Thoughts on Pesach Cleaning and Tzav; Shabbat Hagadol and even The Elections

Pesach is here, and with it, the cleaning panic. Everywhere I look there is “stuff”, and in every bit of the stuff, there could be chametz!! The prospect is daunting. It seems like we should spend every wakeful second with a shmate in one hand and a killer spray in the other.
Then I think of the priest in the opening of this week’s reading, who gets up early in the morning, and goes out to clean yesterday’s ashes. Sounds simple, and we might think that garbage removal is of no concern to the holy Torah, that it’s all about the real task, the real essence of worshiping in the Mishkan, of being close to G-d!
Turns out that the priest who does the clean-up, first has to wear special clothing “linen garments and linen pants” (Levititcus 6:3), then “lift up the deshen”, what is translated as yesterday’s ashes and in Modern Hebrew the word for fertilizer, and place it by the side of the altar. Note “lift up”, sharing the same root with truma, donation, and the name of the parasha that deals with the construction of the Tabernacle. Note, that there is a specific place where to put yesterday’s ashes, and it’s not in the garbage. Instead, it’s by the altar, by the eastern side, the side of the entrance for the people which represents the nation (Rav Hirsch).
So before we start the day, we need to clean up yesterday. There is no way to build a new fire on the mess left behind. How come the all consuming fire of the sacrifices didn’t actually consume everything? How come the all miraculous, divine mishkan didn’t clean itself up, like some form of a modern self-cleaning oven? Surprise. Life is messy. Yesterday leaves its traces and we need to deal with our past by ourselves, not through any miracle. And while initially this was stated about the altar, we can understand it also emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.
And yet, that past cannot be tossed away. Who we were yesterday is part of us today, and today, is already tomorrow’s yesterday. We have to contend with – and value – that. Where we come from, individually or as a people, matters. We clear the place for today’s work but we keep yesterday by the altar, as it too, is part of today.
And last, we might think that clean up is not part of our holy work at the Mishkan, that it’s someone else’s job, or that it’s something we just have to do in order to get to do something else, “more fun”, “more real”, “more holy”. Comes the Torah and says that this too, is avodat kodesh, holy work, even with its own special clothing.
We don’t have the Mishkan but we have our own homes and our own Pesach cleaning. We might resent it, try to avoid it (write about it instead of do it…), argue with it, but the reality is, the holiday would not be the same without it. Getting the gunk from behind the fridge and oven, that too is part of our journey to freedom.
Shabbat Hagadol
The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat Hagadol, and as often is the case, the fact that no one can knows for sure the reasons for this name, doesn’t prevent us from calling it so and having many – all good – explanations why.
Mine is much simpler: traditionally, a shul rabbi gave only two drashot a year, on the Shabbat between Rosh hashana and Yom Kippur, and on this Shabbat before Pesach. The first is obvious – as it’s the season of repentance but this one was his longest (which is one of the “reasons” for the name “the great Shabbat”), but why give the longest talk davka on this Shabbat?
So we all know what happens when there is nothing to do on Shabbat afternoon, and Shabbat is getting longer and spring is in the air and it’s really hard to resist that urge to ‘just move a couple of little things around’, after all, Pesach is right around the corner, and you know how stressful it gets, and what’s more important than to prepare for our journey to freedom
So we stay in shul a little longer, and a little longer, and because it’s the “great Shabbat” maybe even the women come too (:-) and hopefully by the time we come home, hungry and tired, all we want is to enjoy the last tchulent for the next 8 days (oy, how will we make it!!) and take a nap. Because while cleaning is avodat kodesh, on Shabbat we already have so much kodesh, we can leave this one to Sunday.
A Word on The Elections
I know, I’m treading dangerous waters, and this gets even worse if you consider the fact that politics is not my thing and I often miss all sorts of “little” things (omg, he said what?!) maybe because I grew up in a news-ravishing country and usually preferred the music stations (I know, I know, don’ shoot!). So short of reserving some space on wordpress here, I really have no great knowledge, and yet, people occasionally ask me so here goes:

I was a teenager, working an evening shift at a local coffee shop, when the country stopped to welcome Egyptian president Anwar Sadaat. The person shaking his hand was not a “predictable” peacenik, but the notorious Menachem Begin who sat in the Knesset opposition for almost 30 years, waiting just for the chance to teach the Arabs a lesson about land for peace. And he did.

He’s not the only one who rose to power saying one thing, then did another. Specifically, major wars and settlements construction in Israel took place often under “left wing” / “labor” governments, while major evacuations and peace treaties took place often under “right wing” governments. So my hope is that while Israel’s leaders may love drama and catchy slogans, many of which are said in the usual “old” MO, reflecting – and using – fear, when the time comes to act, they will continue to be pragmatists who look for the country’s well-being and seek peace.

Shabbat Shalom.

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