So, spring has sprung, and as the light and warmth increases, we open our doors and windows to the world outside, and get down to some serious spring-cleaning.
It is interesting to note in this connection, how the Torah introduces the Festival of Pesach – or rather the preparations for the very first Passover, which is what Pesach means: the preparation for the Passover of the Eternal One, when God ‘passed over’ (pasach) the houses of the Hebrew slaves, smiting the firstborn of Egypt (Parashat Bo, Exodus 12:27). We read: ‘This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you’ (Exodus 12:2) – and then the Torah continues with instructions for the slaves (12:3-11): on the 10th of the month, each household was to take a lamb; on the 14th, the whole congregation had to slaughter the lambs at dusk, and put the blood on the two front door-posts; after that, they had to roast the lamb, and eat it with maror, bitter herb, and matzah, unleavened bread – and with their loins girded, their shoes on their feet and their staffs in their hands; ‘in haste, because it is the Passover (Pesach) of the Eternal’ (:11).
The Hebrew slaves were preparing for a new beginning during the month that was to be ‘the beginning of months’, the first month of the year. In the last section of the portion, one short verse provides a name for this month: Aviv– which is Hebrew for ‘spring’ (13:4). Later, after the Babylonian exile (which began in 586 BCE), the month of Avivwas renamed, Nissan, which is a Babylonian loan-word (see Esther 3:7 and Nehemiah 2:1), but the original name,Aviv, reminds us that the first month of the Jewish year is all about new life – for our ancestors, and also for us: Of course, a major aspect of celebrating Pesach each year is to commemorate the first Pesach in the first new month in the life of the nascent Jewish people; but, just as important, is the opportunity it gives us to renew our lives. And so, spring cleaning, and clearing out all the chameitz is not just about getting rid of leavened foods, and items containing the five grains, which are prohibited for eating at Pesach, it is also about cleansing ourselves of thechameitz of the past year: both, the starchy, sweet foods we comfort ourselves with over the winter, and the mouldy leftovers of quarrels and disagreements – and the false pride and arrogant attitudes, which puff us up. So, as April begins – and also, Nissan/Aviv (on April 5th this year) – why not, dust yourself off, while you’re doing all that spring-cleaning, and prepare for a new beginning.
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah