The most commonly heard words in Riverdale this week before Pesach: “We’re going to Israel!” And my most used word? “OMG!!” because after all the snow and ice, I saw a flower, and that means, there is hope.
On my tea cup, there’s one of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes: “There are two ways to live life: one, as if nothing is a miracle; the other, as if everything is a miracle”. In this week’s Torah portion we come to the middle of the Torah, and though, as we’ll see, there are different ways to figure out the middle, I think they highly recommend Einstein’s second option.
The middle verse includes the “Urim & Tumim” (Leviticus 8:8), the magical stones of the High Priest that received messages from G-d. In many Bibles, there is not even an effort to translate these terms. The middle word is “yesod” (ibid, 8:15), which literally means – foundation, but if we break it apart, can become “ye (G-d) sod (secret)”, while the middle letter is an alef (ibid 8:28), and alef – is G-d’s letter: equal to number 1 and on its own (without added vowels) – silent.
The Torah spells for us just about anything, what we should do and say and eat and learn and much more from day break to night, and yet, in the heart of the readings of this season, when we encounter the most detailed laws, asks us to remember the hidden and miraculous in life.
Passing Over, Hopping and Skipping
The Hebrew word “aviv”, spring, sounds almost the same as “be’ahava”, with love, and is identical in its gymatria. Just a coincidence?
We might never know. It’s up to us to choose what we want to see. That too, is what Pesach is all about, and that too, is love.
Among the Five Megillot (scrolls) in the TaNaCh, Shir Hashirim – Song of Songs – is the one we read on this holiday. It was Rabbi Akiva who famously insisted: “the whole world is only worthy as the day the Song of Songs was given to the People of Israel; for while all the writings are holy, the Song of Songs is the holy of hollies” (Mishna Yadayim, 3:5).
Shir Hashirim is passionate, poetic, and full of colorful imagery (a belly like a “heap of wheat”?), but perhaps what is most striking are the intense details. There is no “he’s a good guy”; “she’s a nice person”. No generalizations, but a great attention to every little minutia. The beloved know each others’ every move, every wrinkle, the way he smiles, the way she listens. They can see each other clearly, even from miles apart. They hear each other without words. They share themselves wholeheartedly and are completely attuned.
Love makes it so everything matters. Small things are suddenly a big deal that can make or break a whole day. One kind gesture; one silly word. Everything is magnified; everything is critical; everything has significance.
This is what we do just before Pesach too. We’re looking for every little spec of chametz, every crumb. It all must be burned, for between lovers there is no room for even the littlest secret; nothing separates them. We’re so meticulous! It must be done just right
And then comes Pesach eve, and what do we celebrate? That G-d “passed-over” our homes, that we were taken to freedom and liberation, that we were given another chance.
Through what great merit did we deserve this? Have we done anything great? So we were slaves, big deal! What are we whining about? Other people were slaves, and— remained slaves, at best assimilated into their masters’ nation and disappeared. The fact that we know the “rest of the story” doesn’t mean we can take it for granted. Why are we here? Is there truly anything magnificent we can point to that we have done?
Our sages tell us that there are 50 gates of “tum’a” טומאה, “spiritual impurity” and distance, and that we made it to gate 49. But nevertheless, G-d “passed-over” us. He knew we had sunk deep; He knew we were no longer in our best, but He had another plan for us and He saw our “potential” and our ”light” and the “big picture”.
And that too, is love.
Rashi says that the word “u-fasachti” ופסחתי “and I will pass-over”, means “vechamalti” – וחמלתי “and I have shown compassion”.
Yet the same root – p.s.ch – פ.ס.ח. can also mean lame: someone who is limping is a “pise’ach” פיסח, and therefore, describing situations that incomplete.
So which way is it?
The prep has to be scrupulous. Such is winter: we count rain days, precipitation, temperatures, clothing, supplies. But when spring comes, that’s all gone. The windows are open; heater is off, and we are joyful to see just the smallest blossom. There is no way to “measure” that. We say thank you not because the tiny flower is physically greater than however many months of darkness and cold we had, but because it’s here; because it exists; because it teaches us hope. We “forgive” all the hardship. Our joy and appreciation “skip over” all the previous days.
The Song of Songs, among its incredible details, introduces a loving form of “passing over”, that of the lover’s voice rushing to his beloved, leaping and skipping over any obstacles:
קול דודי הנה זה בא, מדלג על ההרים, מקפץ על הגבעות
Behold! my beloved! behold, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, hopping upon the hills.. (2:8)
It seems like love is both about paying close attention to details, and about skipping over; about daily tedious hard work, and about dancing for joy and not seeing the little spills. The art and challenge is when to apply which. Perhaps figuring that out, is the heart of the journey and exodus from slavery to freedom.
Shabbat Shalom & Chag (Hug) Same’ach!