Outside of the High HolyDays Pesah must be the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday in America. I think that it has something to do with the pageantry, the rituals, food, the fun and, of course, the learning. Pesah is a learning holiday. Every aspect of the holiday teaches us a lesson. The Seder is a series of teaching devices to explain the story of Pesah to Jews of all ages. Indeed the word for the book that we use at the Seder, Haggadah, comes from the word, L’Haggid which means to tell.
But the Seder is not the only teaching device in Pesah. There are many others. For example, Hametz. Hametz is leavening and, we are supposed to avoid it on Pesah. The rituals surrounding the ridding of our homes of Hametz can be used as a string of educational toys for us and our neighbors.
There are three rituals that have to do with the ridding of our homes (and maybe our hearts) of Hametz. They are; 1) M’hirat Hametz, 2) B’dihat Hametz and 3) Bi’yur Hametz. Let’s take a look at these rituals and how they can be used by us as a “string around the finger” a reminder of the higher self that is in each one of us.
1) M’hirat Hametz means the sale of Hametz. Before the beginning of Pesah, we do a spring cleaning. After the cleaning process, we make a ritual sale of whatever Hametz is left. Here is how it works. We put all of our cereals and grains etc. in a closet and tape the doors shut. Then we ritually “sell” the Hametz to those for whom there is no injunction against Hametz.
Next comes 2) B’dikat Hametz, the search for Hametz. The night before Pesah, we make a ritual search for the last crumbs of Hametz in the house. Traditionally, this is done with a feather, a wooden spoon, and a candle if you are Ashkenazi. Sefardim use a knife and a candle.
Lastly, comes 3) Bi’yur Hametz. The morning before the first Seder the Hametz that has been collected is burned with appropriate prayers. Now we are ritually ready for Pesah.
But what can these rituals teach us? What is the “right” that go along with these rites. How can we use these rituals to make ourselves better people, to open our eyes to our inner selves?
Let’s take a look at them again.
1) M’hirat Hamatz, the sale of Hametz is a public statement. It is a way of sharing with our neighbors who we are and the righteousness for which we strive. Let’s try it, let’s go to our non-Jewish neighbors and discuss the meaning of Pesah. Let us begin the process of sharing our different customs as well as our similar ideals. Our neighbors will learn about us and, indeed, we may learn about them as well. It is a fun way of building bridges. We aren’t looking to end differences, just begin to understand and accept them.
2) B’dihat Hametz, let us search our hearts for Hametz, for that which is not fit for the celebration of Pesah. Let us examine our own prejudices, whether they be based on the differences of religion, race or origin. Have we been guilty of treating the stranger differently than the home born? Have we judged others on the basis of their looks or heritage? If so, (and who of us hasn’t) then it is time for the next step.
3) Bi’yur Hametz is the burning of the Hametz. Let us begin the process of purging not only our homes but our hearts of Hametz, the Hametz of hatred and racism. For isn’t that the true meaning of Pesah? Aren’t we commanded to remember that we were slaves in Egypt in order not to enslave others? Aren’t we required to remember that we were “strangers in a strange land” in order that we would treat others better than we have treated so often in so many lands? The lessons of Pesah are not so far away from our daily lives.
But sometimes we need a little reminder or two or three.