Preparing for Passover

Rabbi Melanie Aron

Saturday, April 12, 2008

On four out of the six weeks leading up to Passover we have special Torah or Haftarah readings, which means two out of six we don’t and this week is one of those. But because Passover is so clearly just around the corner, the commentaries have addressed the question of how reading Parashat Metzora prepares us for the upcoming holiday.

Two of the commentaries I’ll address deal with particulars and one deals in general concepts.

Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, a medieval commentator, notes that the use of hyssop creates a connection between Parashat Metzorah and the preparations for Passover.

Hyssop is used in the ceremony which allows the individual stricken with tzara’at to return to the camp and is also used in the purification of houses.

Hyssop was also used in the ceremony of the placing blood on the doorposts (as described in Exodus Chapter 12):” You will then have to take a bunch of hyssop and dip it into the blood that will be placed in a basin. Touch the beam over the door and the two doorposts with some blood in the basin. Not a single one of you may go out of the house until morning. God will then pass through to strike Egypt. When God sees the blood over the door and on the two doorposts, God will pass over that door and not let the force of destruction enter your houses to strike.”

Commenting on this parallel noticed by Ibn Ezra, Rabbi Gedaliah Schor notes that both rituals relate to ending exile.

For Metzorah, it is the personal exile of the affected individual sent outside the camp or the exile of a particular family from its home.

And in the Exodus story it is the national exile of the entire people in Egypt.

Reading Metzorah just before Passover brings the personal and the national together and reminds us to use this Passover time to heal the exile that exist in our own lives, that we may return from our exile from each other and bring an end to the exile of God’s presence from our lives.

A second connection of particulars concerns the use of the word nega – mark, wound, blow used over and over in Parashat Metzorah as in nega hatzaraat.

The word nega is also used with regard to the Exodus but only once in the relation to the tenth plague.

Exodus Chapter 11 – God says to Moses: “Od Nega Echad There is one more plague ( or blow) that I will send against Pharaoh & Egypt.”

All of the plagues brought devastation upon Egypt, but this last plague, the death of the first born, is singularly referred to as a blow, for it touched real individuals in their deepest places.

Like tzaraat which not only destroyed the individual, but also cut them off from their people, the death of the first born cut these Egyptians off from their history and their immortality by creating a break in their line of family succession.

At Passover we pray, that we might be spared those blows that cut us off from our community and our history.

Finally a more general connection is made between the purification of the leper and the purification of our homes for Passover.

This is expressed in a variety of ways.

The first is the reminder that we must rid ourselves of the bad, that is remove the chumetz from our homes, before we can take steps towards the good, positive acts of Passover celebration. This echoes the sequence of Psalms – sur meirah veseh tov, avoid evil and perform good deeds.

Further, the Talmud says that the chametz represents the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. By ridding ourselves of chametz, we are putting aside the evil within us. Because of matzah’s unleavened nature, it is an expression of our desire to actively bring spirituality into our lives.

The purification rituals remind us that in making change we have to first disconnect with our old ways of doing things so that we have the energy to pursue the new.

With regard to the purification ritual in Parashat Metzorah the Sfat Emet writes:

“Two birds are used in the ritual of purification. One bird represents the end of the illness; the other represents the beginning of a new sense of wholeness and well being. The first bird is killed on the sacrificial altar and the second is released into the world just as the former leper steps into the community.”

On this Passover may our physical preparations be tied with our spiritual preparations, as we rid ourselves of the symbols of that which is puffed up in our lives. May these preparations clear the way towards connecting and reconnecting with the best that is within us.