Passover is nearly here, only days away. The continued paralysis in the peace process in Israel-Palestine makes preparation for the holiday just that more difficult this year. Raised in the Reform tradition in the 1960s and ’70s by non-observant parents, my experience of the holiday was limited to a single, simple (and incomplete) seder. Over the years, I’ve searched for the traditions, for meaning in traditions that can be expressed by my own family’s efforts to observe the holiday.
Last year’s Knitted Seder was an opportunity for learning well beyond the simple explanations contained the array of Reform haggadahs we’ve collected, and well beyond my expectations. This year I’ve made an effort to continue my knitter-ly study of Pesach traditions by exploring the tradition of Bedikat Chametz, cleaning out the chametz (prohibited leavened or fermented foods) from the home.
Jewish families world-wide are preparing for the arrival of Passover. For “traditional” Jews, the preparations begin with rigorous spring cleaning of the home, culminating in the family’s ritual search for chametz throughout the house, a search conducted with a wooden spoon and feather, illuminated by the light of a single candle, and concluded by burning the collected remaining crumbs.
Spring cleaning happens in my home, and the commitment we make to a week of matzoh has always served to keep us free of chametz. But this year’s study suggests something new to consider: to my amazement, I’ve just learned that the search for chametz also symbolizes metaphorically a spiritual house-cleaning, the opportunity to discard the unwanted in ourselves and our communities. Traditional Jews describe spiritual chametz as the yetzer ha’ra, or “evil impulse;” these are the desires, and fears, that can enslave us emotionally and spiritually. In my effort to understand this teaching, I’ve found Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s description especially helpful: chametz is “what lifts us up throughout the year – leads to our working harder, searching deeper, loving more. It is the yetzer, or swelling-impulse, of the soul. But allowed to swell and grow without restraint, it becomes yetzer ha’ra, the evil impulse. It impels us not only to productivity, but to possessiveness; not only to creativity, but to competitiveness; not only to love, but to jealousy and lust. So once a year we must clean out even the uplifting impulse; we must eat the flat bread of a pressed-down people’. (Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy, p. 144, cited here).
I incline towards the creativity Rabbi Waskow describes as a search for spiritual chametz. I’d like to direct it toward an expansiveness that will bring the values of the holiday for Jews into closer contact with issues of oppression and liberation beyond Jewish narratives (real or mythological) of persecution and redemption, to make the most of the reflection (I know know) my tradition proposes I pursue at least twice a year (Passover and the High Holiday period). In spite of the shortage of time, I’ll explore some of the supplementary or alternative haggadot out there – it’s time to work out the chametz that impedes progress toward a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine. I can start with the Shalom Center’s
Passover of Peace: A Seder for the Children of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah, and I’ll also have a look at the Passover Haggadah
Haggadah Supplement for Etically Oriented Jews and our non-Jewish Allies (Michael Lerner, Tikkun Magazine).
Or maybe, since there won’t be any small children at my family’s table this year, we’ll cut to the chase and spend time exploring how we can reconcile spiritual chametz with Cherie Brown’s “Seven Principles about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Beyond the blame game”.
1. Every situation, including the current conflict in Gaza, can provide us with new opportunities to think, take leadership, and move the conflict forward, if we are able to act outside of hopelessness and discouragement. Even as the violence continues, new opportunities arise for us to mobilize others, put out correct information, and gain allies for good policies.
2. A just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is taking longer than any of us want, and we need to grieve about the horrible loss of lives on all sides. In particular, we need to grieve about the current setbacks, which are real. But even with these setbacks, there are also important new opportunities for increased dialogue, leadership, mobilization of others, and action.
3. No one group or country deserves to be targeted as the sole perpetrator of the current conflict. Not the Israelis who feel threatened by continued rockets landing in Israel and then seek safety and security by striking back. And not the Palestinians who send the rockets when they feel besieged by an occupation that has lasted way too long.
4. Even if no one side is totally to blame, it is still each side’s responsibility-and obligation-to stop wrong actions and to reach for rational policies and solutions that take everyone’s long-term needs into account.
5. It is not helpful for Diaspora Jews to attack Israelis for the difficulties they have in being able to think clearly under conditions of hopelessness and terror. It is not helpful for Israelis to attack Diaspora Jews when they seek to find their own independent voice and articulate the role that the U.S. government can and should play in moving the current situation forward.
6. Any solution that is found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will need to take all historic injustices into account but not be bound by them. Both peoples (and their allies) put out narratives about the current situation that have correct information in them-but these narratives also contain distortions that are a result of a history of mistreatment and painful emotion. One narrative says Israel is being besieged: Hamas is primarily a terrorist organization, and there is no choice now but to engage in a long protracted war in Gaza until Hamas is totally defeated. Another narrative says Hamas is primarily a liberation organization, working to free the Palestinian people from occupation by Israel, and therefore should not be blamed for sending rockets into Israel. Any narrative that portrays one side only as a victim and the other side as worthy of all or most of the blame for the conflict does not have the full picture. Any narrative that describes the current situation needs to take into account the history of mistreatment of both peoples; both sides’ hunger for peace, justice, and security; and the need to prevent outside forces from pitting one side against the other for purposes of greed and exploitation.
7. There are no military solutions to this conflict that will achieve lasting peace and justice for Israelis or for Palestinians. Any solution will require the engagement of all Israelis and all Palestinians, including Hamas, in dialogue and negotiations. No people in the current situation can ultimately be destroyed, expelled, or beaten into submission. Attempts to do so will, in the long term, only engender further violence and retaliation, as well as increase the length of time it will take to reach a negotiated settlement.
Cherie Brown is the executive director of the National Coalition Building Institute, an international leadership training organization dealing with anti-oppression issues, and she has been involved in Jewish Middle East peace groups for 35 years. She is currently on the board of Brit Tzedek V’Shalom.
More information about the Bedikat Chametz tradition is available here.
As with all my tikkunknitting projects, the patterns will be available for a contribution in support of peace-building efforts in Israel-Palestine. Try my Patterns for Peacebuilders page if you are interested in making your own set of “Chametz Patrol” tools.