Baseball season has started. I am happy to report that my Detroit Tigers are now 2-0!
As any baseball fan knows, though, baseball season doesn’t just start. First the pitchers and catchers report. Then, the rest of the team arrives for workouts. Next, there are intra-squad games and exhibition games. Only after all of these steps have been taken can the season begin. Some would even argue that the regular season is merely preparation for the post-season, when the games REALLY matter.
No matter how one looks at it, though, the key to success in baseball is preparation. One cannot simply show up on the field for the first game and expect to succeed. It’s true from little league all the way up to the major league baseball.
And it’s not only true for baseball. It’s a good approach to just about any worthy endeavor and it’s certainly the approach that the Jewish tradition encourages.
Consider the festival of Passover which is now two weeks away. We cannot simply show up at the dinner table on April 22nd and expect that Passover will happen. A great deal of preparation goes into the observance of Passover and, specifically, putting on a Seder.
To ensure that we don’t try to leave everything to the very last moment, the rabbis created four special Sabbaths between Purim and Passover to gently remind us of the tasks at hand. Through the special Torah readings and Haftarot (prophetic selections) assigned to each one, we are reminded of an essential principle of Passover each week.
The first is Shabbat Shekalim – during which we read Exodus 30:11-16. Every person must bring a half-shekel to the Tabernacle. No one is exempt. While we no longer observe that custom, we have a different way to make a contribution. Today, we collect money for Ma’ot Hittim (“grain money”), which we give to members of our community who would not be able to afford Passover on their own. This important mitzvah enables everyone to participate.
The second is Shabbat Parah – during which we read Numbers 19:1-22. The Red Heiffer ritual reminds of the importance of cleanliness and purity. The cleaning of our homes and selves is one of the best-know parts of Passover preparation. Not only do we remove the hametz from our homes, but we check to see if there is anything undesirable inside of us.
The third is Shabbat Hachodesh – during which we read Exodus 12:1-20. This passage contains the Biblical description of the preparations for the Paschal sacrifice. It is a reminder of our requirement to participate in the rituals and liturgy of Passover. While we no longer offer the actual sacrifice, we re-create the ceremony through the Seder meal.
The fourth is Shabbat Ha-Gadol – during which we read Malachi 3:4-24. The last Shabbat before Passover, we read about the Messianic Age – the ultimate redemption –as we prepare to celebrate our ancestor’s redemption from Egypt. The classical Jewish belief holds that the World-to-Come is our reward for our participation in Jewish life and rituals. While no one knows for certain what lays beyond this world, participation in Jewish life does lead to a rewarding sense of satisfaction here and now.
So, good luck with your preparations for Passover. Be sure to sing “Take Us Out of Egypt” on opening day…
Take Us Out of Egypt
(By Ron Wolfson, sung to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”)
Take us out of Egypt
Free us from slavery
Bake us some matzah in a haste
Don’t worry ‘bout flavor—
Give no thought to taste.
Oh it’s rush, rush, rush, to the Red Sea
If we don’t cross it’s a shame
For it’s ten plagues,
Down and you’re out
At the Pesach history game.