It strikes me as somewhat ironic to hear people say they’re glad to be free of the Festival of freedom. Granted, the matzah can get a bit much and Pesach is eight days of fantasizing over chocolate cake, but it remains an essentially inspiring time. Rushing from Pesach to the pizza parlour often robs us of the chance to reflect on what the festival of freedom has offered us.
Pesach marks the birth of idealism. Moses had a dream. He ignited the imagination of three million slaves and led them to a new life. Our nationhood exploded into being amidst miracles and Divine revelation- the hallmarks of Pesach. Then reality struck. In short order we went from the magic of supernature to the monotony of wandering a barren desert. Don’t think this is history; it’s life. We have our Pesach moments that fling us headlong towards model behaviour. Soon enough we have our tasteless-Matzah moments, where we wonder why we ever thought those resolutions and principles were a good idea.
As with Aaron’s sons in this week’s Parsha, it’s easy to fly off in pursuit of dreams. His sons were experts at inspiration and failures at application. Hopefully, you had a good seder (the food was good, it didn’t end too late, the kids sang nicely and you felt inspired). After Pesach, our challenge is to anchor the upliftment into real life.
So, straight after this spectacular holiday, we begin to read Pirkei Avos. Every Shabbos afternoon, for the next few weeks, we review a chapter of the teachings of our Sages. Most Talmudic literature focuses on the how-to of Judaism. Pirkei Avos coaches us in being a mentsch, it trains us to refine our character.
Interestingly, in the opening chapter of Pirkei Avos, we find the Jewish definition of being a mentsch. Shimon the pious offers the first teaching of the book- which is meant to set the tone for whatever character refinement Avos is meant to teach us. He insists that the world stands on three pillars (his implication is that a world on two pillars will topple): Torah, prayer and good deeds. A Jew will be a mentsch with a good mix of study, contact with G-d and good ol’ kindness.
Whatever Pesach meant to you this year, now is the time to put together an action plan. All you need to do is study something about Judaism each day or at least each week, daven and give a little more charity than you feel you should.