One look, and it’s clear – it’s springtime in Vancouver. It is no accident that Passover is celebrated at this time of year. (photo from Alex Kliner)
This year, Passover begins on Friday night, April 22, and continues through Saturday, April 30. The first seder is on Shabbat and the second is on Saturday evening. What is the significance of this?
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam or Maimonides) was born on the eve of Passover in 1135 in Cordoba, Spain. He writes that, on the night of the 15th of Nissan, it is a positive commandment of the Torah to relate the miracles that transpired with our forefathers in Egypt. For it is written, “Remember this day on which you went out of Egypt.” The meaning of “remember” here is similar to that which is written about Shabbat: “Remember the day of Shabbat.”
The Rambam explains, at the beginning of the Laws of Shabbat, that resting from labor on the seventh day is a positive commandment, for it is written, “On the seventh day you shall rest.” The fact that the Rambam begins the laws with the positive command indicates that the main aspect of Shabbat observance lies in the positive aspect. Shabbat is a weekly occurrence, when we take a break from our work and enjoy time with family and friends at home and in synagogue, as we focus on the spiritual aspects of the day.
By connecting the tale of the Exodus on 15 Nissan to the remembrance of Shabbat, the Rambam is indicating that, with regards to relating the events of the Exodus, the main aspect is the positive step of becoming free. So, the obligation to relate the story of the Exodus involves not only the recalling of our release from slavery, but the recounting of how we became free. The Haggadah adds that an individual is obligated to feel as if they themselves had just gone out of Egypt.
As Passover approaches, the Torah instructs us that this festival of liberation should always be celebrated in the spring – Chodesh Ha’aviv, the month of spring. It relates that, on the day of Rosh Chodesh Nissan (the head of the month of Nissan), two weeks before the deliverance from Egyptian enslavement, we received the first mitzvah: sanctification of the new moon, whereby the first day of each month is sanctified as Rosh Chodesh, in conjunction with the molad (rebirth) of the moon as it reappears as a narrow crescent.
Together with this came other details of our Jewish annual calendar. Our calendar is based on the lunar year (12 lunar months), coupled with an adjustment to the solar year by the insertion of an additional month every two or three years, making a leap year, consisting of 13 months, as we just marked with the months of Adar I and Adar II. In this way, the accumulated lag of the lunar year relative to the solar year, 11.5 days, is absorbed. This requirement and the necessity for Nissan to fall in the spring, the time of the Exodus, is vitally important, so all our other Jewish festivals also occur in their proper season; for example, that Sukkot takes place in autumn.
On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, G-d instructed us, the Jewish nation, about the Passover sacrifice and the laws of the festival of Pesach, which is also known as the Festival of our Liberation. This was deliverance from our physical slavery from ancient Egypt. However, given that the instructions in the Torah are eternal and valid at all times and wherever Jews live, in every generation, the Festival of our Liberation is also freedom in a spiritual sense; that we might be liberated from our limitations and leap over our everyday shackles.
How? By focusing our energy on our being free and thanking G-d for allowing us to be able to use our minds to release ourselves from any obstacles we may face. Also, by remembering that G-d loves us so much that He Himself redeemed us, not wanting to send any angels to do this precious job for His suffering children. Due to His great love for us, He took us out in the spring, when the weather was favorable.
This Passover, in the Lower Mainland, we are fortunate to be able to see the renewal in the earth, as trees and flowers bloom and fruits blossom, the rainy weather that we have endured for months changes to sunshine and baby birds and animals are born.
May we enjoy this special Passover, which begins and ends on Shabbat, with family, friends and guests at our seders, yom tov meals and synagogue or Chabad House attendance. May G-d grant us, as the Haggadah concludes, “Next Year in Yerushalayim,” with the imminent coming of Moshiach.
Wishing everyone a special Shabbat shalom and a kosher and happy Passover!
Esther Tauby is a local educator, writer and counselor. This article is based on talks that were given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l.