Monday, March 26, 2007

Sanitizing the Insanity of Pesach

The brooms have come out of the closet, sweeping the crumbs off their feet. The mops have come out of retirement, mopping the brows of the hardwood floors in a swooshing rhythm. The dusters have been dusted off and are scattering the little feathery minutiae that congregate in corners and atop cabinets. Cleaning agents (don’t you just love that term, “cleaning agents,” sounds like little suds in dark suits and darker glasses, chasing grimy filth around in their government-issue, tinted-window sedans) have soaped and shampooed any surface that is, well, surfaced. And every book (which in a good Jewish home is more than the goyishe coffee table number and essential cookbooks) has been aired and its pages flipped. Such is the life in the Jewish home during the hectic pre-Pesach weeks – every nook, cranny and crevice is squeakily cleaned, hygienically sanitized and flawlessly spic-and-spanned.

Ironically, it seems, the holiday of freedom has imprisoned us in the Siberian gulag of chores; the time of exodus has shackled us to the tough bristles of the broom; the hour of redemption has exiled us to the dominion of domestic servitude. What is going on here – are we free to do as we please or has our exodus only been a transfer from the cell of Egyptian bondage to the pits of solitary confinement?

Ever since I was a child when, from Purim on, I was not allowed to bring food or drink into my room lest a rebellious crumb escape the plate’s status quo and defile my chometz-free bedroom, I’ve wondered about the whole Pesach cleaning thing – is it really necessary to blowtorch pots, silver-foil faucets and plastic-cover countertops?

(I’m sorry to burden you with this pun, but the whole Pesach cleaning experience seems to be wishy-washy. Ouch!)

As the human race would have it, there are those that would rather go with the faucet flow and not ask these dirty questions. And there are others that would go as far as calling these questions apikorses, bordering on the heretical (if not the hysterical). But, as I’ve been taught and as the holiday of Pesach demonstrates, we are nothing without our questions and if one were to deny a question – that would be heretical; it would mean that we believe the Torah was not intelligent enough to answer legitimate questions. (What would the Babylonian Talmud be without questions? Unanswerable if not unfathomable.)

If the perennial Bubby was around at the moment, she’d probably say to my questions, “Nu, megst fregen,” nu, so you’re allowed to ask, which, in my vast experience with such shrewd shrug-offs, would be a clear sign that there was no answer on the horizon (though, in all honesty, the fact that I’m allowed to ask may be the greatest answer of all). I guess her thinking would be, “Just because Judaism begets questions doesn’t mean grandmothers beget answers!” True, o wizened one, but where does that leave me?

Thankfully, in not only advocating (and supplying) questions but answers as well, Judaism and its blueprint, the Torah, has opened my eyes, pockets and cupboards to the deeper cleaning of Pesach: the brushes and soaps that reach beneath the polished surface and into the raw self.

The physical Pesach cleaning process, where we rid our homes, possessions and environments of any chometz, is but a reflection of the spiritual Pesach cleaning process, where we rid our personal selves – mind, body and soul – of any chometz.

What is physical chometz? Chometz (rhymes with summits) is any grain product – like bread, cake, pasta or pizza crust; be it wholegrain, multigrain, half-grain or even migraine – that has had the chance to ferment and rise.

Spiritual chometz is no different: it is the inflated self, the bacterial part of us that has had a chance to ferment way out of character and rise way out of proportion. Anything within ourselves that considers itself an identity all its own and has an ego that rises like warm yeast, is a piece of chometz. Like the physical chometz, the spiritual chometz tastes very good, is very fattening, and gets real moldy and real stale really fast.

If we want true freedom we have to throw away that yeasty garbage, we have to washout our dirty laundry, we have to clean up our micro-mess. Scrubbing our indecencies and selfishness away allows for our true beings to shine forth. Sweeping our minds of any crumbs left from our inflated – and, therefore, crumbling – egos allows us to uncover who we really are – people of the free, cut clean from any Egypt or confine, running unhindered and unrestrained (not to mention unsoiled) to the Promised Land.

So, before you throw in the towel, stop moping and start mopping – after all, if one was to clean not only the bottom of the shelf but also the bottom of the self, one would have to turn up the heat to a whole new level – to “self-clean” perhaps?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bittul - A Prelude To Tomorrow’s Post

I recently came across this and in one line it really captures what Bittul is all about. Most people misinterpret it or don't interpret it altogether. I think tomorrow I'm going to post more on this. (Hey, if one doesn't have Bittul at least they can write about it.)

“Ultimate Bittul is not only searching for the vices in yourself but also for the virtues in another” – The Rebbe (Printed in Lekkutei Sichos vol. 17, p. 7.)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Writ & Read

Writ sits in solitude, fingers tap-dancing a rhythm out of key: Letters sprinkling like chocolate on vanilla; Words embracing like Adam and Eve; Sentences fastening like speeding locomotive cars; Paragraphs supporting like old-age-home banisters.

