Shabbat HaGadol 5776

SHABBAT HAGADOL 5776
Susan Elkodsi — April 16, 2016

Today is Shabbat haGadol, one of two shabbatot when years ago, the Rabbi would typically give a very long sermon. The other is Shabbat Shuva. I’m not going to give a long sermon, but I can’t let the moment go by without a few words.

The reason for the longer sermon on Shabbat haGadol was to instruct the congregation regarding Passover preparations. Most of us have the house cleaning down to a science, and can change over our kitchens in our sleep. We’re using up the opened boxes of chumet-dik items and planning our seder menus.

While cleaning for Passover shouldn’t be confused with spring cleaning, it is a good opportunity to make sure certain things get done at least once a year. While we’re cleaning our physical homes, we also need to think about our spiritual homes; our bodies and our minds. New age Judaism didn’t invent the idea of equating chametz with negative feelings, emotions and habits, but it’s hard to escape the parallel.

The Torah tells that anyone found eating chametz during the 7 days, nikh r’tah hanefesh ha hi may adat yisral, “he is cut off from the congregation of Israel.” Hanefesh here means “person,” but it also means “soul.” Today most of us don’t practice caret, which is excommunication, but this commandment underscores the importance of not eating chametz, and not having it in our homes.

We can view Chametz, as habits, activities or actions that we might want to change or even get rid of. While we usually think of Rosh Hashanah as the time for teshuva, of turning around or repenting, Pesach is an even better opportunity. We have 7 days — 8 in the diaspora — to do without something if we wish, and when we return to eating normally, we can decide what to do and not do moving forward.

According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel — before it even became a modern state — we were liberated from Egyptian bondage in order to bring liberation to the entire world, but first we have to liberate ourselves. Thus, our journey toward holiness, and therefore our preparation, involves two actions. The first step moves us away from the past. The second step takes us toward the future.

In the midst of this two-step action, at the moment that we would assume is the least clearly defined, we gain clarity. Only by moving toward the future do we understand what took place in the past. So take your first step by letting go of the things that burden you from this past year. Then take your second step toward the life you want to create for yourself. Consider what you are going to change, what you are going to do differently.

I like Rav Kook, and the only thing I can add is to wish you a Shabbat shalom, a zissen pesach, and a chag sameach.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi
Malverne Jewish Center