Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Countdown To Freedom

Americans begin preparing for Thanksgiving days or perhaps a week in advance. But when it comes to Jews and Passover, much more preparation time is needed.

Jewish Tradition teaches that we begin preparing for Passover 30 days in advance, by making both physical and spiritual arrangements. Taken literally, this means that on Shushan Purim (which is Purim in Jerusalem and other specific walled cities) we already turn our eyes to the “Festival of Redemption.” The Shulchan Aruch devotes the very first words of the laws of Passover (Orach Chaim 429), the first of 65 very complicated chapters on the laws of Passover, to remind people to prepare funds to donate in order to assure that all Jews have the wherewithal to purchase the necessary ingredients to fulfil the Passover seder. The traditional term for these contributions is ma’ot chittim, literally “funds for wheat, which enables the more indigent to acquire wine, matzah, bitter herbs, and haroset, so they can have a festive meal with one’s family, to celebrate the freedom of our people.

The second chronological point in the countdown to Passover occurs with the advent of the Hebrew month of Nissan, the month in which Passover is celebrated. During this month, we do not recite certain petitional prayers that are omitted on festive days. The sages taught that this is due to the general joyful nature of the entire month, not just the seven (or eight outside of Israel) days of Passover.

During the first twelve days of Nissan, the twelve tribal princes offered lavish gifts at the dedication of the Tabernacle, which took place on the first day of Nissan. The twelve daily gifts represented all tribes except for the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Joseph was therefore split into the two tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, to make 12 tribes. Since each day was a celebration for a particular Tribal prince, the first 12 days of the month of Nissan, unrelated to Passover, express an ongoing sense of joy. Add to those days the 7 or 8 joyous days of Passover, and we find that the majority of the days of the month are festive days. It is a custom for people to read about the gift of the particular prince on the particular day of Nissan that the tribal leader brought his gift. The details of the gifts are described in chapter 7 of the book of Numbers.

Establishing the entire month of Nissan as a month of joy, precludes observing certain public components of grief such as offering eulogies and related memorial prayers. Some have a custom not to visit a cemetery during the entire month of Nissan.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with issues of halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

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