Saturday, April 16, 2016

Passover's search and destroy mission for fermented grain

In Jewish culture, chametz is any food or beverage that, because it contains grain and water, may have been allowed to ferment while making it. Bread, cereal, cakes, cookies, and pasta are all suspect and therefore chametz. Even beer and pizza contain the right ingredients to cause the injunction against it during Passover (Exodus 12:15-20).

The cleansing of the home of chametz in orthodox families is part of the rituals that create a rich symbolism during this season of the Pesach and the following Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Why do you want it back?

The removal of yeasty foods is part of the Festival of Freedom where not only do the family members separate the items from the house, but they are disowned as well. There are processes for cleaning, selling, searching, burning and nullifying this loathsome substance. My question is "why is the old chametz allowed to return?"

It’s not quite like Lent, where observants tend to get raucous before the deadline approaches as they party with much of the forbidden ingredients. In terms of the Catholics, that usually involves alcohol and meat. I don’t think the chassidim have cake and cookie parties or even pizza and beer all-nighters.

Jewish orthodox tradition is to sell the food and serving items that have leavening in them to a non-Jew creating a clean home for the duration of Passover. Then after the observance, the rabbi or the person who took care of the items acquires it back for them. Utensils should be stored in a locked or taped shut area. Now, with computers, you can even sell your offending items online. Here's a sample.

Delegation of Power to Sell Chametz

I the undersigned, fully empower and permit Rabbi <designated authority> to act in my place and stead, and on my behalf, to sell all chametz possessed by me, knowingly or unknowingly, as defined by the Torah and rabbinic law (e.g. chametz, possible chametz, and all kind of chametz mixtures).
Also chametz that tends to harden and adhere to surfaces of pans, pots, or cooking utensils, the utensils themselves, as well as pet food that contain chametz and mixtures thereof.
Rabbi <designated authority> is also empowered to lease all places wherein the chametz may be found, particularly at <this location> and elsewhere.
Rabbi <designated authority> has full right to appoint any agent or substitute in his stead, and said substitute shall have full right to sell and lease as provided herein.
Rabbi <designated authority> also has the full power and right to act as he deems fit and proper in accordance with all the details of the Bill of Sale used in the transaction to sell all my chametz, chametz mixtures, etc., as provided herein. This power is in conformity with all Torah, rabbinic and civil laws.
Isn’t this like the Hebrews rushing out of Egypt without the ability to make leavened food being pursued by the Egyptians across the Red Sea and then sneaking back in to Egypt for a late night beer run?

Burning the chametz

This chametz vacation lasts from two hours before midday the day before Passover until the evening after the Feast of Unleavened Bread ends. That’s about nine days. And after the search where in order to be fully satisfied that the house is cleansed, decoy chametz of ten pieces of bread are left around and then burned with this orthodox prayer:
May it be Your will, Lord, our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, that just as I remove the chametz from my house and from my possession, so shall You remove all the extraneous forces.
Remove the spirit of impurity from the earth, remove our evil inclination from us, and grant us a heart of flesh to serve You in truth.
Make all the sitra achara, all the kelipot, and all wickedness be consumed in smoke, and remove the dominion of evil from the earth. Remove with a spirit of destruction and a spirit of judgment all that distress the Shechina, just as You destroyed Egypt and its idols in those days, at this time. Amen, Selah.
The solemn processes to collect and burn the bread are a time to reflect about what that little bit of yeast meant. It’s an agent of change that slowly turns a piece of food into a different piece of food entirely. In a negative way, the life we live can be leavened by our pride and egotism that slowly turns our heart away from our Lord God and our own family. In this way, we become a loathsome person that will be separated from God’s protection.

Returning to your past

Then after the holiday you get to retrieve your kelipot (Kabbalistic evil, a peel or shell) and put it back on to hide the light of God from the world again. Or is it symbolically correct to say that once you were freed from slavery, you get to reclaim that right to be a slave again to that sin?

So now there is no sacrifice, just a search at the start of the holiday. And maybe because of this lack of sacrifice, the completion of redemption of that sin is missing. And without redemption of sin, the guilt of everyday life sets back in and we run to buy back our impurities without the power of God to provide the security of not having our familiar dirty habits.

The taste of the afikoman that is the last taste of the Seder dinner then is a longing for the missing purity of sinless bread. And the final taste of the afikomen will be that of the Mashiach who will purify the Jews once and for all when He gathers all the righteous, rebuilds Jerusalem and the temple, and restores the law of God back on the earth.

May we strive to eliminate the temptation that leads us to bring the sin from the world back to our lives once God has brought us close enough to remove it from his presence. The yeasty world is constantly influencing us like bread dough left outside to collect yeast particles from the air. So we turn to the Feast of Unleavened Bread yearly to remind us about keeping a clean heart. May the Lord God grant us an understanding that lets us release old hurtful words and actions and burn them in a fire of holy forgiveness this year and forever after.

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