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A remarkable gift from the tradition, starting tonight

Let me begin at the end. Tonight – start to clear things out.

Start to clear out your attic, your basement, your garage.
The pantry in your kitchen, and any opened bottle or jar in the fridge or the cupboard that’s been open for a few months or more and which you never use.
Clear out old clothes, and books, and give them to Goodwill or chuck them out.

Then, when you’ve gotten started on all that – start journaling.
Now the question is – what is the mental gunk I need to get rid of? What stops me being free? What stops me being who I truly am? What am I needlessly afraid of? What are the things I waste my time on? (I’m talking to you, iPhone, and you, Facebook.)

The reason for this is that it’s Purim today, and we so don’t really understand Purim. For sure Purim is not a kids’ holiday, even though we clean it up to be one. It’s a bacchanal, a pre-modern Mardi Gras, full of excess and debauchery and booze and sex.

And there’s a reason for this, a hidden order. Today is the start of an 11-week journey that ends at Shavuot. The fulcrum of these 11 weeks is seder night – the night that I myself go free. I leave enslavement, leave the narrow places, leave all the ways that I am enslaved, including all the ways that I enslave myself.

And then I go on a radical journey of freedom. Seven weeks, in the wilderness. No Torah, yet. No rules. We live with radical freedom and meditate on it (counting the omer, day by day) and then at the end, on the 50th day, we accept the gift of the Torah. The deep and mature freedom in which we choose to self-limit ourselves, to say, not everything can I do, should I do. This is how we live more lightly. This is how we keep kosher and keep Shabbat and say no to things.

This is how we say to ourselves: How can I walk past a person on the street and not give them money? Or how can I say a bracha, a blessing, over a piece of meat if the animal that gave its life for it lived a life of misery? How can I eat an egg from a chicken that lived in a tiny cage? How can I not get my shul or my school or my place of work to reduce its carbon footprint or its waste-stream? How do I keep on eating sugar or junk food if I know it’s bad for me?

And all of this begins with Purim. There’s a reason we were meant to have gotten drunk last night, a reason we read the megillah again today. It’s to shake us up, shake up our masks and our identities. It’s meant to confuse us and challenge us. Who am I really? What are the masks I wear, and why, and do I need them, do they serve me? What’s the difference between who I am and what I do?

And we are shaken up like this so that we can start to get rid of our chametz. Not just literal breadcrumbs, though those, too. But all the gunk in our homes, and our bodies, and our heads.

So that’s what tonight is. That’s what tomorrow is, and this weekend. Do not wait for Pesach. Don’t wait for the day before or the weekend before. Start now. It will be good for you and good for your family and friends and colleagues, and it’ll ultimately be good for your community and for the world. We are drowning ourselves. Overconsuming the world, overweight, overwhelmed. We have too much stuff and too little kindness. Too much busyness, and too little simcha, the joy we share with others.

Jewish tradition is wise and ancient, and it reinvents itself in every generation because human nature doesn’t change so much, but the circumstances of the world we live in actually do. This gift, of Purim to Pesach to Shavuot – it is an extraordinary gift.

And, finally, if you read this far – I really encourage you to print this out and post it on your fridge. Send it to people you care about. And let me know how you get on, if you would like – what your successes are, what your struggles are, what the lessons are that you would share with others. Hazon means “vision.” We’re working at this edge between Jewish life and building a more sustainable world for all. It begins with each one of us, with our decisions and choices and the way that we shape our environments, and they in turn shape us.

So – tonight, start to clear things out…

Purim sameach, Shabbat shalom,

Nigel