I think we need to prepare more for Pesach. I know that your knee-jerk reaction to my suggestion is that I am crazy. But I do think we need to prepare more for Pesach, or at the very least, we need to prepare for it differently. Those of us who are home for Pesach have been cooking and cleaning and cooking and cleaning some more. Even though I find that some Pesach hotel programs may be excessive in extravagance and materialism, I can understand why so many families want to go away for the holiday. The preparation can be extremely stressful and many of us arrive at the holiday feeling completely exhausted, and this can take away from the happiness that we should all feel on this beautiful Yom Tov.
How do we prepare for Yom Tov? There is an apparent inconsistency between different Talmudic sources as to whether we should study the laws of Pesach thirty days before the holiday or whether we should study the laws on the holiday itself. The Beit Yosef (Orach Hayyim #429) explains that before Pesach, we study the laws for practical reasons, so that we know how to kasher our homes for Pesach and how to ensure that our Seder night experience meets all the halachic requirements. However, on Pesach itself we study the reasons for the halachot in order to gain a better appreciation of the holiday itself and to make its observance more meaningful. According to the Beit Yosef, we work very hard preparing for Pesach for thirty days and then on Pesach itself, we relax and enjoy and delve into the deeper meaning of the holiday.
This recipe for a meaningful holiday works for some people, but I don’t think it works for others. Some people can live up to the ideal of the Beit Yosef and are spiritually inspired from the cleaning and cooking and the minutiae of preparations, and I think that’s wonderful. But I fear that many of us cannot live up to that ideal. I fear that many of us may start to resent this holiday because of the amount of work that is involved. In fact, in a post last year I suggested that perhaps we should cook fewer dishes on Pesach and even follow the view of the Mishna Berura – only cleaning and searching for chametz that is more than a kzayit – if the stringency of cleaning and searching for chametz that is less than a kzayit will seriously compromise our Simchat Yom Tov.
But if the preparations themselves are stressful, and certainly not spiritually uplifting, how are we to prepare spiritually for the holiday? Surely there must be something else we can do?
In today’s day and age, I think that the Beit Yosef’s recommendation for what we learn on Pesach should be started before Pesach. If we want to enjoy the Seder, we need to learn divrei Torah that are meaningful to us and that are special to us before Pesach so that we are excited to share these divrei Torah on the Seder night. We need to think about how we are going to convey to our children the beautiful mesorah before Pesach so that we are excited to fulfill the mitzvah of “v’higadta l’vincha” on Pesach. The Seder night is one of the most exciting nights of the year, but we need to prepare ourselves mentally for it. The Sfat Emet writes, “yoter koach v’hatzalah yesh b’hachanat hamitzvah miguf kiyum hamitzvah,” or “there’s greater power to the preparation of the mitzvah than the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah itself.” He reasons that, “asiyat hamitzvah hu rak l’shaah v’hahachnah hu l’olam,” or “the performance of the mitzvah is only for a moment and the preparation is forever.” There is never a neutral moment in Judaism. Either we are performing mitzvot or we are preparing to perform mitzvot, because “hachana” is forever.
So, yes, I think we need to prepare more for Pesach, but I’m not referring to the cleaning, the cooking, the packing or the buying. I’m referring to the spiritual preparation, the kind of preparation that will not leave us completely exhausted, but the kind of preparation that will re-awaken us to how precious this holiday truly is.