Ever since just before Purim we’ve been encountering a series of special Shabbatot which are meant to get our attention and focus us upon the fact that Pesakh is coming. There is much to do to greet the Festival appropriately: house cleaning, Seder planning, tzedakah giving…. there are so many details and such a rush (and sometimes, such family dynamics) that it might remind you of the preparation before a wedding day.
And that, of course, leads to a midrash offered by the Rabbi Leibele Eiger, a disciple of the Ishbitzer Rabbi (who wrote the popular Torah commentary Mei Shiloakh). He writes that this Shabbat, unlike last week and unlike next week, is not one of the Arba Parshiyot, the weeks of the special “four Parshas” that we read in the run-up to Pesakh. This Shabbat has no special extra designation; it is Shabbat Metzora, a regular Torah reading. For that reason it is known as Shabbat Penuyah, the “open”, or “uncommitted” Shabbat.
Rabbi Eiger points out that the word penuyah can also be translated “turning”, and as “single woman”. In these grammatical nuances he weaves a vision of us as a woman turning away from a former life and toward the Covenant, even as the people of Israel turned toward G-d and at Sinai entered into the Covenant as a woman enters the huppah. G-d is our partner, goes the midrash, and we are meant to live in G-d’s presence in joy and unconditional love – and complete commitment.
But first we have to be ready, to prepare ourselves, to take the time to let the ritual mean what it can mean for us. And that is what this Shabbat, I suggest, might usefully offer us. Shabbat Penuyah, the “free” Shabbat, can be designated by us the Transition Shabbat: the pause before the Big Day, a necessary moment to breathe between the preparations and the ritual itself.
When I officiate at a wedding, I require of the couple that they write me a letter telling me why they are getting married to the person they love. They are not to write it far in advance, but during the week before the wedding, when they are the most hassled by the myriad details and family dynamics and things that go wrong. It provides a moment for a deeper thinking, and feeling, about what is about to happen to their lives.
Before this Pesakh, take time to experience the transition offered you: between winter and spring, between darkness and light, between bare trees and blossoms – what does it evoke in your own soul? what does it feed in your own spiritual experience? Check in with yourself, and figure out where you are standing. Only then can you turn, with your community, toward a deeper sense of G-d’s presence, and what it really means for you to be part of this Jewish people.