Imagine the world is reborn at Pesach

Shabbat Hol Hamo'ed Pesach

Exodus 33:12-34:26

Numbers 28:19-25

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Imagine that this week your life could begin again. You could leave behind the pain of the past and have a fresh start. Imagine that the world itself could begin anew, turning its back on the enslavements of the past and entering into a new life.

We are accustomed to thinking of Rosh Hashanah as the birthday of the world (as the High Holy Day machzor tells us). In fact, the Talmud recalls a debate about whether the world was created in Tishri (hence Rosh Hashanah as the birthday of the world) or in Nisan (hence Pesach as the time of birth). This is a stunning teaching, with remarkable resonance for our time.

Clearly, Pesach is in many ways connected with springtime, a time of rebirth in the natural world. Remember that for those who live in harsher climates, the emergence of buds on the trees and crocuses poking through the ground is a breathtaking experience, a taste of the miraculous, an announcement of the possibilities of new life.

Just as surely, the story of Yetsi'at Mitzrayim (The Exodus from Egypt) is the story of the birth of the Jewish people. Only when we had left slavery behind and had come together as a people could we enter into our collective relationship with God.

The Chassidic commentators love to personalize the message of Pesach as a time of renewed possibility, even radical rebirth. The Sefat Emet is intrigued by the use of the verb lish'mor, to keep, guard or watch, in connection with the holiday of Pesach (as in Exodus 34:18, "Keep the Festival of Matzot for seven days, eating matzah, as I commanded you…"). He writes that there is a point in the soul, "One where there is no forgetfulness…This point…has to be 'kept' or guarded from flowing into that place where forgetting occurs…" And then he draws the teaching for Pesach:

"The same is true of the redemption from Egypt. On every Pesach a Jew becomes like a new person, like the newborn child each of us was as we came forth from Egypt. The point implanted by God within our hearts is renewed. That point is called lechem oni [poor people's bread], because it is totally without expansion…Every Jew [we might say, every person] has this inner place, the gift of God. Our task is really to expand that point, to draw all our deeds to follow it…This holiday of matzot is the time when the point itself is renewed, purified from any defilement. Therefore, it has to be guarded from any "ferment" or change on this holiday" ("The Language of Truth," translated and interpreted by Arthur Green, pp.389-90).

Remember that these are the words of a Chassidic rebbe, and you will appreciate the boldness of this interpretation. The "guarding," i.e., the meticulous care we are commanded to put into removing chametz from our homes, and maintaining this practice throughout the week of Pesach, he says, is really about cleansing and purifying the soul, the "inner point" that is the essence of the divine within us. He recognizes that this divine center, in the course of ordinary life, naturally becomes defiled, obscured, overladen with pain, sin and confusion. But on Pesach, we remove the chametz around the center of our souls, so that we can begin again to ground our lives in the sacred.

Imagine that this Nisan each of us is reborn, with the purity and endless possibility of a newborn child. Imagine that everything that obscures the holiness within us can be cleansed. Whatever blocks us, whatever enslaves us, whatever distracts us from living the life we were created to live was burned away with the last crumbs from our homes before the start of the holiday, leaving us purified and completely ready for a new life.

Imagine, if you dare, that the world itself is purified, even reborn, at this sacred time of year. Imagine that all that has been defiled, obscured by hate or pain or self-aggrandizement, can be renewed, giving us a chance for a different kind of world. Imagine the world given a new chance at life, like a newborn child, embodying infinite possibility. May it be so.

Rabbi Amy Eilberg
Rabbi Amy Eilberg

Rabbi Amy Eilberg serves as a spiritual director, peace educator and justice activist, and teacher of Mussar. More information on her work can be found at