by Rabbi Alex Freedman
What if Purim and Passover weren’t two separate holidays? What if they were bookends for a single month-long process?
Rabbi David Hoffman of JTS taught me such. Notice that exactly one month separates the two – Purim is on the 14th of Adar (15th in Jerusalem) while Passover is celebrated on the 15th of Nisan.
The one-word summary of Purim is chaos. Life nearly ended for all the Jews, and then suddenly they were on top. Today Purim is marked by riotous, chaotic fun, costume, and shtick.
When we turn to Pesach, though, we encounter the opposite. In just one word, Passover is about order. The holiday is dominated by the Seder, the step-by-step dinner script whose Hebrew word means “order.” We follow time-tested processes and rules on Seder night to move us to a place where we taste slavery and freedom, literally and metaphorically.
These days drifting from Purim to Passover are themselves a step-by-step personal journey from chaos to order. How appropriate that this march happens during March? People can’t turn from one strong emotion to another on a dime. We need time and progression. And as the days of Passover draw nearer, we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the next stage of the year.
Because these holidays are not the only bookends between which we travel. These very days we emerge from winter to the faint glow of spring. Like us, the natural world doesn’t go from 30 degrees one day to 60 the next (unless you’re in Chicago, where that can happen occasionally!). The weather incrementally moves in one direction.
These days spent inside our homes reading the tumultuous news of the effects of the Coronavirus are indeed chaotic. How fortunate are we to have Jewish rituals, routines, and traditions – like Shabbat – that provide some order in this chaos.