Every spring, Jews throughout the world celebrate Passover, telling the story of Hebrew slaves fleeing from Egypt. But there's much more to Passover than a commemoration of historical events. Passover also reminds us once each year that we can renew ourselves and attain a new level of personal freedom.
We began preparations for Passover by searching our homes for any traces of chametz, or leavening, and removing any that we find. That's because our ancestors fled Egyptian slavery so quickly that they had no time for their bread to rise, or leaven. This is spring house cleaning, something practiced in many cultures and countries.
Fleeing Egypt made our ancestors free, but does today's spring house cleaning make us any freer? Can we renew ourselves?
By removing the chametz from our houses, we are really taking back control of our stuff. As enthusiastic participants in a consumer society, we have been buying, using and then quickly storing a lot of stuff. We end-up with too much of it. Even worse, we must spend a lot of time and energy making sure we properly manage our stuff. We need insurance for our houses, service for our cars, repairs for our washing machines and charging for our "way too smart phones." The articles of clothing that we don't wear anymore are, for some reason, always the first ones we see when we look in our closets. We are awash in stuff.
Passover is a time to take back control. The first Passover night meal is called Seder. In Hebrew, the word seder means "order." The rituals of Passover remind us to establish order, to get rid of the stuff which burdens our spirits, while keeping only the truly valuable things to our life.
Physically removing the chametz (bdikat chametz) is first step toward freedom, but it is not enough. The Torah requires us to mentally get rid of it (bitoul chametz) as well. We expel it from our minds by declaring any chametz that may not have been found to be gone, too, "as the dust of the earth." Our minds will it to be null and void.
That is the hard part. How do we emotionally detach ourselves from our old stuff, from our old, bad habits? We need to make a firm resolution and declare it, loud and clear. We have free will and we can decide to be better. From today, I will go to the gym every evening after work. I will listen to my loved ones. I will spend time on what's really important in my life, rather than just react to calls, messages and tweets. I am declaring any chametz in my life to be null and void.
Both the physical removing and the spiritual declaration are required to achieve freedom. Spring cleaning, by itself, is insufficient. If we focus only on removing the old stuff, we risk getting lost in the details. We must make resolutions that will carry us forward. We must grow at Passover. Otherwise our spring-time self-renewal will not last. That's why the Torah requires both removing the chametz and declaring it null and void.
That might also be why our mothers and grandmothers take the Passover cleaning so seriously. They know that in fact we are not just cleaning the rooms of the house, but the rooms of our soul. We need to remove every single morsel of chamez, of leavening, of self-inflation from our soul.
After days and weeks of this cleaning, comes the Seder night, the family dinner, with everyone dressed up and neat from outside and within. Then we are ready to slow down, to listen to each other, to draw from our past the values of our future. We can even pass over the generation gap. We begin by eating the simple matzo, the unleavened flat bread made solely from flour and water. We are back to our true selves. We are ready to tell our kids who we really are and where we came from.
We do not merely tell them the story of the Exodus. We also define purpose and vision. We define a vision of freedom which is bigger than ourselves. We free ourselves from ourselves, from our own chametz, and build a future of freedom and hope.
That's our Passover's journey.