Your Pockets Clean
Rabbi Moshe Isserles (16th C. Poland) required that the search for chametz
include checking ones pockets. The Kabbalist Isaiah Horowitz added
an ethical dimension to this internal audit: check carefully that your
pockets contain no funds deriving from theft, robbery or fraud.
and Go Seek
A medieval custom perfectly suited to a children's game
involves hiding ten pieces of bread throughout the house before the candlelight
search for chametz begins. Originally this was done to guarantee that
even after the scrupulous cleaning, the ritual search on the last night
before seder would still uncover some chametz. Today it provides an occasion
for a game in which ten pieces of bread secured in closed plastic bags
are carefully concealed.
On each bag a word
or a clue or a question may be attached (the words add up to a secret
message or a Pesach song; the clues hint at the next hiding place; the
ten questions constitute a quiz about basic Pesach facts).
Remember that besides
finding the pre-hidden bags of chametz, one must genuinely check the typical
hang-outs of forgotten chametz (like the cars glove
When Pesach Starts on Saturday Night
When Seder Night Falls on Saturday evening, the search
is conducted on Thursday night and the bonfire on Friday morning. Challah
is put aside in a special chametz zone in the house to be
eaten by approximately 10 a.m. on Shabbat morning. The leftovers may be
removed by means of a flush of the toilet. top
Procrastination and Chametz
Similarities between matza and chametz are many, while the difference
is ever so slight. On Pesach that distinction takes on great significance.
Both matza and bread are made of flour and water, and both may contain
egg, onion, fruit juice, sugar, salt and other ingredients. However matza
may contain no yeast nor may it be left to rise by itself after water
has been added. The Rabbis fixed 18 minutes as the maximum time for making
matza from the moment water and flour are mixed. They taught Jews to be
very precise about time not to procrastinate when making matza
or doing any other mitzvah. (A word play conveys the idea that a procrastinator
can easily miss the boat turning matza into chametz. They
coined the motto: "When an opportunity to perform a mitzvah
comes to you, dont miss it - tachmeetz. Mitzvah
is a word play on matza, tachmeetz on chametz).
Perhaps the Exodus
from Egypt should be seen as a window of opportunity that the Jews
had to be careful not to miss. Pharaoh kept changing his mind about liberating
the Jews, and the children of Israel continued to hesitate about leaving
their homes in Egypt. When the tenth plague struck, the Egyptians relented
for a moment and released the Jews who had not even finished preparing
bread for the journey. Nevertheless, they took the dough which had not
yet risen and took advantage of their opportunity. When three days later
Pharaoh sent his chariots to retrieve his slaves, God split the Red Sea
to open an unexpected escape route. Again the Jews had to leap into the
unknown and rush forward before the walls of water came crashing down
Search and Destroy: Forbidden Chametz
THE TORAH REQUIRES that chametz neither be eaten, nor seen, nor even located
in ones house during Pesach (Exodus 13:3, 7, 15). All yeast-based
baked goods must be removed from our premises (Exodus 12:15). The Rabbis
detailed the process of removing chametz:
Chametz. The Search involves a careful cleaning
of every place in the house where foods are eaten or stored, and a ceremonial
investigation of nooks and crannies by candlelight on the
night before the seder (Mishna Pesachim 1:1).
Bee-ur Chametz. The Removal of Chametz is accomplished
both physically and mentally. Physically the remains of the chametz are
burned on the morning before the seder approximately two hours before
noon. In the days of sacrifices, the Pesach lamb was sacrificed during
the daylight from noon until sundown at which time the seder began. Since
the sacrifice could not be accomplished in the presence of chametz (Exodus
34:25), the bee-ur chametz had to precede the sacrifice, which began at
noon. Since preparations before the seder often ran late, the Rabbis moved
up the burning of the chametz two hours before noon just to be on
the safe side.
Mentally, the chametz
is removed by pronouncing a formula written in Aramaic. The owners of
the house (in which chametz may have gone undetected) disown what is left
and declare it to be like the ownerless dust of the earth.
