Friday, April 08, 2011
Here in Spokane, Spring comes in sunny shifts intermittently mixed with wind, snow, sleet, hail, and other unidentified flying objects. With Spring's arrival also comes a seemingly innate urge to clean house. For Jews in this time, the spring cleaning craze reaches even deeper as we prepare our homes for the coming holiday of Pesach (English: Passover). During Pesach, we are commanded to refrain from eating any chametz (leaven), or any food made from grain and water that has been allowed to rise (including bread, cake, cookies, pasta, rice, crackers, cereals, beer, etc.). During the 8 days of Pesach, Jews (who are not gluten-intolerant) eat matzah and only food items, which are Kosher for Passover, meaning they contain no chametz and were processed in an environment also free of chametz. In addition to not eating any foods which contain chametz, we are commanded to clean our homes thoroughly so that we avoid any potential for contamination. While Pesach's direct focus is on the story of the Jewish people's exodus from Mitzrayim (Egypt), there is also an inner focus on escaping our own figurative states of bondage and slavery. Chametz refers directly to leaven in the foods we eat throughout the rest of the year, but also to that which is haughty and egotistic within ourselves as spiritual beings.
I recently thought about the seasonal patterns and fluidity of my own spirituality and relationship with G-d. I tend to do the most introspection and 'spiritual inventory' in early Autumn prior to and during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). This seems only natural, but towards this time of year, I notice that through the darkness of wintertime, my feelings of closeness toward my faith and practice have also run cold and distant. I feel a longing to reconnect with G-d much in the same way that I imagine the emerging crocuses must feel pushing through the newly thawed earth. This winter brought forth immense challenges and incredible triumphs. Now that I have reached a path of recovery and continue my journey toward wellness, I finally have the opportunity (and energy!) to restrengthen muscles that lay dormant for quite some time. I also have this opportunity and energy to restrengthen my emuna (Hebrew: complete faith in G-d). This process of cleansing, rebuilding, strengthening and growth portrays a beautiful parallel for me: My ancestors proceeded on their exodus knowing too well the pain and suffering of enslavement. All the same, they feared what lay ahead--the unknown--and often pleaded to return to Egypt. Knowing full well that Egypt represented a life of bondage, it was still less frightening to them than not knowing at all what life outside of that would be like. How often in life today do we exist in our own Mitzrayim--the comfort of discomfort! Moving beyond that and choosing a life of freedom involves great strength and faith--emuna--that whatever lies before us can be no worse than what we choose to leave behind.
As I sort through and organize my home in preparation for Pesach (unpacking at the same time!), I make 3 piles: "keep it," "chuck it" and "pass it on." The process of searching for 'inner chametz' is very similar--and I sort thoughts and habits into those same 3 categories: keep it (what's working well), chuck it (what has not worked well and is not helpful or necessary), or pass it on (what served its purpose but is no longer needed). Often such a large task as physical or personal inventory can feel daunting and overwhelming. That is when I remember a favorite children's book (which I just unpacked and definitely put onto the "keep it" pile!), Little One Step by Simon James.
chametzdik. Perhaps there are parts of your life which feel like a personal Mitzrayim. What does it mean to you to truly be free? Now I suggest taking yet another breath (I'm learning just how important breathing is!) as you put one foot down and take one little step.