Like every Yom Tov, Pesach is beautiful and unique. But the road to Pesach must pass through Erev Pesach.
Erev Pesach isn’t just a day. In fact, it’s not even limited to a specific time. It becomes a mindset and an encompassing way of life.
For some, Erev Pesach begins with Chanukah, for others on Shushan Purim, and for some nervous nellies, Pesach begins the day after Sukkos. But for everyone, the week before Pesach is unquestionably Erev Pesach.
It is common for many Jews to suffer from EPS (Erev Pesach Syndrome) which may include feeling hungry, irritable, fatigued, anxious, and overwhelmed.
The most significant challenge of Erev Pesach is that our routines are interrupted. There is a great investment of time necessary for cleaning, checking, and kashering. In addition, cooking, baking and food preparations for Pesach need to begin a few days prior in a chametz-free environment. Therefore, during the days before Pesach, chametz needs to be eaten outside the kitchen.
In our family, our basement becomes our makeshift kitchen during the days before Pesach. We open a folding table upon which the coffee maker, toaster, and all remaining food is placed. Lunch may consist of whatever can be found when rummaging through what is left in the mishloach manos boxes. Taffy, crackers, an apple, and animal crackers may constitute a full meal (if my kids don’t catch me taking stuff from their mishloach manos boxes).
During these trying times, making a cup of coffee can become an ordeal, trying to locate the coffee, milk, hot water, spoon, and sugar all in different and unusual places. In the early morning hours before having had a coffee, having to search for coffee materials is a sure recipe for grumpiness.
In shuls, announcements are made for everyone to clear out their shtenders and all personal belongings because the shul will be cleaned for Pesach. Signs are posted saying that no chametz should be brought into the shul.
During our last days of classes in Heichal HaTorah before Pesach, the yeshivah generously donates its beis midrash to be used for packing boxes for Teaneck Tomchei Shabbos. Every table, chair, and shtender is removed from the room, and replaced with hundreds of boxes and Pesach food supplies. Then, our final day before Pesach, the yeshivah students and rebbeim join the massive, chesed operation to help pack boxes.
Despite it being an inconvenience to move, especially just before vacation, the chesed opportunity is well worth February hassle.
The process of Erev Pesach is surely enriching and memorable, but it is also inconvenient and somewhat challenging.
It is well known that the Chasam Sofer began one of his responsa by writing, “Since I am outside my study, because I have been chased out by the righteous women who are cleaning for the Yom Tov of Pesach, therefore (my response) cannot be as lengthy as necessary.” The Noda BiYehudah similarly wrote about how busy he was dealing with communal issues before Pesach, “and, in addition, I have no space and am constantly going from room to room and corner to corner because they are cleaning the walls and sweeping the floors in honor of the holiday. Therefore, I am writing my opinion concisely.”
It seems that being inconvenienced and out of place during the days before Pesach is not a new practice.
Perhaps there is an integral idea symbolized by our Pre-Pesach wandering that connects to one of the main messages of the Seder and Pesach.
In our prayers, we refer to G-d by various names in order for us to somewhat grasp how He relates to us. Each divine Name has a different significance and meaning, based on His divine manifestation in the world.
One of the more unusual names of G-d is “Makom (Place).” When we comfort mourners, we say to them: “HaMakom y’nacheim eschem – the Omnipresent should comfort you.” Similarly, after leining on Monday and Thursday, we daven for our suffering brethren and say, “HaMakom y’racheim aleihem – the Omnipresent should have mercy upon them.”
During the Seder, we refer to Hashem as “HaMakom” four times. At the time of the Exodus, the Jewish people learned that our avodas Hashem isn’t limited to a time or place. Torah observance isn’t only for when one is in shul during davening times. A Jew must serve Hashem wherever he is – and always.
Just prior to their leaving Egypt, the men received a bris milah and the nation performed the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. They demonstrated complete subservience to Hashem, symbolizing that their redemption was solely for that purpose. Forevermore, the new nation would be defined as G-d’s people. That subservience would transcend time and place.
On the night when we celebrate the genesis of our nationhood, we refer to G-d as “the Place” to emphasize that we are His people wherever we are.
The Midrash states, “Rav Yudan said in the name of Rav Bun: One who learns Torah out of his place takes one thousand (portions of) reward; one who learns Torah in his place takes two hundred (portions of) reward.”
Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l notes that the message of the Midrash applies equally to t’filah. He gives the example of one who is traveling and has no choice but to daven Minchah on the side of the road, just prior to sunset. He may think to himself that he’ll daven mindlessly to fulfill his obligation, and the next day, when he’s back in his usual place for davening, he’ll daven properly again.
Rav Pincus counters that such an attitude is incorrect. Before Minchah on Yom Kippur, would anyone think, “Today I’m weak and hungry from the fast so I’ll just daven nonchalantly. Then tomorrow when I’m feeling better, I’ll daven with more enthusiasm and concentration”? That would be absurd. Everyone knows that Minchah on Yom Kippur is an irreplaceable opportunity, so even if one doesn’t feel well, he’ll push himself to take advantage of it. The same is true with Minchah, and every other t’filah or mitzvah on any given day. Even if one is harried, tired, disoriented, and not in the mood, if he realizes that this davening/mitzvah is an irreplaceable opportunity, he’ll take advantage of it despite the hardship.
The days leading up to Pesach are indeed inconvenient and out of routine. But that itself is an important component of the spiritual message of Pesach. We left Mitzrayim in order to serve Hashem – wherever and whenever. We became avdei Hashem in Mitzrayim, in the desert, in our homeland, on land, in the sea, in exile and in redemption, in the kitchen, in the basement, outside in the backyard, in Cancun or in Alaska. No matter when or where, we proudly remain the servants of Hashem. After spending some time reminding us of that truth, we sit down at the Seder to celebrate the merit we have: to be the proud nation chosen to serve Him always.