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Pesach, which begins on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan and ends on the twenty-second day, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. This eight-day celebration appears in the Torah as Chag Hamatzot (The Festival of Unleavened Bread), Chag Hapesach (The Festival of the Paschal Lamb), and Chag Haaviv
(The Spring Festival). Our modern observance of Pesach is a unique blend of the festival’s agricultural and pastoral origins and the commemoration of the Exodus.
The Search for Leaven
The preliminary preparation begins as soon as Purim ends. Traditional Jews clean, scour, and polish the entire house to remove any trace of leavening, chametz. Chametz is any leavened bread or products that contain the fermented products of five kinds of grain—-wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. The evening before the first seder, the family takes part in the Bedikat Chametz ritual, the Search for Leaven. Armed with a candle, a feather, and a wooden spoon, the parents lead the children in a search to ferret out the last bits of leaven (if necessary, placed in a predetermined spot in the house before the search), lighting the way with the candle, and sweeping the crumbs into the spoon with the feather. The family then ritually burns the spoon, feather, and crumbs, and in so doing, denounces ownership of all other chametz that may have been overlooked in the home.
One way for us, as Reform Jews, to make the ridding of our homes of chametz meaningful is to donate it to food pantries, such as Food Finders in Lafayette. In this way we can participate in our own way in the ritual of Bedikat Chametz, and help feed homeless and needy families at the same time. Take a family trip to the food pantry and donate all your unopened bread, cereal, and pastas. In this way, we can bring new relevance and meaning to an ancient custom in the true spirit of Pesach, fulfilling the injunction, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”
The highlight of the Passover observance is the Seder, with its many symbolic foods and liturgy, the Haggadah. The word seder means order, and the Seder itself follows an order handed down through generations as a means to retell the story of our forebears’ liberation from bondage in Egypt. Through stories and prayers, the Haggadah provides a logical telling of the important chapter in our Jewish history. Many families hold a seder on the first and second evenings of Passover. Temple Israel customarily holds our congregational seder on the second night each year.
The liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage has become a powerful symbol of redemption—not only the redemption of the Jewish people but the redemption of the entire world. The telling of the Passover story acknowledges that slavery is not limited to physical bondage. Spiritual bondage and social degradation also deprive the human spirit of liberty. Pesach is an annual reminder that we have a responsibility to those who are oppressed or enslaved, whether it is physically, intellectually, or ideologically. On Pesach we celebrate not only for ourselves, but also for those who may not be able to celebrate Passover themselves in freedom.