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Before the Seder:
Keeping Your Pockets CleanHide and Go SeekComplicationsProcrastination and ChametzSearch and Derstroy: Forbidden ChametzThe Spiritual Significance of YeastRomance and CandlelightingA Woman's Mitzvah?A Traditional Woman's Prayer Before CandlelightingA Private Moment of Intimacy with the ChildrenWelcome to the SederThe 15 Step Method

Keeping Your Pockets Clean

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (16th C. Poland) required that the search for chametz include checking one’s pockets. The Kabbalist Isaiah Horowitz added an ethical dimension to this internal audit: check carefully that your pockets contain no funds deriving from theft, robbery or fraud.   top

Hide and Go Seek
A medieval custom perfectly suited to a children's game involves hiding ten pieces of bread throughout the house before the candlelight search for chametz begins. Originally this was done to guarantee that even after the scrupulous cleaning, the ritual search on the last night before seder would still uncover some chametz. Today it provides an occasion for a game in which ten pieces of bread secured in closed plastic bags are carefully concealed.
      On each bag a word or a clue or a question may be attached (the words add up to a secret message or a Pesach song; the clues hint at the next hiding place; the ten questions constitute a quiz about basic Pesach facts).
      Remember that besides finding the pre-hidden bags of chametz, one must genuinely check the typical “hang-outs” of forgotten chametz (like the car’s glove compartment). top

Complications --
When Pesach Starts on Saturday Night
When Seder Night Falls on Saturday evening, the search is conducted on Thursday night and the bonfire on Friday morning. Challah is put aside in a special “chametz zone” in the house to be eaten by approximately 10 a.m. on Shabbat morning. The leftovers may be removed by means of a flush of the toilet. top

Procrastination and Chametz
Similarities between matza and chametz are many, while the difference is ever so slight. On Pesach that distinction takes on great significance. Both matza and bread are made of flour and water, and both may contain egg, onion, fruit juice, sugar, salt and other ingredients. However matza may contain no yeast nor may it be left to rise by itself after water has been added. The Rabbis fixed 18 minutes as the maximum time for making matza from the moment water and flour are mixed. They taught Jews to be very precise about time – not to procrastinate when making matza or doing any other mitzvah. (A word play conveys the idea that a procrastinator can easily “miss the boat” turning matza into chametz. They coined the motto: "When an opportunity to perform a mitzvah comes to you, don’t miss it - tachmeetz.” Mitzvah is a word play on matza, tachmeetz on chametz).
      Perhaps the Exodus from Egypt should be seen as a window of opportunity that the Jews had to be careful not to miss. Pharaoh kept changing his mind about liberating the Jews, and the children of Israel continued to hesitate about leaving their homes in Egypt. When the tenth plague struck, the Egyptians relented for a moment and released the Jews who had not even finished preparing bread for the journey. Nevertheless, they took the dough which had not yet risen and took advantage of their opportunity. When three days later Pharaoh sent his chariots to retrieve his slaves, God split the Red Sea to open an unexpected escape route. Again the Jews had to leap into the unknown and rush forward before the walls of water came crashing down again.. top

Search and Destroy: Forbidden Chametz
THE TORAH REQUIRES that chametz neither be eaten, nor seen, nor even located in one’s house during Pesach (Exodus 13:3, 7, 15). All yeast-based baked goods must be removed from our premises (Exodus 12:15). The Rabbis detailed the process of removing chametz:
      1. B’deekat Chametz. The Search involves a careful cleaning of every place in the house where foods are eaten or stored, and a ceremonial investigation of “nooks and crannies” by candlelight on the night before the seder (Mishna Pesachim 1:1).
      2. Bee-ur Chametz. The Removal of Chametz is accomplished both physically and mentally. Physically the remains of the chametz are burned on the morning before the seder approximately two hours before noon. In the days of sacrifices, the Pesach lamb was sacrificed during the daylight from noon until sundown at which time the seder began. Since the sacrifice could not be accomplished in the presence of chametz (Exodus 34:25), the bee-ur chametz had to precede the sacrifice, which began at noon. Since preparations before the seder often ran late, the Rabbis moved up the burning of the chametz two hours before noon “just to be on the safe side.”
      Mentally, the chametz is removed by pronouncing a formula written in Aramaic. The owners of the house (in which chametz may have gone undetected) disown what is left and declare it to be like the ownerless dust of the earth. top.

