By Rabbi Betsy Forester
With the festivities of Purim just past, Jews worldwide now set their sights on Pesach (Passover). We are thinking about the foods we will need, the house cleaning we would like to accomplish, and the Seder experiences we hope to celebrate.
Our weekly Torah readings help coax us into a preparation mindset. This coming Shabbat, we add a special Torah reading to remind ourselves that it is time to consider all of the ways we need to prepare to celebrate the Season of our Liberation.
I am more moved, though, by what we can learn about preparation from our regular, weekly Torah portion. This week, we read of the sin of the Golden Calf. When Moses sees the people worshipping the Calf, he hurls the Tablets of the Law from his hands, shattering them on the ground below. In an imaginative reading, our sages suggest that when Moses sees the people’s apostasy, the letters inscribed on the tablets fly away. The plain tablets are useless now, and no doubt heavy, so Moses casts them away.
The S’fat Emet suggests that God incised the tablets to teach us that Torah must be inscribed on our hearts: “Only as the light of Torah is engraved and incised on the hearts of Israel are the letters incised on the tablets as well.” We must receive Torah in order for Torah to hold value in our world.
One important part of our preparations for Pesach is the internal work we do between now and the first Seder. It is time to begin to open our hearts to see how we have been lifted up in our own lives over and over again, and to find in our hearts the possibility that we can be lifted even higher--to see the redemption that has brought us this far in our lives and grasp the hope of flourishing yet to come.
Now is the time to take out your Haggadah. Seriously, it is. If you don’t have one, this is a good time to obtain one in print or online. This is when we take the first, tentative peek. I suggest that you find the old favorite, “Dayyeinu,” and consider the first line: “How many good ways has God lifted us up!” With the magnanimity of the past year’s losses, one easily could balk at such a question. Read the next line, then: “If God had only brought us out of Egypt, but not destroyed the pursuing Egyptians, it would have been enough.” Suddenly we realize: It would not have been enough to have been led out of Egypt, only to have been destroyed by a pursuing army! Yet, leaving Egypt would have been a miraculous elevation beyond our wildest dreams, and in that sense, it would have been enough.
Each step, each elevation, takes us to the next. With all of the destructions of the past year acknowledged, might we pause and see if we can trace a path of goodness, liberation, and elevation through the wilderness of our lives, and even through the fraught, past year? We have suffered, and we also have grown. We have lost much, and we have also found gratitude in unexpected places. Doing this work is one way to prepare ourselves to receive the liberation that comes to us at Pesach.
Wishing you a journey of helpful reflection and preparation!
Rabbi Betsy Forester joined Beth Israel Center as their spiritual leader in 2018. She is a master teacher and religious leader skilled at helping people build meaningful lives through transformative Jewish experiences rich in authenticity, depth, empowerment, intellectual rigor, sacredness, and joy.