It has been a very busy week. For the last seven days, I have been going through my house with a fine-tooth comb, searching. What am I searching for? Chametz! Must have all the chametz out before Passover begins.
In the kitchen I’ve been reading the ingredients of everything, searching out chametz. I’ve donated most of my cookware and replaced it. I’ve been koshering the rest of the kitchen- even found a blowtorch for that purpose! So, it’s been busy.
I think I’ve lost you. It’s the Chametz, right? What is Chametz, and what does it have to do with Passover?
For the answers to these questions, I visited with Rabbi Levi Greenberg of Chabad Lubavitch of El Paso.
“The main observance of Passover,” he began, “that goes throughout the entire eight days of Passover, is the prohibition of eating, or owning chametz.”
That’s why I’ve been cleaning like a madman. “Chametz means leaven,” says Rabbi Greenberg.
During Passover, the Torah prohibits consuming anything with leaven during Passover. This is food prepared from one of five grains, or any combination of them. These grains are wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye that has been allowed to leaven. As an aside, other Jewish authorities add rice, corn, millet, and legumes to this list.
“Any type of grain, if they come in contact with water, and they start to leaven, that is chametz,” said Rabbi Greenberg. “A Jew is not allowed to eat, or own chametz for those eight days.”
Keeping Passover is more than just making sure there is no leaven in your house. It is more than walking around with a candle, which helps you focus where you are looking, while you search for chametz. There are also mitzvahs you must perform as well.
“Most of those mitzvahs are observed primarily on the first two nights of Passover,” Rabbi Greenberg said.
This year, Passover begins on Friday. Across the world, in Synagogues, homes and community centers, there will be a Seder. So, just what are those mitzvahs?
“Eating matzah,” says Rabbi Levi Greenberg. “That is unleavened bread, the opposite of chametz.”
Making matzah is not easy. From start to finish, it takes eighteen minutes. That’s eighteen minutes from the time the water touches the flour, to when you are pulling it out of the oven.
On March 12th Chabad hosted a Model Matzah Bakery, where kids were able to learn how it is made and were able to make matzah.
“Matzah is reminiscent of the great miracle,” says Rabbi Greenberg, “The fact that a day earlier the Jewish people were not able to leave Egypt, and a day later Pharaoh was pushing them out so quickly that they didn’t have enough time to allow their dough to rise.”
This reminds us that Pharaoh, nature, cell phones, or any of the numerous that may hold us captive is not in charge. G-d is in charge.
“In addition, there is a mitzvah to eat maror – bitter herbs – commemorating the bitterness of the slavery,” said the Rabbi. “In addition to that, it is also teaching us how to incorporate bitterness in our lives.”
We all have reason to be bitter, to be sad or disappointed. What we need to do, and what this mitzvah does, is teach us to accept it, and grow past it. As the Rabbi said, we need to channel our bitterness, our sadness in a positive way. If we do so, we’ll be better for it at the end of the day.
“Another mitzvah is drinking four cups of wine.” After saying this, the Rabbi said, “That’s right, four glasses of wine.” Keep in mind; one may also drink grape juice if need be.
“These four glasses of wine represent four expressions of redemption that G-d promised the Jewish people that He would take them out of Egypt,” he says. “Wine is the beverage of the free, the noble.”
During the Seder, we drink the wine to express, to embrace our freedom. After all the long years of captivity, of harsh beatings, oppression, and loss, what better way to show you are free.
“The most important mitzvah of the evening is retelling the story of Exodus,” says Rabbi Greenberg. This is not just a retelling of the story. We are not sitting around the table while someone reads it from the Torah. It’s more than that.
“It needs to be a conversation,” said Rabbi Greenberg. “Question and answer. The Torah says one needs to speak to their children. The children need to ask questions, and the parents need to respond.”
“Why is this night different than all other nights,” is one of the questions asked. It is the most important of all the questions I think.
Passover is not a simply holiday divorced from our modern world. Looking at things now, I think we need Passover now more than ever.
For me, Passover is not only a call to the freedom we gained 3,330 years ago, but the freedom we have each day. We can be free from the anger we may feel towards someone, the bitterness we have about some situation, or the baggage we carry from our past. We do not need to let these define us and shape us to their liking. We can be free.
As Rabbi Greenberg said, we can use this bitterness in a positive way to help shape our present and our future. We can use it to shape our understanding of G-d, the Torah, and the commandments. We can use it to help free others who may be oppressed, lost or simply hurting.
For me, this is Passover: Redemption from the bondage of those things, those situations that would cause me to turn my heart away from G-d, be bitter or envious of my fellow man, and unwilling to fight for what is right.
Of course, I am no rabbi, and Rabbi Greenberg tells the meaning of Passover better than I do. I invite you to take a few moments and watch the video found above.
Have a Zissen Pesach!