Who can't resist a good laugh? One of those deep belly laughs that penetrates our core and nearly brings us to tears from giggling so hard. I don't know why we as adults emphasize being serious so much. "Stop laughing so loud." "Wipe that grin off your face!" "What's so funny?" "Cut that out or I'll give you something to laugh about!" These are all phrases we hear from adults all the time. But when was the last time you heard a child say one of those? Research has found that children laugh on average 300 times per day; adults, on the other hand, laugh only 20 times. While these numbers may seem like fun and games, this is certainly no laughing matter.
There are so many benefits to laughter. It reduces stress, strengthens the immune system, increases the functioning of the heart, and even helps the body lessen pain by producing endorphins. In summary, it helps both the body and mind relax, recover, and cope. Yet, the month of Nissan doesn't exactly bring upon those happy calm cheerful feelings. When I think of Nissan, I think of Pesach (my gosh, is it really just two weeks away?). And when I think of Pesach, I think of cleaning. Along with the cleaning comes stress, tension, and worry. For me, Pesach used to be synonymous with scrubbing, washing, dusting, vacuuming, and an overload of cooking to boot.
"Used to be" are the key words here. Over the years, my lens has shifted. No longer are cleaning and cooking the first thoughts that come to mind when someone mentions Pesach. Rather, I am taken over by the admirable courage, faith and hope displayed by our ancestors. I immediately think about the inspiring and interactive Seder my husband leads during this beautiful festival where we celebrate our freedom from centuries of slavery and our gratitude to G-d. I am no longer a slave to the hows, whats and what ifs of Pesach. Instead, I focus on celebrating the whys.
I no longer clean that which is unnecessary (ie: despite popular belief, Pesach does not equal spring cleaning). Instead, I clean that which is within the realms of halacha (Jewish law). I no longer go into a cooking frenzy where the same dish isn't served twice all eight days and we have enough leftovers to last us for weeks. Rather, I prepare delicious wholesome meals fit for a king (we do have to lean, after all) but I balance that with spending my precious pre-Pesach weeks teaching my children about this beautiful holiday and cap it off at two salads and a side dish per meal (in addition to the fish, soup, chicken, and dessert). Speaking of dessert, I have found that a refreshing fruit salad or a lovely arrangement of sliced fruit is usually what 'hits the spot' for my guests at 2am when the shulchan orech portion of the seuda is complete. It turns out we don't have to leave the table feeling as though we need to loosen our belts a notch.
There is a well known Chassidic concept "simcha poretz geder," happiness breaks all boundaries. This is precisely the fusion of April 1st and Rosh Chodesh Nissan. During Pesach, we not only celebrate our freedom as a nation, but we also celebrate our freedom as individuals. It is an opportunity to contemplate how we can free ourselves of our personal constraints, limitations, and self-imposed identities. It is an occasion to strive to reach our true potential and become the person we want to be, where we maximize our talents, strengths, and attributes.
When we spend our precious time worrying about the future and regretting the past, the prank is really on us, because we blind ourselves to the here and now. There is a teaching from the Talmud which states “mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha,” when we enter the month of Adar we increase in our joy. This is not just for the month of Adar; rather it is a platform from which we can jump-start our joyometers for the rest of the year. The month of Nissan, and more specifically the holiday of Pesach, is a time where we focus on breaking the ties that bind us and pushing forth past our comfort zones. Where we enter into the unknown and try our hand at something special we may have been too scared to attempt in the past.
This Pesach, I look forward to celebrating my freedom as a Jewess and my freedom as an individual. And at the essence of freedom is tranquility, joy, and gratitude. Aside for the cooking and cleaning, my Pesach preparations include equipping myself with an attitude of gratitude, where I can focus on being thankful for all that I have in my life, the beautiful people I am blessed to be surrounded by, and the awesome journey that I am on to becoming the very best person I can be. And in the spirit of National Humor Month, what did one ocean say to the other ocean? Nothing, it just waved.
Wishing you a joyous and liberating Rosh Chodesh Nissan,