See Reality As It Is for Pesach Sheni
Appreciating wisdom and applying that wisdom in daily life are two very different things. Ilana Kaufman testifies to this gap in her piece where she describes the great distance between good intentions of Jewish communal leaders over the past decade to eliminate racism and the glaring and painful structural racism still commonplace in the community. Kaufman describes, with understandable indignation, the way the vast majority of people of color continue to experience racism within their Jewish communities. She calls on all of us to, “feel the feelings — alarm, sadness, disappointment, even a sense of failure..." and move towards action to create space for Jews of Color. This call to feel and perceive what is, as a motivator for change, is supported by a practice from this Hebrew month.
The only Biblical holiday this month is Pesach Sheni, the second Passover, which offered people who couldn’t participate in the sacrificial Passover ritual on 14 Nissan another chance on 14 Iyyar. The Torah tells us that the Passover lamb was eaten on this day with Matzah and Maror. However, it says nothing about Chametz, the leavened bread and yeast, that was so crucial to remove before and during the first Passover. Apparently it was fine to have a beer and pita along with the Matzah and Maror on Second Passover.
Seeing more clearly what is, less encumbered by past experience or fantasy, gives us a greater flexibility in choosing how to respond to that reality in the present moment.
Beyond the culinary benefits of this expanded menu, Pesach Sheni has embedded in it an important message about living spiritual wisdom. On the day before Passover, there is a mitzvah to destroy all chametz in our possession, by a number of different means and symbolized by burning the last remains of bread or other leavened products in one’s possession. Chametz and Se’or/yeast are symbolic of that which is overblown and puffed-up. Matzah is simple, just bread and water and no extras. There is a chametz way of seeing reality and a matzah way of seeing reality. Reality with a chametz lens includes the stories, habits, past hurts, fantasies, and everything else we burden the present moment with in our perception. A Matzah lens helps us see reality as it is by helping us be here in the present with awareness beyond the stories we bring to every encounter. Matzah is the bread of freedom because seeing more clearly what is, less encumbered by past experience or fantasy, gives us a greater flexibility in choosing how to respond to that reality in the present moment. Seeing things the way they are is also a key step in making change. As James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until is is faced.”
With chametz removed, the first Passover is a seven day retreat/training program to learn how to see what is with a present-time, liberation perspective. Seven symbolizes wholeness and a complete unit. After the training period is over (8 days in the diaspora), chametz is reintroduced into life. How well can we apply the wisdom gained through this training once we are home from the retreat center and back into the routines of life? Pesach Sheni is a check-in point one month later. It is a time to look clearly at how we have or have not integrated the matzah practice of really seeing reality for what it is, but this time amidst the chametz of life. This chametz can be old habits, fears, privilege, and other factors that keep us from putting into action what we know to be true. It is all the things that contribute to the fact that, as Kaufman laments, Jewish leaders haven’t made any significant changes to racial injustice in the Jewish community in the past decade. Pesach Sheni is the time for taking the matzah, once again, and looking clearly at reality as it is. It is time to “feel the feelings — alarm, sadness, disappointment, even a sense of failure..." and put into action what we know is needed to make change.
In honor of Pesach Sheni, and the failures Kaufman puts before us, I invite you to join me and my colleague, Yehudah Webster, for the final installment of the Dismantling Racism from the Inside Out webinar series - Closing the Empathy Gap with Compassionate Care. This series, and Mussar practice in general, is founded on the need to make knowledge real, to make it live in our bodies and social systems and not just as ideas so we can create the liberatory and anti-racist communities Kaufman writes so passionately about, that our community so desperately needs. May the rituals and actions we take this month move all of us closer to not only seeing clearly the impact of systems of oppression, but also taking the action needed to transform those systems.
Rabbi David Jaffe