There is nothing more demanding, more baffling to the Jews without Jewish memory than the decision to "keep kosher for Passover." For some observant Jews, this is a sacred rite and responsibility that finds them cleaning out cupboards, scouring the counters, blow--torching the oven, and carting out the kosher-for-Passover dishes that have been stored away in some distant corner of the house for a whole year. For others, this observance appears to be the ultimate fetishism of obsessive Jews, a vestige of what our ancestors in Europe fled from: the tyranny of Jews. These Jews do not have deeply connecting memories, and ask, "what's wrong with MY dishes?" or "My food isn't good enough for you?"
It's for the latter group that we ask four questions:
What is this chametz we're searching for? What does its destruction symbolize?
Why make Passover different?
If you aren't obsessive-compulsive, can you still partake in this ritual and make it meaningful?
First things first. The search for chametz, for the crumbs of leavened products that fill our lives and our bellies throughout the year, is emblematic of the struggle to "leave Egypt." Apparently, it wasn't so easy for our ancestors to leave Egypt, to leave slavery behind. It took at least ten plagues to convince them that the Jewish people weren't forever destined to be slaves. And even with those signs and wonders that were tangible evidence of the entry of
God into history, our ancestors were given to
dilly dallying and not preparing for the journey. Then suddenly, they were forced to leave and had no chance to let their dough ferment and rise before they baked it. Hence, the origin of matzah. The hard unleavened bread became a symbol of freedom.
The search for chametz is the spiritual journey into a place in the soul that knows "we are all slaves in Egypt. We are all in need of freedom." The vestiges of slavery, leavened products in our kitchens, are reminders of the delay. Do you think it would have been any less of a miracle if after the first plague, we'd all risen up and escaped from the conditions of slavery, gone out to the desert to worship God, and just continued on to the promisde land? Of course not. It would have been an even bigger miracle. But our people hesitated. They clung to their chametz, their attachment to their condition of bondage, just as we too cling to our vestiges of slavery.
Need to be convinced that we are slaves? Think about the amount of fear we and our children have to deal with. Think about the news. Think about the internet, and our sped--up lives. Think about the urgencies that demand and drive us without direction. Think about the families torn asunder. Think about how compelling we find the hunger and sexual appetite of our leaders and how uncompelling the presence of hunger in the world. Think about all the things we are told are important, and yet have so little influence over. Think about the people and the conditions that we have theopportunity to positively influence, but we don't, we won't. We have stopped believing that we really can make a difference. Think about hungry families and homeless youth in Portland, the fear of immigrants, the future of the elderly, health care for the middle class, disposable cars, the absence of concern for our limited resources, the abuse of the environment, the excesses of the rich, the .... Need we say more?
We rabbis do battle over how much pre-Passover cleaning and searching is required. Some start the month before, some devote a couple of days or only a couple of hours. Then on the night before Passover, we take out a candle and a feather for a symbolic search akin to a treasure hunt for crumbs. We've dubbed it the "Easter Egg Hunt" of Jewish life. The next morning, we burn the collected chametz and we recite a formula that expresses the spirit of the search: "All chametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, and whether I have removed it or not, shall be nullified and be ownerless as the dust of the earth."
That is, no matter how much the obsession, no matter how thorough the search, there is always a little bit still clinging within the crevices of life. In other words, it's easier to take the Jews out of Egypt than it is to take Egypt out of the Jews.