ALEPH Kallah 2009
Diving into another spring semester

Ready or not (Radical Torah reprint)

Here's the d'var Torah I wrote for this week's Torah portion in 2007 for the now-defunct Radical Torah.

This week we're in parashat Bo. Here we read about the tenth plague, and about the Israelites' departure from Egypt. Intriguingly, just before the climactic moment, there's a fairly lengthy digression from narrative, in which Moses exhorts the Israelites to observe the annual commemoration of the exodus which hasn't quite yet taken place.

And thus you are to eat it: your hips girded, your sandals on your feet, your sticks in your hand; you are to eat it in trepidation -- it is a Passover-Meal to YHWH.

(That's Everett Fox's rendering.) The Passover meal is to be eaten, the text tells us, in haste and even with a little bit of awe. We are on the cusp of a journey. Excitement and trepidation are appropriate, because we don't know where we're going, or what our travels may bring.

Every year I try to keep my seder preparations relatively simple. Ethan does most of the cooking. Even so, getting ready for Pesach isn't easy. There's a house to scour, a pantry to clean out, fancy china to be dusted and wiped clean. There are haggadot to be revised and proofread, printed and bound. And on the spiritual side too, there's always work to do: cleaning out the corners and crannies of my psyche, looking for the inflated puff of internal hametz that needs to be whisked away and burned. Making Pesach takes work.

As I contemplate the silverware, the shopping (and chopping,) the endless piles of eggs to be boiled and peeled, it strikes me that this feels in some ways like the very opposite of what the Torah describes. Making seder is one of the most rooted activities I can think of! On the eve of an actual journey, I wouldn't dream of throwing a ritual event-cum-dinner-party. If I were actually going somewhere tomorrow -- especially on a life-changing quest for a place I can only trust God to lead me to -- you can bet I'd be eating takeout.

When our ancestors in Mitzrayim baked flatbreads for the road, they were preparing physically for a physical journey. But the journey into which Pesach, and this week's Torah portion, invites us operates on a different level. Our challenge is to imbue our rooted lives with the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual resonance of the journey, even when we don't physically move an inch.

In the world of assiyah, action and physicality, we may be cleaning house and marinating lamb chops. But in the world of yetzirah, emotions, what arises for us as we prepare to plunge into the unknown? In the world of beriyah, intellect, what thoughts race through our minds as we acknowledge the uncertainty of our condition? In the world of atzilut, essence, to what can we cling which is unchanging? This week's portion invites us to consider these questions, and our answers to them. Only then can we fulfill the Torah's commandment that we eat the paschal lamb with our hips girded, our sandals on our feet, our walking-sticks in our hands.

One of my favorite lines in my haggadah [.pdf] comes at the start of the "motzi/matzah" section. We read, "The matzah reminds us that when the chance for liberation comes, we must seize it even if we do not feel ready -- indeed, if we wait until we feel fully ready, we may never act at all." Every year, hearing this intoned at our seder table gives me shivers. We can replay the Exodus in our own lives. We can make the choice to leave Mitzrayim and learn the ways of liberation. But it's a leap we have to commit to taking even if it still feels risky. Especially if it still feels risky...because it's always going to. Most important things do.

In my house, we don't generally wear shoes indoors. (Especially not in winter and spring, when every trip outside means snow and salt and mud.) But this year I look forward to having seder not in house-shoes, but in my boots. I might even borrow a walking-stick from friends who hike more avidly than I, to lean against the table. Let them be reminders of the journey Torah tells us we must always be ready to begin -- ready or not.