This coming Shabbat has a special name and a special meaning. It is Shabbat HaChodesh, the Shabbat that proceeds (or, as this year, falls on) the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan.
As the Torah tells us (Exodus 12:2), Nisan is the first month of the year. So, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is the first Rosh Chodesh of the year.
Adonai said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month is your first new month of the months of the year. Tell the whole community of Israel, 'On the tenth day of this month, each of you will take a lamb (or kid) to your household, one lamb for each family.… It will be yours to watch over until the fourteenth of this month, when you will slaughter it, all of the gathered community of Israel, at twilight.'… In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening, you shall eat matzah until the twenty-first day of the month, in the evening. For seven days, nothing leavened shall be found in your house, for anyone who eats chameitz, that person shall be cut off from the community of Israel, whether stranger or citizen of the land." (Exodus 12:1-3, 6, 18-19)
Imagine. From the tenth day of the month, each family had that little lamb or baby goat in their home. They heard it bleating for its mother. The children played with it.
For more than four days the Israelites watched over that little animal, knowing what its fate would be as they cleaned out the chameitz from the entire house. They knew that, once their work was done, it would be more than a meal. It would be their escape from the angel of death and a ticket to freedom. The blood of the baby animal would be painted above the doors of their houses. The meat would be the main course, eaten with matzah and bitter herbs, at the first seder.
This is what it means to prepare for the seder, to prepare for our freedom. It means painfully watching the death of something that you have gotten used to. It means allowing yourself to be uncomfortable about saying goodbye. It means constantly having to remind yourself that there is a good reason for going through all of this. Slavery is hard. Giving up slavery can be hard, too.
There is still real slavery in this world, but most of us will never know it. (Be grateful for that.) On Pesach, we can focus on a different kind of slavery. It is the slavery of all the habits and bad behaviors that we cling to—the way we won't give up eating things we shouldn't, using our power in ways we know we shouldn't, giving in to our anger and fear in ways that hurt us. Letting go of all that is more difficult and more painful than scrubbing the bottom of the bread drawer or cleaning out the black gunk stuck the inside walls of the refrigerator.
Preparing for Pesach is intense and it is meant to be difficult. This Shabbat, we remember what it means to prepare for a new beginning and to suffer over the little things that we fear to let die. We just have to remind ourselves, over and over, that it is our ticket to a new world of freedom.
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Bedikat ChameitzShabbat HaChodesh: Prepare for Freedom!