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Chametz: It’s Always in Our Lives

Chametz: It’s Always in Our Lives

I really struggle with my Passover preparations each year. I am always busy, busy, busy, and I have trouble finding the time to do the rigorous cleaning that I’d like to do.

That’s an excuse, I know. In reality, I also have a deeper, spiritual challenge with it.

Traditionally, Jews are supposed to clean their whole house of breadcrumbs and any signs of chametz (leavening) prior to Passover. Nothing is to be left in the house. Each year as Passover approaches, I try to make the time to clean out the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. I try to do a thorough cleaning of the cupboards in the kitchen. My family doesn’t have separate dishes or cookware for Passover, but I make a concerted effort to make our kitchen feel Passover-ready. I take any unopened or salvageable chametz out to the garage freezer and store the dry goods in boxes for the week. I also have my car washed – inside and out.

Some in my family think it is silly to move all the food around. Why go through the hassle of schlepping it out and then back in a week later?

In our previous homes, I really needed to empty the pantry of chametz in order to make room for the boxes of matzah and Passover foods.

Since moving to Fresno, though, we have been blessed with a very large pantry the size of a walk-in closet. There is plenty of space for lots of food, my wine collection, storage, etc. It doesn't make sense anymore to move so much food out of this generous space when I could simply put it to one side – so this week, I am preparing to tape off the chametz shelves and leave the Passover shelves accessible.

I have to admit: I feel a bit guilty about this plan. Am I lazy? Am I letting go of that important aspect of Passover, cleaning out the chametz?

At the seder, we talk about the metaphorical meaning of chametz. Chametz, the stuff that puffs us up and fills us with self-importance. Chametz, the stuff that blocks our ability to move forward as our true selves. Chametz, the stuff that holds us back or weighs us down.

As I organized the pantry this weekend, moving chametz to one side and making dedicated space for the Passover-friendly foods, I realized that the chametz isn't really going anywhere. Chametz it always there – literally and metaphorically. It’s how we deal with its presence in our lives that counts.

I imagine that next week, when we are in the midst of Passover, each time I go into the pantry, I will see that chametz sitting there, acknowledge its presence, and then move on to what I am really in search of. By keeping the literal chametz in my pantry and blocking it off, I am creating for myself a spiritual exercise in learning how to push the metaphorical chametz aside, as well.

What happens when Passover ends and I take all the tape down? Chametz will be there, free for the taking. Pretzels and crackers, oatmeal and Girl Scout cookies. All those yummy baked goods will be back. Does that mean we have to let the metaphorical chametz back, too? It might be there, but we don't have to take it back in.

This Passover, I am learning that chametz will always be in my life. It’s inevitable. Yet I know I don't have to always let it control me. I can acknowledge its presence and push it aside, moving onto what I am really searching for.

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE is an independent Jewish education consultant working with the LA Cohort of the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution and currently serves as the President of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (formerly NATE). She blogs at Rabbi Laura.

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE
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Published: 4/09/2014

Categories: Jewish Holidays, Passover, Practice, Jewish Journeys
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