Judy's MIRTH & MEANING BLOG
Dura Europos synagogue wall painting depicting Jews leaving Egypt. The work of art is in the public domain
More than 3,300 years ago, God swept the Jewish people out from slavery in Egypt, where we had toiled for 210 years. He did not wait for a United Nations resolution on the matter – the Almighty acted unilaterally, and for this, we are forever grateful. Remembering the Exodus from Egypt is so central to Jewish life that we mention it in our prayers every day.
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. 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 importantly, free of any leavening.
So why can’t we just commemorate our liberation from slavery with some traditional Jewish comfort food, like chicken chow mein? How is scrubbing down the house and eating hard, crummy matzah connected with freedom?
Here’s what I’ve learned from Jewish teachings over the years: Freedom is more than just a physical reality – it’s a spiritual condition. Without a structure in our lives, we are not free; we can be enslaved to the lure of materialism, to our work, to the idea of riches or fame, or to any number of addictions. It’s no coincidence that God gave the Jews the Torah – His 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 Himself?
The Torah that God gave us provides us with structure and values. It is our spiritual gravity. Ideally, it keeps us grounded morally, ethically, spiritually and even psychologically. 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 doesn’t always work out that way, but that is the goal and more often than not, it works.
And now, back to the cleaning business. 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. Preparing for Passover shouldn’t make us feel like slaves, but ideally we are cleaning house on both a physical and spiritual level, trying to rid ourselves of pettiness, selfishness, and tunnel vision. We can vacuum with one hand while also taking an inventory of our character, trying to refocus on the things that really matter: our families, our values, God and the Torah He gave us to help us live a meaningful life. If we can sweep away this spiritual “leavening” we can 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.
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