It is the morning before Passover and I stand in the rain watching so much go up in smoke. The time for chametz is over and the time for matzah slowly approaches, I am somewhere in between. We are about to celebrate the Jewish festival of freedom, our springtime celebration of renewal and rebirth. We will commemorate the Israelites embarking on their exodus from Egypt towards their new life in the Promised Land. We will celebrate their release from bondage and their long walk to freedom. Most importantly we will re-enact the process that they went through of leaving Egypt behind and embracing the hopefulness and optimism of a future with endless possibilities.
In Judaism it is rare to find celebration without accompanying ritual acts or mitzvot. Through the mitzvot the Torah helps to inform us how to celebrate and more importantly what we are really celebrating. At the Seder we re-enact the story of the exodus to draw parallels from our ancestors’ experiences to our own lives. In the exodus narrative the Israelites could only leave Egypt when Pharaoh finally released them from bondage. As we recreate the process of redemption when approaching the Seder night we need to do the same.
On Passover all leaven (chametz) must be searched out very meticulously and then eradicated (usually burned). Even the things that we can’t find have to be nullified from our ownership. It is not a mere physical act rather it is a mitzvah in its deepest sense. I equate our release from bondage as essentially the removal of the chametz from our possession. Removal of chametz is intended to be a mental & emotional cleaning house, an elimination of the shell around our hearts and the doubts and hindrances in the recesses of our souls. The chametz is a physical representation of the psychological or emotional enslavement that we all have to one thing or another. Through the act of searching for and destroying it from our possession, we have an avenue to explore the possibilities of freedom.
Once we have been released from bondage we can participate in the joyous feast of the Seder where freedom is explored through physical acts that are meant to make us feel like a liberated people. We drink four cups of wine, each relating to a different stage in redemption. We recline during the meal; we dip foods, sing songs and most importantly eat matzah (bread devoid of chametz, essentially the bread of someone free from enslavement). It’s important to think about and meditate on the meaning of the mitzvot we do during the Seder. This should help us internalize how to be free from the things that enslave us.
I spent Sunday cleaning out my chametz. I know there are crumbs left behind that lie in the dark corners of my home and the deep recesses of my soul. You just can’t reach everything at once. Maybe I’ll find them next year or the year after that. But as I watch my chametz go up in smoke the peaceful rain reminds me of the stillness I find in my practice. And I think eventually I’ll clean those things out too.