Passover: It’s So Much More than Matzah
By Alyson Morse-Katzman, Safe Haven's Co-Director
Passover is my favorite holiday—filled with family, food, and tradition. I love setting the table for 30, thinking about how the dishes I am using are came from my grandfather’s family, the glasses I set out were used by my aunt and her family for holidays, and the platter that holds the potato kugel is a hand-me-down from my husband’s grandmother. These connections to our ancestors are at the heart of a holiday that Jews have been celebrating for so many years. We think about how we have all, for generations, sat at the table, telling the same story, eating matzah, bitter herbs, and potato kugel. It is an amazing feeling, but over the past few years, I have also begun to think about Passover through lens that focuses on self-improvement and achieving personal freedom.
Many people know the story of Passover. Moses asked the Pharoah to “let my people go,” there were 10 plagues that culminated in G-d passing over the homes of the Israelites and smiting the Egyptians’ first-born sons, and giving the Jews no choice but to leave. And when the Jews left, they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, and thus we have matzah, unleavened bread.
A word or two about matzah (image above). It looks like a large flat cracker and has very little taste. Some would say matzah is humble while bread is full of hot air and is arrogant.
One of the ways to prepare for Passover is to clean our homes thoroughly and get rid of any products that have leavening, or in Hebrew, chametz. In addition to getting rid of the chametz in the house, this is a time to get rid of the chametz in our heads. As I clean the refrigerator, I am thinking about how can I be a better partner, wife, colleague, friend, ally… Passover cleaning presents an opportunity to deflate our egos to be more like the humble matzah. Humility bolsters all of the other good qualities we may already have. It also brings all kinds of benefits, including peace of mind, sound decision-making, and improved relationships, allowing us to be more receptive to letting G-d into our lives. As we cleanse our souls, we are able to prepare for freedom from the things that personally enslave us.
The self-improvement is not done when our homes are chametz-free. For the 49 days after Passover until the holiday of Shavuot, we continue to prepare, improve, and challenge ourselves. We arrive at Shavuot after 7 weeks and celebrate G-d giving the Jews the Torah at Mount Sinai. It was not easy for the Jews as they left Egypt, as they moved from being enslaved to freedom. If we have done the work, we will be prepared to stand at own personal Mount Sinai, able to appreciate our past servitude and humbled and ready to embrace our new spiritual freedom.