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April 2014

Rabbi’s Message


When I ask children what their food obligation is on Pesah, they always answer “Eat matzah.”  But that is only half of the answer, and the easy part.

Not eating hametz is the other half of the answer, and the hard part. It is a lot of work. Hametz is the name of the stuff we are trying rigorously to avoid:  bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, beer. Grain products all, which can become or are leavened. We are not allowed to eat foods with even very the tiniest admixtures of hametz, such as might be found in processed foods. This why many of us look for the lists that are published annually which tell which foods are certified as hametz-free and are permissible for Pesah.

Fresh fruits and vegetables pose no hametz problem. Eat all you want. Mother will approve.

The really tough part is that it is not only your food which must be free of hametz, but even your dishes, pots and pans. For a useful summary of how to “kasher” your kitchen, see the Rabbinical Assembly Pesah guide ( at www.rabbinicalassembly.org/pesah-guide ) or get a copy of Blu Greenberg’s classic book, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household. You can’t kasher pottery or china. Actually, anybody who has ever tried to get the smell out of a plate that has something like herring on it, knows that this notion is not altogether ridiculous.

A ritual cleaning is called for. This idea goes back to biblical times, when Pesah meant clearing out last year’s supply of sourdough, leaving nothing but matzah made from the yet unfermented dough of the new crop. The symbolism is obvious:  out with the old, in with the new.

In addition, you might think of hametz as pride—it is all puffed up. Or hametz represents our inclination to do wrong.  The rabbis said: “God, we long to do your will. What holds us back? The leaven in the dough.”  In other words, we “let the dough rise”—we wait too long, we proscrastinate, we let our laziness and inner urges impede our ethical and spiritual progress.

Therefore, we remove the hametz from our homes. Kids love checking their rooms for used candy bars and pockets full of crumbs. The symbolic hunt for hametz (with a candle or flashlight and a feather), burning it and declaring it ownerless are also fun. You can donate unopened packages of your edible hametz. Or you can box it, put it away, and “sell” it (though it stays with you) to a non-Jew. A form for the “sale” is in this newsletter. This became standard practice about the 16th century, when Jews became prominent in the liquor business in Eastern Europe, and couldn’t afford to lose all their booze. But my own preference is that you should eat it before the holiday or give it away. I am uneasy with legal fictions.

The point is, Pesah is more than “just” eating matzah.  Removing hametz is hard work, but “no pain, no gain.” It is a practice that can make us alert to new thoughts and insights.  A zissen (sweet) Pesah to all!

–Rabbi David Klatzker

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