We often mistake preparing our homes for Passover with spring-cleaning. These are very different.
The four questions part is really 1 question divided into four parts.
The hard, crunchy matzah we eat today is not like the matzah our ancestors ate, which was soft.
The Seder is an order, a ritual in a traditional order, but the Haggadah says very little about how we should do each part.
Passover, then, is similar to April Fool’s Day, when something someone says or does is not fact.
Still, the April Fool’s spirit, ironically, helps us to confront truths in a sharper way perhaps even than reading or studying them. Humor and April Fool’s type stories force us to stop and think, to really listen.
The first day of my freshman year of college was not April Fool’s Day, but I’ll never forget how my macro-economics professor told all of us that he felt he needed to write something on the board that was not correct from time to time. He said it was important to make sure we were paying attention, analyzing, and not just scribbling notes as fast as we could.
And so while we generally think of Passover as a holiday that celebrates national freedom and redemption, there is also an individual element. It’s as though we’re all sitting in that macro-economics class, but instead of the usual professor, God is up at the front of the room, and God is checking in to see whether we’re paying attention, thinking thoroughly and critically about what our ancient story means today.
Here’s another way Passover defies its usual connotations. Matzah, the simple, unleavened bread we eat during the holiday teaches us about being humble, thoughtful, recognizing our blessings, and making sure that we help others to share in these blessings.
We heard in our Torah reading this morning, “Aaron and his descendants will eat the rest of the [meal] offering. It must be eaten as matzot, unleavened bread in a holy place…it shall not be baked as leavened bread.”(Lev. 6:9) Why not have leavened bread in the holiest place? Aren’t holiness, blessings, and the power of sacrificing for a transcendent good, the greatest things since sliced bread?
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky explains what is ‘spiritual chametz’, spiritual leavening…quote
“The rabbis suggest that the leaven transcends the physical world. This leaven, this hametz also symbolizes a puffiness of self, an inflated personality, an egocentricity that threatens to eclipse the essential personality of the individual. Ironically, it is what prevents the individual from rising spiritually and moving closer to holiness. Thus, what hametz effectively does in the material world is exactly what it precludes in the realm of the spirit. That’s why it has to be removed.”
(My Jewish Learning – “Spiritual Hametz”)
These things that we want to clear out from inside ourselves, from our hearts, are not things we necessarily do with intention. In order to get through the daily grind, to journey through challenging times and living in a world that defies logic, we do things and invent identities for ourselves that build up in us over time like all those pesky files that build up unnoticed on our computers until our system begins to run slower and we are frustrated as we try to do our work.
While it’s easy to download a system cleaning program for our computers, it’s not so easy to cut through the hametz that builds up inside us. However mindful we try to be, it is difficult to see ourselves from the outside in, and that’s where April Fool’s Day can be helpful, or at least the spirit of this day, which, by the way, is mentioned in the Torah as an important festival of spiritual cleansing prior to Passover…ok, that’s an April Fool’s.
The spirit of April 1st is a spirit of giving us a gentle push out of our comfort zone. If we consider what makes us laugh, and what convinces us and does not convince us of the truth, if we can laugh at ourselves and begin to gently shake the stress that grips us, and confront our fears that often come out in April 1st gags, then we have a chance to clean out our spiritual hametz before we start in on cleaning out the actual hametz on the shelf.