We had an early taste of spring here in Wisconsin. The unseasonably warm air put thoughts of Passover to my mind in the middle of February.
For the first time in months I came in from outside not wearing a heavy coat and boots, which made me feel like I should start wiping out cupboards and sweeping under the fridge. The season of redemption smells like the combination of a cool breeze coming through the kitchen window and the scents of cleaning products. Now, weeks later, I’m in full list-making mode. It’s time to figure out what we will need to clean, pack away, use up, make kosher, and purchase before Passover. We’ll need preparations not only to use at the seder, but also to feed us the rest of the week.
In my mind I see the guests, hear the songs, taste the food, and look forward to words of Torah around the table. We will enjoy remembering HaShem’s mighty redemption of his people, knowing that he will do this and much more again. The beauty of it is always worth the work. The result is well deserving the time and effort I spend on mitzvot such as this.
But as anyone who has observed Passover in the traditional manner for long knows, the weeks leading up to the celebration can be stressful. It’s a high maintenance holiday. I remember one late night last year, with my kitchen turned inside out, and although I had been fighting to avoid it, frustration caught up with me. It is a commandment to “rejoice in your holiday,” but I found myself asking HaShem how that was possible while still keeping all the other sometimes exhausting commandments. I wondered who could show me how it’s supposed to work.
I’m thankful that my parents raised me to value Jewish observance. They showed me that it has value and that it is beautiful. They were pioneers in a family that had walked away from Torah observance generations before. Many American Jewish families are similar to mine in that way, and many Messianic Jews come from a background where Torah observance was viewed with suspicion and held at a distance.
Once we overcome the theological hurdles and finally understand that Yeshua never intended to sever our ties with Jewish practice, we set out to find our way back on a path that is overgrown with neglect. With little first-hand experience and almost no examples, taking back our heritage feels like a colossal undertaking. We’ve heard rumors about observant life, some true and some not. Even though it is essential to who we are, it can feel foreign and confusing.
Baruch HaShem, in our time we have abundant resources for learning, including books, articles, and audio teachings. But Torah isn’t just information, it’s action, and it’s all-consuming (especially for about a month before Pesach). That is what is so powerful about it and why it can be difficult to learn. Torah life is learned primarily through experiences and examples.
So much of Torah relates to the home, in private and in daily life. While trying to create a Torah environment we’re left with some very practical questions. How does a kosher kitchen work? How do I fit prayer and learning into my day while caring for children, running a home, or holding a job? What will make Shabbat enjoyable and beautiful for kids while avoiding so many forbidden activities? What do you do with kids on a late summer Shabbat or on Seder night? What do we eat for the whole week of Passover or on a trip to the zoo where there is no kosher food? It can be done, but it is a challenge if we never had anyone show us. Everything is new and we’re left to figure it out ourselves.
Sitting on my kitchen floor, wiping out a cabinet the night before Passover last year, I thought about how much we need examples. We need people who have gone before us and learned how to do this, but sometimes we don’t have them. We might need to be the ones to clear the path and be that example for someone else.
Many of the Torah’s commandments happen in the home, in very practical ways. Women have tremendous power to shape the home, which means we need to put our full energy into learning Torah and keeping mitzvot. We cannot just be along for the ride.
So many times in Jewish history, women who were tenaciously committed to Jewish continuity brought about salvation for their people. Now it’s our turn. The task of learning and teaching Torah is not someone else’s responsibility, and it’s not primarily about disseminating information. It’s about living a life of Torah so that others can see it in living color.
It is much easier to learn from a person than from a book. My mother wanted to learn how to braid Challah with six strands. For months she struggled to learn from a diagram in a cookbook. Once she mastered it herself, she was able to teach me in just a few minutes. That is our task with all of the mitzvot. If you have no one to show you it will be harder to learn, but once you have learned, you can show someone else.
I pray that HaShem shows each of us good examples to follow, and strengthens us when we need to forge our own way. During this season of preparing for Passover we will all push ourselves to do a little bit more and understand a little bit better, making it easier for those who come after us to walk the path of Torah observance.