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From Slavery to Liberation and Drudgery to Sacred Duty
By Nina Amir
Most years I cringe when I sense the approach of Passover. I look at the calendar and mark the days not until that first or second night of this holiday when I will host or attend a seder but to the week before when I am supposed to do that major house cleaning that we call Passover preparation. I'm supposed to look in every corner of the house, searching out and removing the crumbs of hametz, leavened foods. I have to clean the refrigerator from top to bottom. I'm pressured to do my "spring cleaning" dusting, vacuuming, mopping, organizing, straightening, and removing every last cobweb.
Remind me: What part of this should make me look forward to or feel excited about celebrating Passover?
Now, I'm not Orthodox. I'm Renewal with a twist of Reform. I don't keep kosher, and I struggle with the whole idea of keeping kosher just for Passover, a practice of many Reform Jews I know. I am, however, a spiritually practicing Jew. I try to do my housecleaning (or have my house cleaned) on Friday so my home is ready for Shabbat. I cook the nicest meal of the week, as well as bake challah, and my family and I rarely miss welcoming in Shabbat with candle lighting, blessings and dinner together. I often attend services on Saturday morning, and I love to end Shabbat each Saturday night with havdallah, the ritual that separates the sacred and the profane parts of the week. I celebrate all major and most of the minor Jewish holidays and festivals as well, always trying hard to transform any empty practices, prayers, rituals or observances into "meaning-full" and "spirit-full" ones for myself and my family. So, I, of course, want to observe the custom of preparing for Passover, and I want to do it in a way that feels meaningful and spiritual. I don't want this ritual to feel like drudgery or a chore but, I have to admit that in the past that's exactly how it has felt.
During the seder I like to discuss in personal terms the Israelite's amazing escape from slavery to liberation through the parted waters of the Red Sea. I ask everyone at the table to think about a "narrow place" through which they have had to pass in the last year or through which they now need to pass. (The word "Egypt" in Hebrew - Mitzrayyim - means a tight and narrow place.) I ask them to see their personal Mitzrayyim as a birth canal and to tell those of us at the seder how they are or will be born anew or into something new when they come out the end of the canal. (The Israelites were born as a nation and as free men and women when they found themselves on the opposite shore of the Red Sea with the water closing behind them.)
While I have experienced several narrow places over the last year, with Passover fast approaching I recently realized that I once again was beginning to feel squeezed and uncomfortable. Then it dawned on me: I was entering a narrow place, and the closer I moved towards Passover, the tighter it was becoming. I was in Mitzrayyim, the land of Passover preparation. I would have to get through those preparations, which I knew from past experience would feel like slavery, to be free to observe the holiday.
To my surprise and pleasure, not long after this realization I had a change of attitude towards my upcoming Passover preparations. You might even say I experienced a paradigm shift, or, maybe more accurately, a revelation. I had been writing and speaking about how Jewish women serve as kohanot (priestesses) and create sacred space through their preparations for Shabbat and their lighting of the Shabbat candles. As part of that work, I'd been researching the role of the kohenim (priests) in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and thinking about one particular verse in Exodus (25:8-9) in which God tells the Jews, "Build for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among you."
As I thought about my own Shabbat preparations, which feel less like a chore and more like a sacred duty of creating a mikdash, or sanctuary, in which the Shechinah (the Indwelling Feminine Presence) can dwell for 25 sabbatical hours, I realized my Passover preparations were almost identical to my Shabbat preparations. The only differences between the two, both of which involve housecleaning, cooking, table setting and candle lighting, are that Passover preparations are more thorough than what I traditionally do before Shabbat and prior to Passover I must focus upon eliminating all chametz as well as dust and dirt. That said, both preparations accomplish the same goal: They create sacred space, they build a sanctuary. Thus, the pre-holiday preparations afford me and other Jewish women (or men) -- the opportunity to serve as a kohenet (priestess) creating a sacred space into which I can invite the Shechinah and a sanctuary in which I can then observe the holiday while enjoying the company of a Divine Guest at my seder.
In this light, I see that just as I serve as a kohenet as I prepare for Shabbat and light the Shabbat candles, I do the same on Passover. If I perceive my preparations as the sacred duties of a kohenet, then I can take them on willingly and joyously. Seeing Passover preparations in this way instills within me a desire rather than an aversion to perform the "priestly" duties of sanctifying the temple preparing the home, lighting the lamps lighting the yom tov (holiday) candles, beautifying the altar setting the table, and invoking the Divine saying the prayers and blessings with intention.
This year, when I share about my personal Mitzrayyim during the seder, I will tell my guests that I feel I came out of that birth canal and was born with a new perspective about Passover preparations. I'll say that Passover preparation no longer make me feel squeezed and uncomfortable but instead expansive and at ease. I'll tell them I have been liberated, freed to serve as a kohenet not only on Shabbat but on any holiday. And I'll observe Passover this year knowing I have built a mishkan and invited the Shechinah to my seder.
Nina Amir, an acclaimed journalist and author, an often-requested speaker and a Kabbalistic conscious creation coach, focuses her work on teaching people to live their lives fully, manifest their dreams, transform empty religious rituals into meaning-full and spirit-full practices, create sacred space, and take on the role of priestess. She currently is writing Setting a Place for God, A Woman's Guide to Creating Sacred Space and Inviting the Divine to Dwell Within It, and teaching teleclasses and workshops related to this topic. You can contact her by visiting www.purespiritcreations.com.
from the March Passover 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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