by Cantor Emma Lutz
שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ–אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם
“For seven days you will eat unleavened bread; the first day you will put away leaven out of your houses.” (Exodus 12:15)
There is comfort in cleanliness. We feel refreshed—perhaps even reborn—when we rid ourselves of the excess grime that piles up from the messiness of life. Even if we might dread the process of purification itself, we almost always feel better once we wipe any slate in clean.
During Passover, we cleanse our spaces of chametz (leaven or food mixed with leaven), which is forbidden to us in the Torah for this festival week. I remember as a child performing the ritual of searching for leftover leavened crumbs by candlelight at my grandmother’s home, using the ceremonial feather as a mini broom and its accompanying wooden spoon as a teeny chametz dust-bin. The ritual was a combination of the fear of missing a crumb and the catharsis of the purifying procedure. In the end, it was all relief when we tossed the grains into a bag—the festival was starting, I had a week of matzo brittle to look forward to, and there wasn’t a bit of residue from the winter left to carry with me.
Although the Torah commands us to rid ourselves of the physical chametz in our lives, this mitzvah has given rise to a metaphorical application of freeing ourselves of any spiritual pain or emotional baggage we might also be holding onto. Have we become too tied to any one possession? Have our worries become so heavy that they weigh us down? Have our over-scheduled routines prevented us from enjoying the simple joys of life alongside our dearest family and friends? The commandment to remove our baggage so that we might feel free of literal chametz is also an invitation for us to start fresh in every aspect of our lives. We are invited by our tradition to consider how we might take small actions now to redeem ourselves from any built-up impediments. Remember that we clean the chametz with just a tiny feather and a spoon—our changes need not be large to have great impact.
The spring celebration of Passover is precisely six months away from Rosh Hashanah. Both holidays are referred to as new year celebrations in our Torah. The ritual riddance of chametz is the companion to the process of teshuvah (return or repentance) that we commit to during our High Holy Days—during both seasons, we rid ourselves of baggage so that we might feel free, and indeed, return to the best versions of ourselves. May this season of Pesach be one of hope, positive change, and redemption for us all.