One of the primary ways we embrace holiness and spirituality, be it Shabbos or Yom Tov, is by saying kiddush – literally, sanctification. By saying the ritual words, we imbue the day and, therefore, our meal with sacrality.
Doctors sanitize their hands before seeing a new patient, and chefs soap their hands before handling food. But if you’ve ever been to a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal, you’ll know that first, we say kiddush, and then, we ritually clean our hands and break our bread.
Maybe we have it backwards. Why isn’t washing our hands the first thing we do, before we make kiddush?
There’s a Chassidic fable about a man trudging his way through a swamp, his boots caked in thick, wet mud. Clean boots are great, dirty boots not so much. Be that as it may, he’d better only start thinking about cleaning his boots once well clear of the swamp; there’s simply no use stopping to clean them while still ankles deep in mud!
R’ Moshe Feinstein explains that true to life, there is no perfect moment to start something. There will always be baggage and resistance, lots of fantastic excuses and justifications not to do the things we could or become the people we should. So we might as well just get started trying to be better humans where we are right now, notwithstanding the fact we all have our baggage.
Judaism does not demand a cleansing and purification of regular people who just want to embrace a little more; you can try to be a better person while still flawed – Kadesh before Urchatz. Maybe the perfect moment you’re waiting for is right here, right now.
It’s one of the core themes of Peach; redemption for people who don’t necessarily deserve it yet – we just need a kickstart. Cleansing and purification are important, and they can come next; but first, get started as and where you are!
R’ Shlomo Farhi notes that on the eve of Pesach, we search our homes for chametz with the soft light of a single wick candle; someone who uses a larger, multi-wick fire won’t check properly and needs to conduct their search again. A multi-wick flame is much harsher and larger, and therefore, a fire hazard that stops you from checking too closely – and if it doesn’t, you might burn the house down! When you look through the nooks and crannies of your soul, look gently; don’t burn the whole thing down.
Sometimes, when we discover and understand those flaws, it’s an unpleasant experience that leaves us broken – Yachatz. But when we break our Matza, we don’t throw it out; we hold on to it until its time comes, and the poor man’s bread transmutes into the afikoman, the sacred crescendo of Seder night. The broken heart of improvement never goes to waste; it is fully redeemable – במקום שבעלי תשובה עומדין צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדין. The pursuit of excellence requires an intimate relationship with pain; growth can’t happen without pain, so much so that it is a recognized medical condition – growing pains.
If our heroes had waited for the perfect opportunity over the moment destiny called, we would have neither heroes nor stories. Taking action is a unifying characteristic; our heroes didn’t procrastinate.
We all have to confront the things that hold us back eventually, but there’s no reason they should stop us from ever getting started. When our heroes were afraid, and there were plenty of reasons not to act, they acted just the same. That’s how they become heroes! Thoughts of waiting for a perfect moment and fear of failure or flaws holding you back only originate from cowardice and fear. The resounding message of Seder night, our heroes, and beyond is that we ought to act with courage and confidence that at least we are trying to do the right thing.
So, of course you’re not “there” yet! None of us are. But our future, and yours, rests on whether action will overcome fear and apathy.
Because we are the people who make kiddush before we have washed our hands.