Enjoy the 5 days left to prepare!
‘Give it away – Don’t throw it away’
Now is the season of cleaning. But, according to Jewish law, it is only chametz we have to remove from our homes over Pesach, not dust, mud or the dog’s paw prints. It’s true, – that’s not such a small ‘only’: technically chametz, or leaven, is any product made from the five key kinds of grain, wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt, which has, or may have, leavened, most obviously bread, biscuits, pasta, cakes and cereals. But the ban over Pesach also includes any unsupervised products which may contain within them any mixture of amount of any of these grains. One also puts away or koshers any vessels in which they were cooked, prepared or eaten. Hence the havoc in the kitchen.
But please don’t throw things away; give them away. Today and tomorrow the synagogue is collecting unopened packets and tins for the homeless. So bring the unopened pasta to us and we’ll take it to people who will cook with it for people who can’t take a safe home and regular meals for granted.
If there is anyone you know who you think may be alone for the Seder, invite him or her now, or tell us at the shul and we will include them. Is there anyone you know not well enough to be able to prepare; please help them, or tell us and we’ll arrange help from the shul.
‘This is the poor person’s bread’
I always hear my father’s voice chanting the words ‘Ha lachma anya’; that’s part of the magic of the Seder, the voices we hear within it. This short passage comes near the beginning of the evening, after we have made Kiddush and eaten the parsley or greens dipped in salt water. Before reciting it we take the middle of the three pieces of matzah placed in a special cloth for the Seder, and break in into two. The larger section is hidden as the Afikoman; the smaller if held up during the recital of most of the narrative which follows. It is to this broken piece that we refer when we say ‘this is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in Egypt’. It is with this broken piece in mind, too, that we invite ‘all who are hungry to come and eat’.
Why a broken piece? Because, explains the Talmud among its various answers, no poor person can ever afford a whole loaf, or because, just as the poor work as a team, one baking and one lighting the stove, matzah can never be baked alone but only through teamwork. Thus this simple action of breaking a piece of matzah links us with all who are hungry, who rarely know what plenty, and never know what food security feels like. It also reminds us that we are all only part; part of the process of producing bread from the earth, alongside farmers we don’t know, and the wonder of the growth of the wheat itself; part of the generations of our family, which are part of our people, who are one among the many peoples on earth all of whom need food. That is why matzah is also thought of as the bread of humility.
Something to Question
One of the names for Pesach is zeman cherutenu ‘the season of our liberation’ and it is popularly known as the festival of freedom. The Seder tells the story of our release from slavery in order to seek and serve God; this is also the over-arching story of the struggles of Jewish People across all time.
But where does freedom begin? Anatole Shcharansky showed an extraordinarily courageous inner freedom during his years in Soviet prisons. In a letter to his mother in May 1984, he wrote the meaning of the words ‘fear of the Lord’ as indicating ‘a feeling of submission and respect for God’s essence’. He continued: ‘It is possible that this feeling is the critical prerequisite for man’s achieving inner peace and thus also the prerequisite for man’s acquiring spiritual endurance’. (Shcharansky, Hero of our Time, by Martin Gilbert, p. 402)
Aung San Suu Kyi, to whom today surely belongs, said in an interview in 1989: ‘the people want freedom. The only thing is that they have become used to being frightened. On 19 June  a foreign photographer was taking pictures of me and he was harassed. Some of the people with me were astonished that he spoke back. I said: ‘But that’s normal for people who’ve come from a free society.’ Fear, like so many things, is a habit.’ (Aung San Suu Kyi: Freedom from Fear, p. 226)
What is the relationship between freedom and fear? What else constricts our inner freedom?