The Spiritual Significance of Yeast
THE OBSESSIVE SEARCH and destruction of chametz from our homes has spiritual as well as ritual overtones. Yeast came to symbolize arrogance because the bread raised itself above the level of matza though it was only filled with pockets of hot air. Yeast is also a catalyst that symbolizes the restless force of the evil inclination (yetzer ha-ra). Just as yeast causes fermentation in bread and wine, it also turns them sour when not controlled. Similarly, the instinctual forces, desire and ambition, can contribute to progress but also to discontent and corruption. On Pesach, which celebrates the rejection of Egyptian civilization and a new pristine beginning of Jewish freedom, the matza is more appropriate fare than bread. Don Isaac Abarbanel (15th C. Spain and Italy) explains that matza represents simplicity which is a desirable spiritual quality. Freedom involves the rejection of the “fleshpots of Egypt” (Ex.16:13) and the removal of the restless yeast of the evil inclinationd.

Romance and Candlelighting
THE SADUCEES (1st C.) and Karaites (9th C.) regarded the Biblical prohibition against making a fire on Shabbat (Ex: 35:3) as a prohibition against the use of its light as well as its creation. They sanctified the Sabbath in darkness. Sabbath was a day of holy abstinence. It involved no warm food, no lamps and no sexual activity.
     The point of view of the Rabbis, however, stands out in bold contrast. The Rabbis prescribed the lighting of candles and made the Sabbath lights and holiday candles in the home one of the most significant features of the day. They were seen as essential to Shalom Bayit – peace and intimacy between husband and wife in the home, and to Oneg Shabbat – physical and emotional enjoyment. Lovemaking by spouses on Shabbat was commended, as was the enjoyment of hot food. top

A Woman's Mitzvah?
THE RABBINICAL commandment that the house be lit up on Shabbat requires that whoever takes care of holiday preparations should light the candles. Maimonides noted that in his era women are generally responsible for the household, so the mitzvah is incumbent primarily on them (Shabbat 5:2). But in families where men share household tasks equally, the mitzvah may be equally incumbent on them. (In your home, who should be lighting candles?) top

A Traditional Woman's Prayer at Candlelighting
May it be Your will, God of our ancestors, that You grant my family and all Israel a good and long life. Remember us with blessings and kindness, fill our home with your Divine Presence. Give me the opportunity to raise my children and grandchildren to be truly wise, lovers of God, people of truth, who illuminate the world with Torah, good deeds and the work of the Creator. Please hear my prayer at this time. Regard me as a worthy descendant of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, our mothers, and let my candles burn and never be extinguished. Let the light of your face shine upon us. Amen. top

A Private Moment of Intimacy with the Children
Rabbi Jacob Emden of Prague (19th c.) recommends that one place both hands on the child’s head, just as Moshe blessed Joshua his successor with two hands – without reservation, without jealousy. The priests also bless the people with two open-faced hands as an expression of love. “Everyone can also take this opportunity to add their own personal blessing to each child according to one’s gift of eloquence” (Siddur Bet El). There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings.   top

Welcome to the Seder
We welcome you to be full and equal participants in this communal event combining both ritual sanctity and a familiar home atmosphere. While the religious requirements governing eating and reading at the Pesach meal emphasize the sanctity of this meal, you will also discover the playful and intellectually stimulating aspects of the seder. The Rabbis added to this sacred banquet a lively symposium for the adults as well as many educational games to draw in the children. Please feel free, or better, obligated to ask questions, to insert personal reflections, to challenge assertions and to tell good stories.
     We are all invited to take a leap of solidarity back into the founding event of Jewish nationhood – the Exodus. First we relive slavery and indignity and then we re-experience the exhilarating gift of Divine liberation. Our goal is to return to the experiential sources of the Jewish values of freedom and justice. We make this journey as individuals, as families and as a worldwide community. In reliving our national autobiography we renew our covenant with one another and with God, who took us out of the house of bondage.
     We commit ourselves to God’s words: “Love the stranger as yourself for you were once strangers in Egypt” (Leviticus19:34). top

The 15 Step Method
IN THE TEMPLE DAYS the spiritual pilgrimage reached its climax at the 15 stairs leading up to the Holy of Holies. On these steps the musicians of the tribe of Levi played and sang Shir HaMa’alot, the “Song of the Steps.” Reaching a spiritually worthwhile destination requires a process, an effort to achieve new heights. One cannot expect to sense the power of the seder without strenuous preparations beforehand. May our intensive cleaning purify us and prepare us for a personal journey down into Egypt and back up to freedom. top