“Ma, there’s a fire!” is not what I wanted to hear as I was preparing for Passover by self-cleaning the oven. This was followed shortly by an explosion as the oven’s glass door shattered, leaving glass and burn marks all over the kitchen. Thankfully no one was hurt (except the flooring, which bears the marks of this sorry tale).
The lead up to Passover is a busy time as it is — there is all the cleaning, of course, as we rid our house and car of all the chametz (or bread) products. There is the cooking and baking for so many meals, with different ingredients. Plus ,there is the increased cost of the Pesach food. It is clear that Passover is a big deal. It is the most celebrated Jewish festival, with over 70% of Jews in USA taking part in a seder.
Even without the drama of an oven exploding at a time when I needed it, it seems like a lot! I thought to myself, why? Why is it such a big deal and why do we have to prepare for it so extensively? Why does Passover involve so many time-specific and labor-intensive laws? Couldn’t we celebrate it in a way that involves less steps?
Of course, the fuss and the intricate laws about Passover are actually intentional, and with them, contains the secret of how to change as a person. Change is hard. Changing yourself is perhaps the hardest thing to do. How can one actually go about becoming more kind, patient, positive, or whatever their goal is?
There is a lot written about change. A couple of the popular theories examine the relationship between our behavior and our mindset. It is clear that our mindset and our behavior are connected. Think about how you behave when you are confident you can do something versus when you aren’t so sure whether you can. How do you behave during an interview when you feel like you would be the perfect candidate for the job? Contrast that with how you would perform during an interview where you weren’t sure if you could do the job. Your behavior would be different based on your internal state.
Further, think about how your mindset is influenced by your behaviour. When you get dressed confidently, throw your shoulders back and walk into the interview with your posture straight after giving yourself a pep talk, are you starting to feel more confident? Probably. If you are feeling irritated by someone, and you take a deep breath and count to ten silently, are you starting to feel calmer? Our behavior influences our internal state as well.
This is why, the Sefer haChinuch explains, Passover has so many different laws. The many little things one needs to do over Pesach, affect our internal world and teach us an important lesson about changing ourselves. If you’re looking to become more generous, give charity enough times and you will eventually become a giver – it doesn’t necessarily matter how much you give each time, it’s the repetitions you get in that influence us. Do something enough times and those behaviors will change you.
Bringing it Together
Passover is the time when we became free, when we became G-d’s chosen nation with the responsibility of fulfilling His mission in this world. To do that we need to change from people that are slaves to free people.
Each of us in our lives has something that we are ‘slaves’ to, something that is holding us back from living freely, from living in alignment. Passover is the time that we break free, that we make that transition. We don’t ignore the mindset shifts that we need to make. On seder night, we sit together and tell the story of how G-d came and freed us from the Egyptian slavery — we share how G-d created miracles to save us.
We learn that it is possible to break free and that G-d cares enough about us to break nature to enable us to make that transformation. We just have to take the first step. There were Jews that stayed in Mitzrayim, they weren’t forced to leave. When we make the choice to change for the better and take the action we need to get there, G-d will help us with the rest.
To change, we need to implement, we need to start doing, we need to get those repetitions in. On Pesach, we sit like royalty, like people who are freed from all internal and external constraints and are living in alignment with their purpose. By continuing to take small steps toward those goals, we will get there.