Monday, April 18, 2011

So THIS is freedom...?!?!?!?!?!?

So, Passover officially starts in a couple of hours, and while there's a lot to do, we're close enough to being ready that I've been hoping to share a few thoughts before the Seder begins. Of course, if you don't see me online for the next several days, it means that I was caught blogging just hours before the holiday and Sharon took exception to the choice that I've made…

But in all honesty, it's very hard for me to have so many thoughts about this very major holiday without sharing at least some of them.

Passover traditionally marks the Exodus from Egypt – which signified the end of generations of slavery and the beginning of the new reality of a free people, subservient only to God and not a human king. Equally importantly, the Exodus from Egypt marks the transformation of the Jewish people into a nation from a family, the Children of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel).

In so many ways, the significance of this holiday is meant to be one of great joy and celebration. We are commanded to "re-live" the story of Passover as though we personally were among our ancestors when they were redeemed from slavery, and shortly after departing Egypt, received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Unfortunately there are too many people who are unable to enjoy the holiday as it should be. I don't mean those who have no family or community Seder of which to be a part (although that is in and of itself a very real issue within our society).

Rather, I am talking about the people who allow themselves to get so caught up in the details of preparation for the holiday that by the time the holiday arrives they are too exhausted to appreciate the beauty of what we are celebrating. Worse yet, from several weeks before the holiday even begins they are dreading everything that needs to be done in order to celebrate their supposed "freedom".

Make no mistake, there are a lot of extremely detailed laws regarding the Passover preparation. We must clean out our house of all chametz (leavened bread), and we spend 7 days (outside of Israel it's 8 days) being very careful about eating no chametz at all, which includes nothing with any chametz ingredients. For those who observe the laws of Kashrut (kosher), all year long finding food which we can eat is enough of challenge – the week of Passover is much harder. We have to replace all of our dishes (2 sets – one for dairy, one for meat) with dishes used only for Passover, we clean and scrub the refrigerator, the oven, the stove and anything else used for food preparations (some things we don't clean, we just put them away and replace them with their Passover counterparts). We then scrub and clean very well all of the countertops, table tops, cabinets, etc.

Additionally, for those who are hosting a traditional Seder, they need to have the kitchen cleaned out several days in advance and make sure that all of their food preparation is only with ingredients certified as Kosher for Passover, and with dishes and utensils which have not been used at all for chametz.

This entire description is actually the "short" version. Basically, preparing for Passover is hell of a lot of work, and it's no surprise that many people get easily overwhelmed by it.

But then we have a problem. We are commanded by Jewish law to enjoy this holiday. We do treat it as one of celebration and of thanks, and if we are so exhausted and overwhelmed by it, then how can we be expected to enjoy it?

At the risk of (once again) being branded a heretic, I would offer that much of the extra work which we do is not really as necessary as many folks believe.

Yes, we need to clean the house well. But what if we miss a couple of crumbs in the cracks behind the draining board? Have we violated the commandment of having chametz in our possession? Absolutely not!

According to Jewish law, whether or not something needs to even have a certification of Kosher for Passover is determined by whether it is fit to be eaten by a dog. I seriously doubt if any crumbs caught in the netherworld of my kitchen after I have run soap, boiling water and whatever cleaning solution that I use, is something that a dog would eat.

But it gets better. Religiously observant Jews sell their chametz from the morning before Passover until the evening that it ends. This is an interesting symbolical process which I won't go into details now, but it effectively allows us to keep the chametz in our house (although covered up – out of sight, out of mind) while it has been temporarily sold to a non-Jew. So we've covered up the chametz which we will use after the holiday and rendered inedible the crumbs that we may have missed cleaning up.

Moreover, on the morning before Passover, we ceremonially burn whatever chametz we have left in our possession. During the burning of the chametz we recite a paragraph which announces that any chametz still in our home which we may have neglected to clean, sell or burn, whether knowingly or not, is hereby designated as dust and no longer even considered chametz.

So, with all due respect to the work that goes into preparing for Passover every year, and with all due respect for those who are as exacting as they can be in following the letter of Jewish law, it seems that many folks have allowed this observance to jade their overall Passover experience, and they have allowed the big picture of what the holiday is really about to be lost in many of the minute details of its preparations.

I would encourage people to do the cleaning – allow yourself the extra time for clean and for preparing for the holiday, because when extra time and love is dedicated to Passover, we are able to appreciate the beauty and specialness of the celebration. But at the same time, don't allow yourself to lose sight of what this freedom is which we celebrate tonight. Don't drive yourself so crazy, nor run yourself so ragged, that be the time you sit down with family and friends at the Seder you can barely keep your eyes open, or that you can't participate in re-living the Exodus from Egypt, and feeling the transformation from slaves to a free nation.

Because if you can't truly experience that freedom, then all of the cleaning and cooking with which you enslaved yourself was for naught.

Wishing all who celebrate Passover a joyous, happy, healthy and Kosher holiday. May we all merit the freedom for which our ancestors fought so hard and for which they sacrificed so much.


  1. As someone who is not Jewish, I want to thank you for the education you gave me in this posting. I have known about the Exodus for a long time, when God freed the Israelites from Egypt after a hurried exit from their homes where there was blood placed on the doorposts. I have been aware of the celebration of the Passover but I had no idea what the preparation for the celebration involved. If I may be allowed, I want to wish you and your family a "joyout, happy, healthy and Kosher holiday". Pat Fulton

  2. Chametz is *leavened* bread-- you've got an important typo...
    Nothing heretical about this post-- some very common attitudes I've heard before.
    I don't agree with much of it, but heretical? Nope, not in my opinion.

    Happy Pesach!

  3. Thanks for catching that - it has been fixed. Besides risking my wife killing me for blogging a couple of hours before the holiday, the other disadvantage is that when in that kind of a rush, it's easy to make mistakes like that one.

  4. I may be the only person in the world who loves all the preparations for Passover. There's something wonderful about doing the work, over a number of days or a couple of weeks, and realizing that as we get rid of the chametz (the leavened products and those that can ferment) in our living space, we can symbolically "get rid" of the "chametz" in our lives--the negative thoughts and resentments that have fermented in our minds and hearts and diminished our lives over the past year. And since our tradition tells us that Nissan is really the beginning of the new year, Passover cleaning symbolically allows us to start afresh with a clean environment, and a "clean" heart. Thinking of the work in those terms makes it possible to raise the mundane chores to a higher level. I know it doesn't help a whole lot when you're up to your gatges in soapsuds and the kids are screaming and the phone is ringing and you're head is ready to drop into the wash-bucket from fatigue, but when the work is finished and you look around and see all you've accomplished, it's something to reflect on.