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“Passover and Rebirth,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

March 31, 2023 | 9 Nisan 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat and this week Pesach. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Passover starts the cycle of the Jewish holidays. The Torah refers to it as the first month. Rosh Hashanah falls in the seventh month but it is also the beginning moment for the counting of the year. Six months from now 5783 will turn to 5784. Both Passover and Rosh Hashanah have a theme of renewal, rebirth, and refresh. During Rosh Hashanah, and then Yom Kippur ten days later, we release ourselves of the burden of guilt and wrongdoing through t’shuvah, correcting our mistakes and coming back to our best selves, fresh and pure to enter the new year.

Passover also allows us to be renewed as if reborn to our purer selves through the rebirth of spring and the retelling of the story of deliverance with matzah as the main ingredient. How is this possible? The 19th century Hasidic master, S’fat Emet, explained the transformation:

On every Pesach a Jew becomes like a new person, like the newborn child each of us was when we came forth from Egypt.  The point planted by God within our hearts is renewed.  That point is called lehem oni because it is totally without expansion. (Sfat Emet, pg.390)

Matzah, called lehem oni, has no leavening (hametz) and therefore no fermentation. We actively remove hametz from our physical residences but also from within ourselves. With the image of hametz, there is haughtiness and self-righteous pride. We puff ourselves up. We collect it over the year, often so subtly that we don’t realize how much we possess until we have the chance to rid ourselves of its hold on us. Passover releases us from unnecessary expansion and returns us to a purer, more real sense of ourselves. Reborn like an infant, we rediscover our inner core’s humility and possibility. We enter the new year fresh and clearer of our own capacity for good.

Wednesday night, we enter a new year with the celebration of the holiday. Without hametz, may we rediscover what has been present all along planted within our hearts: our best beautiful selves partnering with God to bring redemption to the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah!

Originally shared on March 26, 2021

Rabbi Elaine Zecher