Spring CleaningApril 20, 2011 - 5:00 am
“For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel.”—Exodus 12:15
Maybe you are one of those households that undergoes a thorough and careful spring cleaning, where every nook and cranny in the house gets a good scrubbing, and where every closet and drawer gets a painstaking purge of all unwanted and used items. While a lot of hard work and effort goes into it, afterward we feel our load lightened a bit; we feel refreshed and renewed.
During the Passover celebration, we Jews undergo a similar exercise of meticulous and painstaking cleaning as part of our observance. At Passover we observe a number of dietary restrictions and laws. Fulfilling these requirements takes extensive preparation and careful adherence to detail. The most well known of these rules is that we may only eat bread made without yeast, or unleavened bread, called matzah throughout the Passover observance.
So important is this command that Passover is also called Chag ha-Matzot, or the “Festival of the Unleavened Bread.” During that first Passover, God commanded the Israelites to prepare a special meal that included only bread made without yeast, or leaven. In remembering this day for generations to come, God told the Israelites that they not only were to eat unleavened bread for seven days, but that they were also to remove any trace of yeast from their homes. To do otherwise would result in that person being cut off from the rest of the community.
It is a command that we Jews take very seriously. Prior to the holiday, we thoroughly clean the house, searching for any traces of yeast, or chametz, as it is called in Hebrew. We set aside certain utensils for Passover, which never come into contact with chametz. On the evening before Passover, we conduct the bedikat chametz, or “searching for leaven,” ceremony, in which the family goes through the entire house with a candle searching for any leaven that might have been overlooked.
Chametz can be understood in two different ways. While it certainly refers to the physical removal of leavened products from the household, it also is used to suggest a spiritual contamination. Spiritual chametz consists of those wrong actions and unhealthy thoughts that damage our lives. Before Passover, we make an effort to get rid of our spiritual chametz as well as the physical chametz in our lives so that we can begin the spring with a clean slate.
As we enter into this time of celebration of both Passover and Easter, let us remember our need to clean house spiritually. Take some time during this week to search the corners of your soul for any chametz so your relationship with God and with others is open and fulfilling.