For the past 3 weeks (or longer) we have been getting ready for the holiday of Passover. We have searched our pantries, couch cushions and cars for the smallest sign of chametz. Kitchens have (or are being) kashered for Passover, with our non-pesadika utensils being put away and our Passover utensils being brought out. Why are we doing this-besides driving ourselves mad? I would argue this is not about doing “grunt work” but rather about making ourselves holy.
Let me use an example from this week’s Torah portion to demonstrate. Leviticus Chapter 6 Verse 11, in describing the mincha sacrifice, reads “all male descendants of Aaron shall eat it. It is an everlasting law for your descendants from the fire-offerings of God. All that touches them shall become holy.” To what is the ‘All’ referring? The common understanding, exuded by Rashi is that the ‘all’ refers to other sacrifices. Any sacrifice that becomes comingled with the Mincha sacrifice will have the same status as it. Now you might be asking me “So what?” Well, the commentator Hizkuni, from the 13th century France understands the all as referring to each person. According to his interpretation, anyone who touches the Mincha sacrifice will become sanctified unto God, much like a Kohen or Levi will become sanctified for Temple worship. Ibn Ezra extends this to also apply towards the hatat (sin-offering) and the asham (guilt-offering).
This might seem strange to us-after all how can a person change his/her status? In Biblical times there were different levels of purity. To serve in the Temple, make a sacrifice or even to eat certain foods, a person had to be in a state of ritual purity, achieved through immersion in a mikveh. One needed to refrain from sexual relations, avoid eating certain foods and avoid contact with insects or with corpses to maintain a state of purity. What is fascinating to me about the Mincha offering is that (with Hizkuni and Ibn Ezra’s readings) it can directly influence a person’s state of holiness.
Our ancestors offered sacrifices not just to appease God but to bring about positive changes from within them. The sacrifice changed the state of being of the giver, elevating him/her to a higher level. That is precisely the purpose that prayer is supposed to serve for us. Prayer helps us raise ourselves from the mundane level of the everyday towards heavenly heights, having us yearn to reach God. In fact, throughout the Kedushah, which means “holiness,” we rise on our feet five times so as to reach God. We gather here twice a day each and every day for minyan to have our state of being changed for the better, to ultimately elevate ourselves as a result of our yearnings before the Creator. However, I would argue that the everyday tasks that we do, such as cleaning our kitchens for Passover, fulfill the same purpose: shaking up our everyday comforts and conveniences; the foods that we eat, the plates and silverware that we use and the patterns by which we live our lives, and that it does so in order to raise us up to a higher spiritual level.
As we continue to prepare for Passover, I would like us to realize that as we clean our kitchens and remove Hametz, we are doing holy work. For eight days, we remove everyday staples from our lives and strive instead to reach a higher level of purity. The rabbis say that Hametz, by virtue of its being “puffed up” by rising in our ovens, symbolizes our “puffed up” egos. By removing it from our homes and from all of our possessions, we also strive to remove that which makes us arrogant. Passover is a holiday about elevating our level of holiness, putting aside our “me, myself and I” and striving to do what we can to serve God and our religious community. May we reach new heights this coming Passover. Karina and I wish each of you a Hag Pesach Kasher V’Sameach, a happy, healthy and kosher Passover.