We’re just a few days away from the 14th of Nissan in the Jewish calendar, the starting of Pesach or otherwise known as Passover. The celebration starts after nightfall with a feast called Seder, which brings people together around impressive amounts of delicious food, being delighted with story telling, drinking the compulsory four cups of wine, singing songs, reading the Haggadah – the book that retells the story of the Exodus, more than 3000 years ago, when the Jewish people came out of the slavery and left Egypt and finishing with the Afikoman – the piece of matzah hidden during the Seder, which children have to look for and win a price when finding it, to recall the Paschal sacrifice.
The preparation for Pesach start in every home a few weeks before the 14th of Nissan, this year the 8th of April in the Gregorian calendar. As Pesach is the festival of matzah, it translates into a week of chametz free house, a week during which one is not supposed to consume leavened bread, nor to be in possession of such thing. When the Jewish people came out of Egypt, they were in a rush, they could not prepare leavened bread for the road. Ever since, every spring the Jewish people celebrate Pesach by remembering this and only eating matzah – unleavened bread for a whole week.
During the preceding days of Pesach, each Jewish home enters the cleaning process, during which every crumb of chantez must be found and eliminated. Chamez is considered to be everything made out of wheat, spelt, barley, oats or rye. As often is the case, Jewish households might stock up on food and end up before Pesach with quite a lot of Chavez. As it would be a loss to through it all out, the custom is to sell it for the entire Pesach period to a non Jew. Normally the rabbi of each community takes care of making the selling contracts and of finding people to sell the Chamez to.
Keeping the tradition of only eating matzah during Passover seems reasonable to everybody. But how-come the consumption or possession of even a crumb of leavened bread during Pesach becomes such a prohibition that even the slightest transgression is punishable by karet – spiritually cut off from the Jewish people. The explanation is simple. Leavened bread is like the self, it raises with time, it becomes “infatuated”. Thus, delicious, sweet, fluffy bread is comparable to the the evil inclination, which rises within us. Pesach is the time to commemorate being free from slavery, free from evil inclination, God is at the center, and not our own will and desires.
Pesach 2020 seems to remind the entire world this simple fact: we are only passing through the world. Even though our presence on Earth influences how the planet looks like, even though human life has a great impact on everything surrounding us: wildlife, ecosystems, pollution. At the end of the day, we don’t get to chose who lives and who dies when Corona is around the corner. We can not change our biology but we can influence our karma. To do good is not painful, it is to reduce selfishness, to be able to put oneself in somebody else’s shoes. To do good is to show respect for the creation, after all, we’re all part of it.
And since we all are confined these days, technology can still bring us all together. We always tell our children how precious family moments are, how important it is to spend quality time together, to really be present for one another when we’re having a meal together: no phones, no tablets during meal times. And yet, this year’s Seder night will be the exception. We won’t be able to gather around physically with our community members and friends for the feast, but exceptionally we’ll be using technology to be all together on zoom. Yes, Zoom seems to be one of the most employed words on the web in times of Corona.