Not just for the obvious wonderful festival of Pesach, but also for what happens every morning and afternoon in shul.
It is one of those strange things, it really is not a major thing, yet it does seem to bring a lot of joy to many people.
We don’t say Tachanun during Nissan.
Tachanun are the prayers you say in Shacharit and Mincha after the repetition of the Amidah. Apart from Monday and Thursday when it may take five minutes to say, the rest of the time, it is barely a couple of minutes – yet it brings a lot of people joy when we don’t say it!
However, there is a question in regards to Nissan. The rest of the year it is only predominately Shabbat and Chagim when we don’t say Tachanun – festive days. So why do we not say Tachanun during the whole month of Nissan when there are many non-festive days?
Nissan begins without Tachanun because it was the time when the Mishkan was inaugurated. That is the first 12 days. Then the 13th day is the Isru Chag of those 12 days according to the Maharil. There is no Tachanun on the 14thNissan because the Korban Pesach was brought, and then we come to Pesach. So, by the time we could say Tachanun on the 23rdNissan, we say that ‘Rubo k kulo’ the majority is like the whole, and we rule not to say Tachanun the entire month.
So, during the month of Nissan we should be focussing on two seminal events in Jewish History. Yetziat Mitzraim and the Mishkan.
This links beautifully into an idea about Seder night.
As we know the two most important elements of the seder table are the matza and the maror. We all know the reasons for matza and maror. When the Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, they were in such a hurry that there was no time to wait for the dough to rise. They therefore ate matzah, unleavened bread. Matza therefore symbolises the bread of freedom. Maror on the other hand is to remind us of the bitter times we experienced in Egypt, it symbolises the pain of slavery.
The question is asked why have the matza first, chronologically we had maror and then we had matza. Slavery and then Freedom. So why reverse the order?
The answer is found if we ask the question – what is the purpose of freedom? Is it simply freedom from slavery, the maror, or is there more to it than that?
There is more, and it is the mission statement of the Jewish people. There is also freedom to.
Freedom to enter into a covenant with Hashem.
That was realised at Har Sinai when we pledged to each other and to Hashem. It was then concretized and made relevant to our daily lives with the building of the mishkan and celebrated in Nissan with its inauguration.
Freedom from slavery is stage one (Pesach) but for the ultimate freedom, that is to keep Torah to attach ourselves to the mitzvot, that is freedom to (Torah and Mishkan).
Of course, this Shabbat brings both ideas together. It is within those first 13 days of Nissan and yet is also connected strongly to Pesach, it is Shabbat Ha-Gadol.
It was in Egypt that Israel celebrated the very first Shabbat Ha-Gadol on the tenth of Nissan, five days before their redemption. On that day, the Children of Israel were given their first commandment which applied only to that Shabbat, but not to future generations:
‘On the tenth day of this month [Nissan]… each man should take a lamb for the household, a lamb for each home (Exodus 12:3)’
That momentous year, the 10th Nissan fell on Shabbat, and going forward we have commemorated the Shabbat rather than the actual date (although this year Shabbat Ha Gadol is also the 10th Nissan!)
The idea of that original Shabbat Ha Gadol was the start of the redemptive process. Yes, the actual exodus was five days away, but the sense of imminent freedom was present. The idea that the lamb was the deity of the Egyptians, yet was sacrificed by the Israelites, was a sure sign that the end of the Egyptian tyranny was approaching. That Hashem would redeem his nation.
At this stage, the people knew that they were beginning a journey, both physical and spiritual, that would eventually take them out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, through the desert to Har Sinai and our forging of the binding Covenant with the One who took us out of Egypt. They knew there was both freedom from and freedom to.
We are still on that journey, but we know success will only be guaranteed if we align ourselves to that covenant with a devotion to our traditions, our observances and our customs. Our job as Jews, which we are reminded of every year at Pesach time and Nissan as a whole, is to be a Mamlechet Kohanim v Goy Kadosh, – a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.