Our Lesson from Chametz and Passover

    April 2008 Passover Edition            
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Our Lesson from Chametz and Passover


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Opinion & Society


The Passover Lesson

By Menachem Mendelsohn

Passover is not a one day holiday that comes, is celebrated and then goes away never to be with us until the next year. Even though it lasts a full week, not a day, it is a holiday that is to be recollected and internalized each and every day. The spiritual message that is contained within the holiday is not just for the short time that we celebrate the actual holiday, but rather it contains a basic message for us to take with us throughout the entire year.

Passover is the first festival that the Jews celebrated as a people. It is the festival that connects us with the birth of the Jews as a free and independent nation and a distinguished and dynamic people. It is not merely the celebration of our release from bondage – from slavery, but also the celebration of our becoming a holy nation dedicated to G-d.

Passover is so important that the Torah makes it our duty to remember it each and every day, as it states in the Torah, (Deuteronomy 16:3): "You shall remember the day of your departure from Egypt all the days of your life." This is the very reason that the third paragraph of the Shema which mentions our liberation from Egypt is recited daily each morning and evening.

In addition, the redemption from Egypt is one of the six remembrances that we are commanded to remember each and every day. We are even told this in the Hagadah of Passover: "In every generation the Jew must consider himself as if he personally came out from Egypt."

Considering ourselves as if we have been redeemed from slavery to serve our G-d is one of the main elements behind this commandment of remembering our exodus from Egypt. This remembrance includes several essential parts from our Passover preparations which can be internalized daily to teach us a valuable lesson in life. Let us see what it is that we do on Passover that we can extract and apply to enrich our daily life:

The first step in our Passover observance is to rid ourselves of our Chametz. Chametz is the Hebrew word for leavened bread, bread which has been allowed to rise. We are all familiar with the puffed up loaf of white bread; but chametz is also in cookies, whiskey, noodles, beer and a myriad of food products. It is forbidden to have Chametz or something that has in it Chametz in our possession during Passover or to eat it. Doing such a transgression can cause a Jew to be cut off from his spiritual source. In order to rid ourselves from this Chametz and the terrible consequences that may arise from having it, it is necessary to do a B'deketz Chametz, a search for Chametz. Only by searching very thoroughly can we be certain that we have no more Chametz in our possession.

The chametz is removed from our possession and then on the morning of the day of the Passover Seder we rid ourselves of this substance. In this manner we can be assured that we enter into Passover with no traces of chametz in our possession. We can either burn it, sell it, destroy it, or even flush it down the toilet; but we must be rid of it as Passover nears. This is called Bi'ur Chametz, the destroying of chametz.

Matzah on the other hand is baked in such a manner to prevent the dough from having a chance to rise. The flour is carefully ground and stored in a cool dry place until the time that it is mixed with cold water for the baking process. The dough is quickly rolled into thin, flat circles and then riddled with holes and quickly placed into a very hot oven in which it bakes in a very short time. All the utensils are constantly cleaned from any dough lest it turn into Chametz and contaminate the matzoh. The result of this is a kosher for Passover matza. We eat this matza because the Torah commands us to do so. It reminds of the unleavened bread that our fore-fathers ate when they left Egypt in such great haste that they had no time to bake regular bread.

Now each concept in the Torah has deeper meanings invested in them from which we may utilize to learn how to conduct our lives in a meaningful and positive manner:

Chametz is the symbol of puffed up pride and haughtiness. Matzah is just the opposite, it does not rise up, but rather it is lowly and simple. Humility is one of the greatest virtues that a man may possess; without it he will never be close to G-d for He abhors the haughty and prideful. They believe that they themselves have accomplished great things, but they miss the point that it is only because G-d allows them to succeed and guides them to success that they are able to achieve anything. A humble person knows that all that he has, all that he has achieved in life, is only because G-d has helped him. Had G-d not helped him, the humble man knows that it would not be possible to achieve any wealth, any status, or any success in life. It is the prideful person, the haughty individual, who believes that he is a self-made success story.

It is incumbent upon us to search ourselves each day for this evil of haughtiness that dwells within us. We must practice B'deketz Chametz, personal introspection, each day to make certain that we do not develop the character trait of arrogance or pride for it is a natural tendency and inner desire to want recognition and superiority. Once we have found this trait within ourselves, we must uproot it and remove it from our being for as long as we posses this negative character trait, not only can we not see the truth in the world, we can not properly serve G-d. This is the internal Bi'ur Chametz which we must do to remove any prideful thoughts and haughtiness that we may find within ourselves.

Those who do not purge themselves from these evil character traits can not have a relationship with G-d. They become slaves to their grosser and baser impulses until they slowly become completely unable to free themselves from the chains of desiring high status, attention, money and ostentatiousness. This personal B'deketz Chametz, searching for evil traits, coupled with Bi'ur Chametz, the ridding of evil character traits permits us true freedom; freedom to think, freedom to understand, freedom to be, freedom to act in accordance with G-d's desires.

This is the message of Passover and the liberation that we must internalize and take with us for the entire year. It is not just a holiday that merely celebrates a historical event, but an event that is given to us to relate our life to and as a guide for self improvement.


from the April 2008 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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