As the thoughts of others turn to spring, mine turn to... Passover. It dominates and subsumes all other thoughts and ideas. When learning a new language, the preferred method is an immersion course -- usually in the native country. The student is forced to conduct all transactions and conversations in this new language. Through lack of alternatives and through complete immersion in the language and surrounding culture, the student rapidly acquires fluency in this foreign tongue.

Passover is the ultimate immersion course. From the end of Purim until the end of Passover (approximately 5 weeks), it is impossible to think about anything else. Concentrating on a different idea requires superhuman effort! There's a whole world out there? We wouldn't know it, not until we lift our heads up when Yom Tov ends and blink surprisingly, like the groundhog seeing the sun after a long hibernation.

But for the moment, it's all Passover. We don't need anything else. Because it's an all-consuming immersion course, it's very powerful. It so dominates our minds and actions that it's almost impossible not to grow from the experience.

For a month, we are cleaning and shopping and planning menus and cleaning and cooking and learning and all with one end in mind. This intensive involvement culminates with the Seder experience. Because we have been making our preparations, our identification with our ancestors in Egypt is strengthened. Because we have been making our preparations, our focus and awareness are heightened. Our senses are on the alert. We are ready for our emerging freedom and nationhood.

As we see around the world, forging an independent nation isn't easy. We Jews had an unfair advantage. We had the Almighty leading us by the hand, showing us the way. We just had to be prepared to follow (sometimes the greatest challenge of all).

Some people get discouraged by the preparatory efforts. But Jewish understanding is clear, "He who prepares for Shabbos will eat on Shabbos." Although Judaism is a very practical religion, this is not a cooking tip. It refers to our ultimate experience of the world to come but it teaches us about all important experiences. They are at their most meaningful after significant and appropriate preparation. The Western Wall is either a pile of old stones or the last remaining piece of the holiest spot in the world. Depends on the time you spend thinking about it and studying its meaning.

Preparation requires effort and some of it is arduous. It's easier if we keep the goal in mind. We are getting ready to give our family and friends a taste of the ultimate redemption, a taste that should last the entire year, a taste that should motivate our continued strivings. That's worth a little extra scrubbing and cooking. Now, where did I put the Easy-Off?