The Sages teach us that the month of Nissan is a month where every day is Rosh Chodesh. It is a month of new beginnings – a month that not only marks the beginning of spring’s awakening across the forests and fields of our physical world, but which also represents a transition in the spiritual energy that governs the Universe. This transition is not like the transition between Av and Elul, where we find the very bottom of the pit of sadness and detachment from Hashem and break through it and find ourselves immediately at a new height of spiritual connection, in a month regarding which the Lubavitcher Rebbe tells us that “the King is in the field,” in that Hashem so actively seeks connection with us that the slightest spiritual arousal on our end will be matched with double the energy. Kind of like one of those fundraisers where every dollar you give will cause some random donor to give four times as much.
No – the transition between the month of Adar and the month of Nissan is not nearly as noticeable, because they are both months marked primarily by joy. But in a similar way to Elul and Tishrei, we can see Adar as a month of preparation for Nissan – a month where we stimulate ourselves to increase in happiness as much as we possibly can, despite still feeling the last tendrils of the winter cold wrapped around our hearts. It is a month of what Jewish mystical sources call “arousal from below,” or “Itaruta D’Ltata.” We arouse our passion to connect to Hashem through our own efforts, so that when the month of Nissan rolls around, we have perfected ourselves as vessels for receiving the supernatural energy of redemption that flows from the Heavens during the month of Nissan.
During the month of Nissan, we naturally experience urges to change ourselves, to do Teshuva on a deeper level than even the months of Elul and Tishrei, where we do Teshuva out of a deep sense of fear and reverence for the holy process of Divine judgment that is unfolding. During the month of Passover, the month where the greatest miracles of all time happened for the Jewish people, we are naturally pumped full of love for Hashem and a spiritual passion that comes to us from above – “Itaruta D’Leila.” We don’t have to worry about making ourselves feel some type of way – we already do, and the Seder simply channels the passion that we are naturally feeling into a certain order of Mitzvot in order to maximize the staying power of this Divine inspiration.
We are taught that eating the Matza is a symbolic representation of the process that is happening during this month – the Matza itself fills us with the energy of revelation, not because we earned a revelation but because on this night every single Jew - from the pauper lacking virtually all apparent merit to the Tzadik with a treasure trove of Torah and Mitzvot – has a revelation provided directly from Hashem. We are being spoon fed spiritual energy rather than expected to produce it for ourselves, and this is the reason why Nissan is the month where redemption actually occurred. For redemption must occur as a partnership between humanity and the Divine, but not an equal partnership – by definition, those in need of redemption require more assistance than they will be able to provide themselves.
The assistance we receive, and received, during this month of Nissan is of the essence of the energy of Nachson Ben Aminadav, who we are taught charged headlong into the Red Sea when he realized that nothing was happening, the Egyptians were right behind them and something had to happen. It is the energy to remove the barriers of practicality and allow complete faith to take over. When we eat that piece of Matza, we are supposed to envision that we have just taken a bite of pure faith medicine, and that it will now spread throughout our spiritual bloodstream like liquid gold, rejuvenating all that has dried, cracked and flaked and giving us the ability to recognize the constant presence of the Divine in every aspect of reality – to attain “Yirat Hashem,” which I’ll render as “the ability to see God” rather than the more conventional but perhaps less meaningful, “fear of God.”
Once our faith has been corrected through eating the Matza at the Seder, we are ready to continue the work of freeing ourselves that has been initiated tonight – after all, actually leaving slavery in Egypt was just the beginning. Combatting the mentality of slavery was the greatest challenge for the Jewish people, and we see that they slipped back into this mentality countless times during the desert, much to the disappointment of God and Moshe. This is our greatest challenge in a world where maintaining awareness of the Divinity inherent in Creation is perhaps more difficult than it has ever been.
With cell phones constantly buzzing with responsibilities both urgent and contrived, noise of the densely populated cities eliminating the possibility of quiet contemplation, unprecedented difficulty in maintaining a livelihood, and countless more challenges of the modern world, many of us read or hear Divrei Torah about having faith in God and understandably think of it as an abstract idea rather than a constant and infinitely relevant way of life. But internalizing faith through eating the Matza on the Seder night is a reminder of the immediacy of true faith – faith is not the intellectual understanding that God exists, but rather the constant and unrelenting pursuit of an intimate relationship with God.
King David alludes to this understanding of faith in God in the Psalms, where he writes “Shiviti Hashem L’Negdi Tamid” – “I have set Hashem before me always” (Tehillim 16:8). This is what it means to actually have faith in God – to be constantly reminding ourselves to check in with Hashem, and to remember that the difficult or euphoric experience we just had was a direct message from Him, just like all other events in our life. Faith in Hashem means remembering that we were redeemed from Egypt because Hashem went out of His way to personally redeem us – to arouse us from above, even when we couldn’t arouse ourselves from below.
Our mission during this month of Nissan is simply to let Hashem redeem us once more – to recognize that the definition of being in a relationship with God is that we don’t have to do all of the work, and to rejoice in that fact. But every spiritual benefit that comes down to this world needs a vehicle through which it can be expressed, and our job is to have that vehicle ready to capture all the energy of redemption on the night when Hashem shines that light once more into this world. So we clean house – both within us, and around us – and when it comes time for Hsahem to rejuvenate our faith so that we can be redeemed, we can rest assured knowing that we did all we could to be prepared.Has
Ya’akov Adam Schwartz
Ya’akov (Jacob) Adam Schwartz regularly writes blog postings for Jewish Values Online.
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I invited a dear non-Jewish friend to my Pesach dinner for the second night. She wrote back stating that her other Jewish friends told her it would be inappropriate for her to attend. As a new Jew I find this off-putting. Were we not strangers in Egypt?
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