The three-legged stool of the Jewish year rests on the shalosh regalim, the three great festivals which were once occasions for pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Reb Arthur Waskow teaches that they map to stages in an individual life. The festival of Pesach is a kind of birth; Shavuot, which the mystics understood as the date of our marriage with God (the Torah being our ketubah), represents adulthood; and Sukkot, the harvest festival, celebrates fruition before we wind down into the snow-covered stillness of a life's winter. And then we come around to Pesach again.
Pesach is the festival of new creation; Shavuot, the festival
of revelation; Sukkot, the festival of redemption. (Franz
Rosensweig mapped this same trio onto the blessings surrounding
the Shema: yotzer or points to the light of creation, ahavat olam speaks of God's love manifest in revelation,
and the geu'lah blessing describes our redemption from slavery as a reminder of the ultimate redemption toward which we strive.) Each year we move from birth to
maturity to completion, and after each fallow winter we
find ourselves born again.
And Pesach is step one, a new beginning. Pesach is Chag ha-Aviv, the Festival of Spring. It's the season of lambing, first flowers, new green. A season of birth and increasing light.
Birth is a leitmotif in the Pesach story. Pharaoh orders the Israelite firstborns killed -- and then midwives Shifra and Puah defy him, the first act of resistance that midwifes the new narrative into being. The ten plagues can be seen as contractions, preparing us to leave Egypt's initially comfortable but now constricting womb. Together we pass from the constriction of Mitzrayim through the birth canal of the Sea of Reeds and into the wide expansiveness of freedom. We're starting over, all of us together.
In the Temple of old, fifteen steps led up to the altar where we brought korbanot, sacrifices which drew-us-near to the Holy Blessed One. The seder we celebrate now unfolds through fifteen steps, a chance to make intangible offerings on the altar of our hearts. On this festival of spring, what are you bringing to draw you near? Having come through the Sea of Reeds, what songs will you sing?