The Spiritual Significance of Yeast
THE OBSESSIVE SEARCH and destruction of chametz from our homes has spiritual
as well as ritual overtones. Yeast came to symbolize arrogance
because the bread raised itself above the level of matza though it was
only filled with pockets of hot air. Yeast is also a catalyst that symbolizes
the restless force of the evil inclination (yetzer ha-ra). Just
as yeast causes fermentation in bread and wine, it also turns them sour
when not controlled. Similarly, the instinctual forces, desire and ambition,
can contribute to progress but also to discontent and corruption. On Pesach,
which celebrates the rejection of Egyptian civilization and a new pristine
beginning of Jewish freedom, the matza is more appropriate fare than bread.
Don Isaac Abarbanel (15th C. Spain and Italy) explains that matza represents
simplicity which is a desirable spiritual quality. Freedom involves the
rejection of the fleshpots of Egypt (Ex.16:13) and
the removal of the restless yeast of the evil inclinationd.
Romance and Candlelighting
THE SADUCEES (1st C.) and Karaites (9th C.) regarded the Biblical prohibition
against making a fire on Shabbat (Ex: 35:3) as a prohibition against the
use of its light as well as its creation. They sanctified the Sabbath
in darkness. Sabbath was a day of holy abstinence. It involved no warm
food, no lamps and no sexual activity.
The point of view of the Rabbis, however,
stands out in bold contrast. The Rabbis prescribed the lighting
of candles and made the Sabbath lights and holiday candles in the home
one of the most significant features of the day. They were seen as essential
to Shalom Bayit peace and intimacy between husband and wife in
the home, and to Oneg Shabbat physical and emotional enjoyment.
Lovemaking by spouses on Shabbat was commended, as was the enjoyment of
hot food. top
A Woman's Mitzvah?
THE RABBINICAL commandment that the house be lit up on Shabbat requires
that whoever takes care of holiday preparations should light the candles.
Maimonides noted that in his era women are generally responsible for the
household, so the mitzvah is incumbent primarily on them (Shabbat 5:2).
But in families where men share household tasks equally, the mitzvah may
be equally incumbent on them. (In your home, who should be lighting candles?)
A Traditional Woman's Prayer at Candlelighting
May it be Your will, God of our ancestors, that You grant my family and
all Israel a good and long life. Remember us with blessings and kindness,
fill our home with your Divine Presence. Give me the opportunity to raise
my children and grandchildren to be truly wise, lovers of God, people
of truth, who illuminate the world with Torah, good deeds and the work
of the Creator. Please hear my prayer at this time. Regard me as a worthy
descendant of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, our mothers, and let my
candles burn and never be extinguished. Let the light of your face shine
upon us. Amen. top
A Private Moment of Intimacy with the
Rabbi Jacob Emden of Prague (19th c.) recommends that one place
both hands on the childs head, just as Moshe blessed Joshua his
successor with two hands without reservation, without jealousy.
The priests also bless the people with two open-faced hands as an expression
of love. Everyone can also take this opportunity to add their own
personal blessing to each child according to ones gift of eloquence
(Siddur Bet El). There are only two lasting bequests we can hope
to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings.
Welcome to the Seder
We welcome you to be full and equal participants in this communal event
combining both ritual sanctity and a familiar home atmosphere. While the
religious requirements governing eating and reading at the Pesach meal
emphasize the sanctity of this meal, you will also discover the playful
and intellectually stimulating aspects of the seder. The Rabbis added
to this sacred banquet a lively symposium for the adults as well as many
educational games to draw in the children. Please feel free, or
better, obligated to ask questions, to insert personal reflections, to
challenge assertions and to tell good stories.
We are all invited
to take a leap of solidarity back into the founding event of Jewish
nationhood the Exodus. First we relive slavery and indignity and
then we re-experience the exhilarating gift of Divine liberation. Our
goal is to return to the experiential sources of the Jewish values of
freedom and justice. We make this journey as individuals, as families
and as a worldwide community. In reliving our national autobiography we
renew our covenant with one another and with God, who took us out of the
house of bondage.
We commit ourselves
to Gods words: Love the stranger as yourself for you were
once strangers in Egypt (Leviticus19:34).
The 15 Step Method
IN THE TEMPLE DAYS the spiritual pilgrimage reached its climax at the
15 stairs leading up to the Holy of Holies. On these steps the musicians
of the tribe of Levi played and sang Shir HaMaalot, the Song
of the Steps. Reaching a spiritually worthwhile destination requires
a process, an effort to achieve new heights. One cannot expect to sense
the power of the seder without strenuous preparations beforehand. May
our intensive cleaning purify us and prepare us for a personal journey
down into Egypt and back up to freedom. top