Passover Spirituality 101

cleaningpic1-458x320TEMV Bulletin April 2012

It begins with a thorough cleaning. We scrub the kitchen, house, and car—anywhere we may have eaten or prepared food in the last year. The work may be satisfying or annoying. Generally it is grimy and exhausting.
We tend to think of spirituality as apart from such mundane and menial work. Instead we imagine sitting quiet and clean as lovely music washes over us, or watching a sunrise whose rays cleanse and uplift our spirits, refreshing our soul.
Much of the time, Jewish spirituality isn’t like that at all.
Jewish spirituality is making and bagging 188 sandwiches for the homeless and smelling like peanut butter the rest of the day. It’s teaching literacy and marching for Civil Rights, planting a tree and recycling little blue dishes. Jewish spirituality is getting up with a lousy cold and driving the kids to Religious School anyway, and even laundering tablecloths after an oneg. Sometimes or especially Jewish spirituality is all about writing that tzedukkah or membership check. With Jewish spirituality, you don’t feel rested and refreshed afterwards. Sometimes, in fact, you feel grimy, tired, and more than a little strung out.
Maybe that’s why God gave us Shabbat, because the process of ever becoming spiritual Jews can be so exhausting. God teaches us to pace ourselves. After all, we are mere mortals.
And that’s the point of cleaning our kitchens, cars and homes of chametz or all leavened foods before Passover. By getting down and grimy we remind ourselves that we were once the lowest of the low on the scale of humanity—slaves. In cleaning out chametz we root out our 21st century arrogance: Look at us! We import flour (diverting it from Africa) add sugar (cheaply shipped from devastated Haiti), we mix and bake it and watch it rise (like our opinions of ourselves). We consume cleanly and in glee that which is often bad for our bodies.
All year we create a world that is all about us, and our misguided appetites.
Passover with the myriad of foods we cannot eat, we cannot even own, comes to free us from our 21th Century slavery to ourselves, our appetites, and even many of our so-called needs.
Life becomes as simple and as complicated as, well, matzah.
Eating matzah is another Jewish spiritual practice, involving denial, remembrance, identification, and humility.
When we eat matzah—and not all those other things we cannot eat—we are learning again through our senses, what and who is important (and what and who isn’t).
So let’s roll up our sleeves and get spiritual.
May each of us and all of us together work and munch ourselves into a meaningful, sweaty, and fully spiritual Passover.

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