For many of us Passover is a cherished time of year. It provides an opportunity to focus on the central narrative of the Jewish people—our role in the quest for freedom. Passover affords us the rare opportunity to think deeply with family and friends about freedom and the remaining work necessary in ensuring freedom for all humanity.
As we prepare for the holiday, we meticulously empty our pantries, scour our counters, and investigate every nook and cranny for vestiges of swollen wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye products and their admixtures. We go through this routine in the hopes of fulfilling one of the foundational commandments of Passover—the removal of leavening, hametz, from our homes. The Torah tells us in Exodus (12:15) that the removal of hametz is an integral part of our holiday: “seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.” In its place, we partake of matzah, made from these same ingredients but monitored to ensure that these grains only come into contact with water at the moment the matzah is being made and is completely dry and free of liquid within 18 minutes through baking. In many Jewish homes there is a special fervor and thoroughness devoted to the removal of hametz, admixtures of hametz, and the ta’am, or flavor of hametz permeating our cooking utensils and appliances.
Unlike the rules pertaining to keeping kosher, which allows for miniscule quantities of ingredients that may have inadvertently entered into our food, the laws of Passover do not allow for even the smallest amount of hametz to be eaten, benefited from, seen, or discovered on Passover. Therefore, we are very careful to ensure foods we purchase before and during Passover are hametz-free.
Preparing Our Homes for Passover
Each year, the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) publishes a Passover Guide to assist you in preparing your home for Passover and purchasing Kosher for Passover foods. This guide provides instructions on how to physically prepare your home for Passover and contains guidance on how to purchase different kinds of foods to ensure they are Kosher for Passover. In particular, I wish to draw your attention to page seven of this document and the guidelines for consuming kitniyot during Passover should you choose to do so. Kitniyot includes foods such as beans, corn, millet, peas, rice, soy, and some other plant based foods like mustard, buckwheat and sesame seeds that Ashkenazi Jews typically abstained from during Passover. Last year, the Conservative movement gave permission for any Jew to consume these foods during Passover. However, one must carefully review the way to do so.
Note that in contrast to the CJLS, I permit glass products used during the year to be used on Passover, by simply rinsing them off. Also, I do not require the covering of counters with plastic or aluminum foil unless you place hot food directly on those counters on Passover and throughout the year.
There is a practice of securing hametz of significant monetary value in a closed, clearly marked cabinet and selling it. You may designate me as your agent to sell your valuable hametz by filling out the form in the latest D’var and returning it to the office not later than March 29th at 11am.
We have a number of congregants who are looking for a place to go for a seder. If you are hosting a seder and have an extra space or two, please contact Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are in need of an invitation for seder, please reach out to Barbara, as well, and we will do all we can to find you a place!
Coping with Loss during the Holiday
Holidays, especially Passover, can be difficult for those of us who have lost loved ones. Sitting around the seder table we are aware of those who are no longer with us. Jewish Community Services at the Jewish Board in NYC has provided a wonderful resource to help us navigate feelings of grief and loss at Passover.
Preparing our Souls for Passover
For millennia Judaism has coupled our concern with physical hametz with a much more insidious and tenacious kind of “leavening”. There is a spiritual dimension to our removal ofhametz, as well. The Talmud tells us of the personal meditation recited by Rabbi Alexandri after his private prayers. Rabbi Alexandri would turn his heart and mind towards heaven and say the following: “Master of the Universe, You know full well that it is our desire to act according to Your will; but what prevents us from doing so? The leavening in the dough (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 17a).” Rashi explains that this leavening is the evil inclination that inflates our heart. This is the spiritual hametz that requires purging from our souls prior to Passover. In his beautiful work, Preparing Your Heart for Passover, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky explains our task as follows:
Just as one removes the leaven by the light of the candle, one should eliminate the evil that dwells within, searching the heart by the light of the soul, which is the “candle of God.” Only with Divine light are we even able to see the hametz that is buried in our soul. And only through that same light are we able to incinerate it. Furthermore, who knows what else might be revealed in the light? We might even see the ones we love just a little differently in the special radiance of this phenomenal light!
The pre-Passover spring-cleaning we undertake must be more than just an attempt to purge our homes of leftovers and crumbs. The physical act is meant to trigger an internal process, as well—the purifying of our souls. So this year as you scrub and soak and vacuum and wash, grab hold of the opportunity to look more deeply into our own life. What internal “scrubbing” do we require to allow us to be more free? Where have our souls become “inflated” with self-importance since last Passover in ways that make us unable to witness the slavery of others? How have we personally become “enslaved” by our urges and temptation over the past year? What must we do prior to Passover to truly free our own souls so that we can continue to fight for the freedom of others? These are the kinds of questions we might find answers to in the monotonous motions of cleaning if we begin to view our physical preparations as an entry point into the deeper work we all face with regard to freedom for ourselves, our people, and our world.
May our physical preparations, accompanied with the spiritual and intellectual work of Passover enable each of us to relate to our redemption from the “narrow straits” of Egypt and enslavement and push towards freedom.
May you be blessed with a joyous and kosher Passover!
Rabbi Philip Ohriner