Reflecting on the Spiritual Possibilities of Passover
This year we celebrate the first night of Passover on Monday, April 14. Passover commemorates our people's exodus from Egypt, the journey from slavery to freedom. Of all of the Jewish holidays, Passover alone is distinguished by special dietary requirements, namely that we are prohibited from eating or even owning hametz. Hametz is defined as any mixture of flour and water that has been allowed to ferment for more than 18 minutes. The most obvious examples are bread and pasta, but grains and legumes are included as well (because they 'puff up', or act like leavened foods) and are prohibited on Passover.
Simply put, matza represents the cakes that our ancestors baked in haste amid frantic preparations for departure from Egypt, the house of bondage. Yet the Rabbis sought a deeper meaning, and identified leaven with the evil inclination, the urge within each of us that gives rise to wrongdoing. They point out the philological similarity between the two Hebrew words, hametz and matzah, and find an interpretation in this resemblance. It takes only moments for something unleavened to become leavened, and it takes even less time for good intentions to become subverted. A philosopher derived this moral: Just as leaven is banned because it is ‘puffed up,’ so to must we guard against the self-righteous that puffs us up with false pride.
So the lines are drawn: good versus evil, humility versus arrogance, unleavened versus leavened, matzah versus hametz. If matzah, represents simplicity, then hametz, represents complexity. We can look at this from both individual and communal perspectives. By not consuming hametz on Passover, we return to a simplified diet, with fewer (and perhaps healthier) choices. Not eating bread during Passover can bring us back to nature, and to the simpler joys of life.
More than just an obligatory food for the festival, matzah vs chametz represent spiritual possibilities. How can we ‘unleaven’ our lives during the rest of the year? With each bite of matzah, can we savor that which is simple and satisfying?
May this holiday of Passover remind us to strive to always pursue humility, goodness and simplicity. Wishing a Chag Sameach to you and your family from all of us at JF&CS!