Clearing out the chameitz

Preparing for Passover is always an intimidating process. Scrubbing every surface, clearing out unfinished foods, washing, dusting, packing away. Entering the process of clearing out all leavened products— all that chameitz—feels like what the Israelites might have felt in Egypt before a day of indentured servitude. But then something flips. The house sparkles in a way I haven’t seen since last Passover. Everything is clean, and it turns out I do in fact have counter space. As I unwrap my Passover crockery, I find old dishes of memory we have reserved for the festival. Pots and pans from my parents. That odd wine stopper with the paisley-styled blown glass. Bowls from my Brooklyn apartment. And, colored glass dishes from my grandmother’s Montreal apartment. I’ve had them for several years, but this is the first time I’ll be using them without being able to pick up the phone and wish her a Chag Sameiach (she died two months ago). With a tinge of sadness, I now can add another layer of meaning to my Passover, knowing that at every meal I will have my grandmother, in a way, at my table.

Matzah is known as the bread of affliction, but as bread of freedom. Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook teaches that chameitz — leavening — happens only with the introduction of a foreign agent: yeast, vinegar, or baking soda. It is something beyond the essential core of flour and water that acts upon, integrates, and transforms. Though this process can yield incredible results, when left for too long, the dough can be ruined. This nearly happened to the Israelites under the yoke of Egypt.

So too is this the case in our spiritual lives, our personal lives, the lives of the community, and the world. We are surrounded by bright lights and shiny objects, and so many distractions.

Clearing out the leavening of our lives is daunting, but obtaining true freedom is worth it: freedom to be who we really are, to do that which we are meant to do, and be with those with whom we are meant to be.

As we enter Pesach this evening, may we put aside that which we don’t need and that which afflicts this world, so that we may focus on what is truly essential.

A Chag Kasher v’Sameiach from my family to yours.

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davidzvaisberg Written by:

David Vaisberg, originally from Montreal and Mississauga, Canada, serves as Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El of Edison, NJ and lives in Metuchen, NJ with his family.

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