But seriously. This weekend is Rosh Chodesh Nissan – the first day of the first month of the Jewish calendar year… Nissan; (if you are confused and think it should be when Rosh Hashanah is in the fall…there is more than one New Year, check out http://bit.ly/y4wuwv for an explanation)… it’s a busy time. Passover is in two weeks, or did I already say that? Some people focus on counting the Omer…counting off the days between Passover and Shavuot, between Egypt and Sinai. I see Purim on the calendar, and I start counting…..four weeks till Passover, between costumed abandon and cleaning and cooking.
Last week we were finishing up the book of Exodus, and at the very end of the book, we read, “On the first day of the first month (that’s Nissan), you shall set up the Tabernacle. Finally! So much of the book of Exodus is spent describing the building of the “Mishkan” the Tabernacle….all those details! First we read about how God told Moses to build it, and then we read about Moses telling the people how to build it, and then we read about when the people finally actually built it. Now it’s finally set up. Done. Functioning. Operational. Ready for ….what? Well, funny you should ask, because now we start in on Leviticus, which is going to tell us all about the pigeons and doves and goats and lambs, oil and grain, blood and sprinkling. Leviticus is going to tell us how to use the darn thing that took so long building.
We read of holy details, and we are surrounded by details now, also holy in nature. The Hebrew for holy, “kadosh” , also means “separate”, and Passover is nothing if not about things being separate. The Mishkan was where special things happened, proscribed for that time and place. And Passover now is for separate, proscribed things: We separate the Passover from non-Passover. There is separate food, and for some, separate dishes, pots, silverware, etc. Passover is a pretty detail-oriented adventure.
It’s the ultimate irony of holidays – a holiday all about freedom and re-birth, in the midst of being a slave to the cleaning and the cooking and the preparing and the cleaning…oh, I said cleaning already. So why do I love Passover so much? Well, it’s usually my birthday, which although that’s fun, it also means a Passover cake. And also because when the cooking and cleaning are done, the table is set in all its sweet beauty, with all the dear, meaningful objects on the table, all the faces there (and the ones that aren’t there this year), there’s this big exhale. I’m happy to be free, alive, healthy and ready to revel in the special foods, recipes, memories and my Grandma’s soup pot.
Maybe the Israelites felt the same way, after all the weaving and the measuring, the cutting and the building. Finally the Mishkan was finished, and there was this big Divine Exhale. God said, “Thanks for building this holy space for Me, so I can dwell among you all. Now we can get on with this very special relationship we’re building, you Israelites and Me.”
Back to the details.