Red Heifer, Newness & Renewal, and Matzah Shopping... Passover is Coming!

Last Thursday, on my way home from a Purim event, I stopped off at a grocery store to begin my annual Passover shopping. My daughter Yona looked down at our cart -- filled with boxes of matzah, special kosher-for-Passover ketchup and chocolate chips (important staples for our household for the week of Passover!) -- and reminded me that this has become something of a Purim tradition for us, to begin our preparations for Pesach! To be clear, I haven't started actually cooking anything yet, or cleaning and kashering my kitchen. But, even the act of shopping for Passover groceries felt like a hopeful, forward-looking act.

Last Thursday, on my way home from a Purim event, I stopped off at a grocery store to begin my annual Passover shopping. My daughter Yona looked down at our cart -- filled with boxes of matzah, special kosher-for-Passover ketchup and chocolate chips (important staples for our household for the week of Passover!) -- and reminded me that this has become something of a Purim tradition for us, to begin our preparations for Pesach! To be clear, I haven't started actually cooking anything yet, or cleaning and kashering my kitchen. But, even the act of shopping for Passover groceries felt like a hopeful, forward-looking act.

I suppose our grocery stop was indeed right in sync with the Jewish calendar. Preparing for Passover is a huge theme of this month, and particularly of this weekend. This coming Shabbat, in addition to the regularly scheduled parashat hashavua (weekly Torah portion) of Shemini, this week has not one but two special monikers: Shabbat Parah and Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Nisan.

Shabbat Parah refers to the special maftir reading we add this Shabbat morning, which comes from Numbers 19:1-22. This passage is about the red heifer that was sacrificed and whose ashes were mixed with water in ancient times in order to purify people who had become ritually impure after coming into contact with death. Because only people who were ritually pure could participate in the Passover sacrifice, the laws of the red heifer represent a necessary preparation step to ensure full participation in the Passover ritual, which explains why our tradition is to read this passage each year in the lead-up to the holiday.

A special haftarah (passage from prophets) is also paired with this maftir: Ezekiel 36:16-38. Within the haftarah, we hear echoes of the Red Heifer ritual, for example, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean" (Ezek. 36:25). But, as Rabbi Mychal Springer asserts in this article about Shabbat Parah, "the text then moves into new territory," saying: "And I will give you a new heart (lev chadash) and put a new spirit (v'ruach chadasha) into you" (Ezek. 36:26). She goes on to explain: "The implication of these verses is that the purification is needed not because of the taint of death, but because of a moral taint. We need a new heart and a new spirit... The process of renewal is not the same as putting in something new. When we renew, we actually take something old and make it new again, we restore it."

Through both of these special passages, then, we focus our energy on preparing for the possibility for newness and renewal.

This feels like an accurate reflection of where we find ourselves seasonally, as well. On multiple days this week, we've begun the morning here in Seattle with the weather feeling like winter, but ended our afternoons with the glorious sunshine of springtime! The cherry blossoms on UW's campus are in full bloom, and the daffodils of March are making way for the tulips of April. In every yard and park, we can't help but notice the color "spring green," and it's easy feel the sense of renewal and possibility that this spring season brings.

To be honest, we all need this renewal, maybe more this year than ever. I arrive at this spring moment feeling weary in the wake of so many months of pandemic time, shocked by the violence of the war against Ukraine, dismayed by the divisiveness and bullying attacks of so many Senators during Supreme Court Nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's Senate Confirmation Hearings this week. Bring on the sunshine!

In our Kavana community, too, we are ready for renewal and newness. It felt so wonderful to reconnect in person with so many of you at our Purim celebration last week, and to enjoy Megillat Esther, pizza on the beach, costumes and cotton candy... and we're left feeling ready for more! Fortunately, our afterschool programs -- Moadon Yeladim and the Middle School Program will be returning to in-person formats next week, for the first time in more than two years (see below for registration details)!! We have also welcomed a couple of new babies into our Kavana community over the past couple of weeks (you'll see one such announcement below); the arrival of each and every new baby into this world is an act of renewal in and of itself, a kind of preparation for a more hopeful future.

Finally, this Shabbat is the one on which we will announce and bless the new moon of Nisan (the Hebrew month that will then begin the following Shabbat). This means that, in fact, Passover is coming soon, and you'll see that a number of events have been added to both the Kavana and Community calendars below to facilitate preparation for Passover on many different levels, through learning, mitzvot, art, and finally the seder ritual itself.

In the blessing for the New Month that Jewish communities around the world will recite this week, the theme of renewal features prominently too. We say: "May the Holy One renew this new month for us and for all God's people, for life and for peace, for joy and for gladness, for deliverance and for consolation." Kein y'hi ratzon (so may it be the Divine will)!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom as we head into this special Shabbat of preparation and renewal and springtime,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum