Towards the end of February, I noted a fully stocked Passover aisle in the local Stop and Shop. Just like secular holidays, the Passover “season” seems to keep getting earlier and earlier. As soon as the hamantaschen have been eaten, people are posting online about their Passover preparations. One friend in particular – on a recent snow day – asked “what do we bake that will help contribute to the Passover Eat Down??” Great idea, but as Rhoda Morgenstern once quipped, “I don’t know why I bother eating these brownies, I should just apply them directly to my hips!”
My friend has two young children and a husband, so her situation is different from mine, and perhaps yours, but it brings up an interesting idea for discussion. The Torah commands that no chametz, or leavened items, be found anywhere in your homes during Passover, and that
anyone who eats it will suffer serious punishment. We have no actual evidence that this punishment was ever carried out, but I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who has had a dream that he or she ate a sandwich on the 5th day, or did eat chametz, knowingly or unknowingly. I do know that the sky hasn’t fallen in.
However, as Passover approaches, there is a push to use up what we’ve got, if we can. In ancient times – before Costco and BJs were twinkles in some entrepreneur’s eye – this really wasn’t an issue; we didn’t stock up because we couldn’t. The idea of “selling one’s chametz” came about when someone might have had an expensive bottle of whiskey that wasn’t going to be finished in time, and throwing it out imposed a financial hardship. It’s a legal fiction designed to help make our lives easier today, and I certainly take advantage of that option!
Cleaning out the chametz in our cabinets is the easy part … what about cleaning out the chametz in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls? That’s a whole ‘nother story, and much more difficult. In The Women’s Passover Companion, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb quotes Haviva Ner David, one of the first Orthodox women in Israel to be ordained as a rabbi. “As I clean I compile a list of all of my own personal and spiritual chametz, the things that keep me enslaved to my evil inclination, the foibles that I hold onto to keep me from total, unencumbered faith in the Almighty, the things that prevent me from being what I would like to or could be. Then when I burn chametz on the eve of Pesach, I toss that list into the fire and watch it burn.”
If you try this, please be careful! I learned, at a recent interfaith event, that in Hindu tradition, everything is purified by fire. In Jewish tradition, we purify with water, so drowning or dissolving the chametz, literally or figuratively, is an option.
The preparations for Passover represent the journey from mitzrayim, “the narrow places” aka Egypt, to the wide open wilderness where the Israelites were able to become a free people, to have their own calendar, to worship the God of their ancestors, and to begin anew
May the coming festival of Passover help us to refresh, renew and rejuvenate.
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi