Here at ReadTheSpirit, we love to see writers like Judy Gruen working successfully and producing lively books like “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.” We encourage indie books and films in this era when traditional media is rapidly changing. AND NOW —
here’s Judy’s gift to us for Passover …
More than 3,300 years ago, God swept the Jewish people out from our slavery in Egypt where we had toiled for more than 400 years. He did not wait for a United Nations resolution on the matter—the Almighty acted unilaterally, and for this, we Jews remain forever grateful. Remembering the Exodus from Egypt is so central to Jewish life that we mention it in our prayers every day.
Yet there’s something ironic about Passover. Why is it that getting ready to celebrate our liberation from slavery involves so much hard work? First, if you’re not familiar with this holiday, you need to know that during Passover Jews are not allowed to eat, own, or even benefit from the type of leavened products we normally enjoy all year round: bread, crackers, pasta, and a host of other things, too.
The Haggadah is our Passover playbook, recounting the history of the Exodus. The Haggadah states that God took us out of Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” These are handy images to keep in mind, because preparing for Passover requires both a mighty hand (two would be better) and an outstretched arm to get to those hard-to-reach crevices behind the couch where your kid stashed a packet of Oreos a few months back.
While cleaning for Passover, many of us will scrub our homes to within an inch of our lives, finally sitting down to the formal Passover seder meal tired, yes, but serene in the knowledge that our homes are not only sparkling clean, but, more important, free of any leavening.
So why can’t we just commemorate our liberation with some traditional Jewish comfort food, like chicken chow mein? Why does scrubbing down the house and eating hard, crummy matzah, which tastes stale even when it’s fresh, remind us of freedom?
I believe that the answer is that freedom is more than just a physical reality—it’s a spiritual condition. And without a structure to our lives, we have no freedom; we have only chaos. Gravity works much the same way: without gravity, every thing and every one of us would just float up into the atmosphere, hither and thither. Similarly, our value system is our “spiritual gravity”—it’s the structure that keeps us morally grounded. It gives us enough space to grow, but not so much space that we’ll just float around aimlessly, experimenting with potentially disastrous lifestyle ideas.
It’s no coincidence that God gave the Jews the Torah—God’s blueprint for living—after our liberation from slavery. Slaves aren’t free to make choices for themselves, but free people need guidelines, too. And who better to give them than the Almighty?
In the same way, the leavening that we search for before Passover isn’t just physical—it’s a metaphor for the egotism and arrogance that can puff us up higher than a loaf of freshly baked bread. That’s why preparing for Passover means more than looking for errant crumbs behind the refrigerator. It means spring-cleaning our souls, trying to rid ourselves of pettiness, selfishness, and tunnel vision. We’re multi-tasking: vacuuming with one hand, but also taking an inventory of our character, and trying to refocus on the things that really matter: our families, our values, God and the Torah that God gave us to help us live a meaningful life. Only when we have swept away this spiritual “leavening” can we really connect with the Festival of Freedom.
Then, when we sit down to our Passover seders, we will be free—truly free—to celebrate this pivotal rendezvous with God, just as our ancestors have done for more than 3,300 years. We’re rejoicing in our birth as a nation, and to our reconnection to the tradition that has ensured our miraculous survival as a people.
Who knows? Perhaps any people able to digest this much matzah is surely an indestructible people, indeed.
Judy Gruen’s latest book is The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement. Read more of her columns at www.judygruen.com.
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