I know we are coming up on the month of Elul and the High Holidays, but I wanted to turn my attention to Passover for a minute.
Passover is a holiday which traditionally requires a fair amount of preparation. The practice over the holiday is not to eat any hametz(leavened products like bread, pasta and so on), but the traditional practice is to not even own any hametz. Some will get rid of all of it [a good time to donate to our spring food drive], some will lock it up in an out of the way place, some will then “sell” it to someone so it is not literally in their possession.
The practice too is to use separate utensils over the holiday. Just as the observance of kashrut involves separate utensils, cooking- and serving-ware for meat and milk products, since the two are not mixed, observing Passover also involves separate utensils, cooking- and serving-ware from the rest of the year. [If you are keeping score, that means some will have up to four sets of everything.]
Wanting to honor the tradition of separate dishes for Passover does not necessarily involve having an additional set however. One can kasher (i.e., make kosher) ones existing cooking and eatingware. (Kasher is one of those great Yinglish words-rooted in Yiddish and Hebrew but used in an English context). One kashers ones pots and pans as well when an accident occurs and a “milk” pot is used for “meat,” for example, or a formally unkosher pot is being converted to kosher use.
According to traditional Jewish practice there are some limitations over what can be kashered and what can not be kashered, but there are ordained processes as to how one does it. And those practices follow the general principle as found in the Talmud: k’bolo kach polto-“as the vessel absorbs so does it rid itself of what it absorbs.” In other words, how something is used is how it is made kosher. So, for example, a cooking utensil is koshered by boiling. A utensil used over a flame or broiler is koshered by heating it up. A utensil that is used for cold food only is kashered by rinsing.
All this to say, the way something becomes kosher again is the way it became unkosher in the first place.
As we enter into the High Holiday season, which formally begins this Tuesday night with Rosh Hodesh Elul, it is time to intensify our process of self examination. We examine the ways we strayed, and we examine the ways we wronged another. We seek to heal the hurts of the past, and we seek to commit to do better in the future.
This Jewish law of kashering vessels is a good one to keep in mind as we approach this season. For we do the work of kashering our selves, our souls. Using the same method to purify something as was used to make it impure is akin to saying that in order to rectify something, we have to truly understand how things went wrong in the first place. To do the work of teshuvah (repentance), we have to directly confront what it is for which we are seeking teshuvah. We need to revisit past wrongs to find a way to make them right. K’bolo kach polto.
[This principle applies in another matter. To revisit the issue of the Co-op boycott again: the response of some boycott proponents to opponents is to say, if you don’t like the boycott decision then get a petition of signatures to put a measure before the membership for a vote. But this response is inadequate, because it would ignore the accountability the board has in making the decision in the first place. If it is to be undone it should be undone the same way it was created.K’bolo kach polto]
The principle of k’bolo kach polto is first and foremost a statement of acknowledgement and accountability. If we don’t know how a utensil is used, we can’t kasher it correctly. And this is the initial step of teshuvah. If we don’t know how we strayed, we can’t make it right. To make amends is to first recognize and admit mistakes, to take accountability for what we have done.
We can not undo the past. But by revisiting it, we take important steps to shaping a better future.