Monday, April 06, 2015

Omer 5775. Day 2. The Power of Our Environment

Its the 2nd Day of the Omer; the 3rd Day of Pesach and as we move deeper into the festival of Pesach, it is just beginning to become "routine", normal.

The Torah reading for the 3rd day of Pesach (Ex. ch.13) deals with turning the Exodus experience into a "zikaron." It is one thing to experience the Exodus first-hand, but the Torah turns its attention very consciously to crafting a legacy of memory, of remembrance and commemoration. The Torah rolls out a whole range of commemorative acts: the annual 7-day "chag hamatzot," the sanctity of the firstborn (animal and human) which perpetuates the final plague, the mezuzah on the door reminiscent of the blood on the doorposts in Egypt, and the mitzvah of Tefillin - a sign on the hand and mind.

Judaism is an action-intensive religion. One Exodus, and yet a whole panoply of reminders and commemorative rituals. The medieval work, Sefer Hachinuch suggests that the intense behavioral engagement in meaningful and positive acts will drive an idea deep into one's sub-conscience, "for a person's heart is drawn after his/her actions."

That is why the Rabbis declared: "God wanted the best for Israel so he gave them numerous commands [mitzvot]" so that they occupy our thoughts constantly and become our ongoing occupation… For through good acts we are affected to become better. The Rabbis hinted to this when they said: "One with a mezuzah on the door, wearing fringes [tzitzit] and tefillin, will never sin" (menachot 43a) because these are constant mitzvot and they influence us all the time.
Nothing exemplifies this more than Pesach. On Pesach we turn our kitchen upside down, we absolutely transform our diet. Through this fundamental lifestyle shift, the resonance of Pesach enters into our lives in a most profound way. Sometimes Judaism's demands are quite grueling (Pesach cleaning, Yom Kippur, the 3 weeks, sleeping in the Sukkah) and yet I have always been amazed at the power of Judaism to utilize this "virtual reality," thrusting us into a radically different environment for a week, using this technique to impress its messages upon us.

Let us enjoy Pesach and revel in the numerous traditions and rituals that bind us closer to Judaism's mission, reinforcing and deepening its message in a rich tapestry and weave of action and reflection.

Moadim le-simcha!

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