[Dear friends, From Purim till Pesach this year, we are sending you a daily comment on the meaning of Pesach, especially in connection with concern for the Earth and the climate crisis — each day by a different writer. Enjoy! — David Eber & AW, eds.]
I think of the period from Seder night until Shavuot as a sustained reflection on the nature of freedom, and in particular about traveling from freedom from (want, oppression, slavery) to freedom to (make a difference in the world, exercise choice, and restrain oneself in certain ways.)
The period from Purim to Seder night is thus preparation for this. It’s the work we need to do to be able to start to leave our own enslavement and to think freshly and confidently about our freedom. And the tradition’s great insight – hidden in plain view – is that a significant part of that process is about getting rid of stuff.
Certainly this involves removing chametz, traditionally understood – bread and beer and whisky and other fermented products. But the deeper gift of this period – certainly in our time, certainly in the west – is the deeper notion that we have too much stuff of all sorts, and that if we truly want to be free – if we want even to begin to imagine our true freedom – the road to doing so involves getting rid not only of literal chametz but of existential chametz – the superfluities that hinder our freedom.
So in our household we do kasher our home in the traditional sense; we keep a fairly strictly kosher kitchen and that is important to us. But as well as the traditional koshering, we take the opportunity to try to get rid of stuff. We take stuff to goodwill, or to the office. Give things to friends. Throw things out.
I have learned over the last few years – as our practice in this regard has deepened – that the effect is cumulative, year by year. It is the nature of contemporary life that we are encouraged to over-consume the world. What is bad for us individually turns out to be bad for us collectively and societally also. The desire not to over-consume – steadily to start to consume less, in all sorts of different ways – is counter-cultural, in that it cuts against the thousand advertisements we see each week that encourage us that there is so much that we need, that we must have.
So kasher your home a little earlier this year. Start just after Purim. Getting rid of (some of) your stuff will be a gift to others – and it may give you rich food for thought for seder night and the long journey towards freedom…