Tuesday, April 07, 2015

It's not just about the matzah . . .

היום שלשים ימים בעמר
Today is three days of the omer
תפארת שבחסד
A day of compassion in a week of loving kindness

Now that the seders are over, the tough part of Pesach begins--keeping away from chametz until the 7th or 8th day--depending on your practice and location. But if the focus of the holiday is to tell the story, re-enact leaving Egypt and celebrate our liberation from slavery, what's the point of continuing through the week. And yet, the Torah instructs us even before we leave Egypt that this will be a 7 day holiday:
16 You shall celebrate a sacred occasion on the first day, and a sacred occasion on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you. 17 You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time. 18 In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. [Exodus 12:16 - 19]

There seems to be a consensus in the commentaries that the 7th day commemorates the splitting of the Red Sea. That is a teaching I have not heard before, and I'm not sure what to make of it. But those commentaries also mention the intermediate days as days of purification, a preparation to cross the boundary that separates the slavery and oppression of Egypt from the time that marks the road to freedom.

So Passover is not just about the initial escape from Egypt, but honoring that first step into liberation. We need to appreciate the aftermath of that first, somewhat traumatic leave-taking--take a breath and get ready for what comes next.

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