry. It could be coming over and cleaning out my pantry. Whatever it is, know that you have participated in the mitzvah of hachanah and that you are ready to be redeemed.
Chag Kasher ve Sameyach!
Rabbi Wechsler has touched the lives of many members of our community through her intellect, warmth, compassion and commitment to the ideals of Conservative Judaism. As the first woman to serve as rabbi of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, her impact and accomplishments are demonstrated in our successful b’nei mitzvah, adult learning programs, gemilut hasadim efforts, and many learning and life cycle experiences. Her communal work includes service on the Executive Committee of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, the Grant Review Committee for the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated, and the Teacher Certification group of the Center for Jewish Education. She has published sermons and opinion articles in The American Rabbi, The Orchard, and the New York Jewish Week. Debi received her rabbinic ordination, as well as an M.A., from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City where she also served on the Board of Overseers of the Rabbinical School.