Pesachim 2a, right from the mishna says, “On the night of the 14th of Nissan, one searches for chametz by candlelight.” This is called bedikas chametz.
The rabbis hotly debate the whys and whatfors (and accompanying minutia), but what it comes down to, for me, is a fun but weird way to get my children to care about Pesach with the kind of “guess what I did last night?” goofy story to tell their non-Jewish school friends.
We run around the house, looking for crumbs or forgotten chametz, which of course are leavened products, so that we’re sure we’re not in possession of any when the holiday starts tomorrow night.
With candle, feather, and wooden spoon in hand, Amelia and I set out about our business. We found the stuff I set aside so that we didn’t make a bracha levatala, or a blessing made in vain. Since prior to setting out on our house-wide search we say a blessing, you have to be sure to find something so that the blessing has a purpose.
The Holy One, Blessed Be He, has no time for your shenanigan blessings, people.
Amelia indulged this activity, and then sent the selfie we took to a boy from school. “You’d never believe what I was just doing,” she said, eyes rolling as she texted him. And yet, Jewish parent me says, “it resonated enough that you told a friend about it.” I take my “wins” when I can get them.
And as in all things Jewish, there’s a hidden esoteric message lurking behind the deed.
But on this one, I roll my eyes. I mean, you’d have to be the “simple son” not to get the metaphor behind bedikas chametz. And yet, the metaphor shows up yearly in lesser-effort rabbinical sermons. Anyone that’s surprised by it was also probably surprised by obvious plot twists in movies. Like, no, Collin Farrell, the pizza guy is not the bomber. Bruce Willis is really a ghost, too.
So can we just be honest about this tradition? It’s silly. It’s absurd. The very serious attempts to make it very serious end up making it that much worse. Walk around your house with a feather, a wood spoon, a candle. Find planted chametz (make sure there are 10 for some more esoteric reasoning!), because you might have done a thorough job cleaning and we can’t waste the blessing.
Amelia’s reaction to it is exactly why we do it. Later on in life, when Dad and Ima are no longer the ascendant influences, and Judaism is possibly at best an inconvenience (though I doubt we will have failed in instilling a love of Judaism), what will she attach fond memories to?
Not Dad regaling her with the hidden mystical meaning as we carried a feather, spoon, and candle around the house. No, but that we did it, that we laughed at how goofy it is, and how much fun that can make Judaism using the traditions of our people.
So yeah, from my end of it, we fulfilled a mitzvah d’rabbanan, but we had fun with it.
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This is our first Pesach in the vicinity of Bangor, Maine. This is also the first year in a long time that we are not hosting friends and family at a first night seder. We are going to the community seder at our synagogue the first night, and joining the rabbi and family for second night.
We live in a mixed household, as in Leah hates Pesach, and I love it. From the selling of chametz to the end, it’s 8 days of remembering that maybe someday G-d will smite some enemies of the Jewish people again. For me, it’s a holiday pregnant with possibility.
What if Elijah comes in through the door? Of all the seders out there, please let it be mine. We’d get him sauced with Bartenura Moscato and try to ply some revelatory eschatological answers out of him. I feel like the chances of Moshiach have increased exponentially with the kosher for Passover wine options out there in this day and age.
But I also just enjoy the seder. I like eating matzah, just that one time. I like the laughter, I like seeing my coreligionists all dressed up and laughing because, whether they individually believe that it was like G-d rescued us from bondage, we’re in whatever happens next together. We always come through, and we rebuild, if G-d forbid things go sideways.
This year, we’re reminded of two different kinds of freedom. The first is sad, but poignant. My daughter’s Uncle Max died from complications relating to Marfan Syndrome. Amelia showed some features, but never enough to get a diagnosis, even with the trouble Max was having with his body. Max generously gave us data on his genetic mutation, and with Leah pulling some friendly strings at Georgetown, was able to get her tested for this mutation. Sure enough, it’s there, and now, we make yearly trips to Johns Hopkins to ensure things are normal. Baruch HaShem, right now they are, but even as Max succumbed to his run with Marfan, his concern was on his beloved niece avoiding his fate.
The second freedom is the one that comes from Amelia being emancipated from a parent not capable of achieving excellence, and receiving the gift of a loving parent who has been there all along. Leah adopting Amelia has been a necessary culmination of years of struggle for Amelia in particular, and our family together. For more than a decade, Leah has been Amelia’s second responsible parent after myself, and now, this has been codified forever. They are both so happy, liberated from the shackles of selfishness. The world is as it should be, and things are finally quiet.
To all, I hope your Pesach is meaningful and brimming with the blessings of G-d granted freedom.