Now that Purim is over, we’ve begun to barrel toward Passover. In the Shulkhan Arukh 429:1, which begins the subject of Passover, we are instructed to start asking questions and learn about the laws of Passover. That is, the moment we’ve survived Haman’s onslaught and celebrated Esther’s victory, we turn to the central story of who we are as people.
Passover and Purim are opposing ends of our story, a story of freedom and commitment. If we look at the counting of the months, Passover is the beginning of the new year and Purim is the completion of our journey. At the same time, it also feels like we celebrate the end followed by the beginning.
In Passover, we begin the journey out into the wilderness, following God’s command. The heartache and hardship of experiencing the Exodus are serious. The people leave their homes, the only lives they’ve ever known, for the possibility of living a life more intentional, more guided, and their own. They escape! They leave their past behind and enter a new life.
But life is not so easy for the Israelites. The moment they enter the desert, the internal struggle begins: intertribal strife, the golden calf, and finally the giving of the Torah. This moment, reflected by Shavuot — the next holiday after Passover — is celebratory, and a bit scary. After all of the trouble, we’ve finally received the Torah, but it’s not that simple.
In the Talmud, on Shabbat 88a, we’re taught about that Mt. Sinai moment: “Rabbi Avdimi Bar Hama bar Hasa said: ‘The [previously quoted] verse taught that the Holy Blessing One turned over the mountain like a tub and said to the [people]: if you accept Torah, good, and if not, this will be your grave.’” In this telling of the story, God threatened our people into accepting Torah. We know that someone coerced into accepting something is not liable for it. And yet, here we are.
This is where Purim comes in. “Rava said: ‘Despite this, the generation [that lived with] Ahashverosh accepted it [the Torah]. As it is written [in the book of Esther 9:27]: “The Jews established and accepted,” they established what was already accepted.’” Rava explains that despite the coercion that might have happened in the desert, the Jews accepted Torah anew upon their survival in Persia. This is the moment we just left last week, the full acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, generations later. And as we pass from this acceptance, we shift our attention back to the beginning.
This year is different. Purim and Passover last year were the threshold of Jewish holidays that separated our universe into pre- and pandemic. We’ve arrived back again to that moment.
But we’re not the same as we were.
When I begin to relearn the laws of Passover, as we’ve been instructed by the Shulkhan Arukh, I find myself thinking about the power of resilience — the power of our people to leave the known and enter the unknown and become stronger through the experience. It wasn’t easy, with bumps on the road, and perhaps a few threats.
But each day is a new opportunity. Each day can be our Purim moment of victory in the face of profound challenges. Each day can be our stepping into the journey out of our comfort zone and growing as human beings. Each day is a chance to climb the multitude of mountains we each face daily.
As I begin to relearn the laws of Passover, I think about the strength each of us has and I know we can hold out a little longer. In this week’s portion, Ki Tisa, which is all about the census and counting, we can count all of the blessings we have in the face of our challenges. As we sit at our tables again, separated from friends and family, we can know that we’ve been doing the right things despite the difficulties.
And so, as we live and relive the same days, we find ourselves beginning a new cycle. This pattern of entering the unknown, facing challenges, and finding victory is our story. It is the story we tell every year. It is the story we can tell each day. We too are the Israelites, we too are the Jews of Shushan. We are the Jews of Pittsburgh. PJC
Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is director of Derekh and Youth Tefillah at Congregation Beth Shalom. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.