Writ writes himself – that is, Writ writes himself into the pages. Writ never writes fiction – there is no such thing as fiction: if someone says there is, then that someone is a fictionist. Many writers hide behind their words – after all, it never feels good to be naked in a clothing store – Writ, however, words his way out of hiding: letters are the fingers with which he unbuttons his shirt; words, the hands with which he undresses his soul.

Read stands in company, fingers dog-earing pages yellowed: (Paper)back hunched like Quasimodo; Spine tingled like A. Christy mystery; Preface blushing like the cheek of Cosette; Epilogue experienced like Jean Valjean.

Read reads others – that is, Read reads what others have written. Read never reads non-fiction – after all, for non-fiction Read has but to look out the window. It is fiction, that thing only found in endings fair and tales fairy, what Read so desperately craves.

Who are you, Writ or Read?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Purim 2007

“Whoever reads the Megila retrospectively – out of order; back to front – has not fulfilled the mitzvah.”
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz– Talmud, Megila, beg. Ch. II.

“Whoever reads the Megila retrospectively – as if it was just a story of the past; irrelevant to the present – has not fulfilled the mitzvah.”
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz– The Baal Shem Tov

“…The king made a feast for all those…(Esther, 1:5)”

We lie here in exile, fat and growing fatter, content to go through the routines of life, satisfied with the status quo of existence. And why not, when we are invited to feast off all the world’s pleasures?

And what a feast it is: impure-silver contentment interwoven with purple-silk temptation; gold goblets brimming with self-righteousness washing down pompousness stuffed full with vanity; onyx encrusted limitations draped over platinum plated coarseness.

Life is beautiful – well, at least our monies can buy beautiful things – and we are free – free to enslave ourselves.

We are drunk on our own insecurities, but who cares so long as we are in denial. We are broken-up inside, but who cares so long as we smile on the outside. We have been exiled for a while now, but with such exile who needs redemption.

It seems the physical feast has become our spiritual famine. Why do we not realize that when we feast off the world we are also allowing the world to feast off us?

“…But Mordechai did not bow…(3:2)”

And yet, even as the rest of the world bows to the idol, there is a part of us that remains upright and true, never exchanging a few moments of bliss for an eternity of pain.

It is not easy, standing up for your values in a room where everything is valueless. It is most difficult, keeping your identity when surrounded by people who’d rather bend to peer-pressure. It is the greatest of challenges, holding your head up high when the majority bows theirs so low.

It makes people envious, sure, when they see someone who stands for what s/he believes – and that envy, instead of using it as inspiration to change themselves, causes them to get angry and enraged at the situation.

“…To destroy, kill and decimate…(3:13)”

Good and Evil (or whatever term you wish to use to word the positives and negatives in life) cannot coexist – where Good flourishes Evil falters, where Evil flourishes Good falters. Subsequently, when they meet at the inevitable crossroad called Life, a battle ensues, with Good trying to best Evil and Evil trying to best (worst?) Good.

When Evil sees Good faltering, when he sees it feasting off things physical instead of sustaining from things spiritual, Evil tries to come in for the kill. Evil tries to hang Good from a gallows made of a million broken promises.

“…On that night, the king could not sleep…(6:1)”

But Good doesn’t play by the same rules as Evil; Evil’s power is limited to this world alone, but Good’s power reaches far beyond to a place that transcends evil. Evil cannot take a warm smile and make it a cold smirk, but Good can take a cold smirk and make it a warm smile.

And so it is at night, in the darkest hour, when the miracle begins, when a dire situation turns for the better.

“…And everything was turned upside-down, inside-out…(9:1)”

What seemed to be terrible yesterday is wonderful today. He who wanted us to bow to him now bows to us. The Evil that wanted to smite us is now being smitten. And the world is a better place.

But how can there be such a drastic change, from yesterday to today, so drastic that those who were our enemies are now our friends, so drastic that those who wished for us to swing form the gallows now swing themselves?

It is because everything is turned upside-down, inside-out. Yesterday we saw things at face-value; today we see things at soul-value. Yesterday we looked at things for their physical price; today we see things for their spiritual worth. Yesterday we were feasting in the palaces of kings; today we feast in the palace of the King of kings – and no feast was ever more satisfying.

“…For the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor…(8:16)”

Last years Purim piece: Faced By...

Sneak peek: In honor of Purim, this weeks Weekly Poetry will address "Masks." If you've recently been born or have just learned to read, you can subscribe to the Weekly Poetry by emailing me, sub. "Subscribe."