Virtual Talmud

In our house, the experience of Passover always comes early, with the preparations. As we shop, put away, clean, dust, scrub, vacuum, and scrub some more, the transformation our house undergoes slowly begins to pervade our consciousness as well, as if by some alchemical process. And slowly, gradually as we transform our environment by putting away the old and bringing out the new, we look at the world with radically transformed eyes.

There was the moment when I unpacked the first of our Passover dishes–normally stored down in the basement, brought out to see the light of day for only eight days a year. These dishes are kept hidden away so not a speck of chametz–leaven–will come near, so they will remain pure and uncontaminated.

Sitting on our freshly scoured shelf, out in the open, the dish seemed so vulnerable–exposed to whatever might come its way. And there was such a beauty in that vulnerability, like something delicate, something exquisite that risks opening itself up to the world: the first hopeful blossoms of spring, frost extending across a window in a jagged lattice, the paper-thin wings of a butterfly. How much easier when you are so fragile to stay hidden away, to protect your soft and defenseless places! How much braver and grander to share this fragile beauty with the world, all the more beautiful because of its fragility.

This is the experience of the slave’s freedom, of dizzying, rushing, surging release from the place of bondage and constraint. This is what it means to rush boldly ahead, damaged places and all, willing to chance whatever the world may bring to you. It is heady stuff; and the temptation is to bottle it, preserve it, keep it safe for a rainy day.

The paradox of freedom is that this approach can never work. For freedom only exists when let out in the open, when it risks the bruises and scrapes of encounters with the real world. Freedom challenges us to love it so deeply that we are willing to risk it by letting it out and not keep it behind the fences and barricades that protect and stifle.

The trick, then, is to transform the world to make it hospitable for this fragile and beautiful impulse. Passover dishes brought into a kitchen that was not properly cleaned would soon be ruined, and freedom brought into a world of cruelty and violence will inevitably succumb to those who prey on the very fragility that makes it so vital.

This Passover, may we begin to transform our own corners of the world–to scrub ourselves free of hatred, callousness, and indifference so we may extend the blessing of freedom to those who huddle in dark, hopeless places, so we may truly say: “This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.”

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