Observant Jews everywhere are in overdrive right now to prepare for the holiday of Passover, which begins Wednesday at sundown. The biggest obligation for those who observe this very meticulous and symbolic holiday is eliminating chametz, or leavened food products, from their homes – including crumbs between couch cushions, old pretzels fallen under car seats, and forgotten biscuits in coat pockets.
It’s a big job and one that I did tirelessly and without question for the last 10 years.
Time advances and life circumstances change and each year it is as if it’s the first time we face a particular holiday or season. Nearly a year ago, the ink on my divorce judgment was wet. The judge stamped his approval and anointed my ex and I no longer united.
Of course, that was the legal technicality. The deed had been done long before.
Last year, we muscled our way through an arduous holiday, aware as we all were of the impending forever-change. This year, it’s a different story.
My children will leave Wednesday with their father for the first celebratory days among his family in Canada. I will return to my family’s Passover table for the first time in a decade.
I have not searched for crumbs. I have not taped cabinets shut. I am not lugging the very-heavy black metal trunk full of glass Passover dishes up the basement stairs. I have paper plates in my cupboard and a couple boxes of matza.
I read once that the chametz, or leavening, is symbolic for arrogance. It’s an analogy I like because it adds meaning to a menial task. We search out every last piece of self-imposed grandeur and bid it farewell before sitting down to a fine-laid table and recounting the stories of our ancestors, trying for connections among the pages.
So what does it mean if this year, I have no energy nor interest for ferreting out the little last lost crumbs behind the nightstand?
Maybe nothing. Maybe something. Maybe it’s a dynamic dark-night search for a new meaning as I and others on the path of the boldly just-divorced summon the strength to define ourselves as if for the first time.
This holiday is supposed to be about the children. The focus of the seder table, the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the dilemma and the salvation we are encouraged to reduce to terms that the smallest child among us can understand and find meaningful.
My children will be away from me on seder night and in that I will have to find meaning. It is possible but ironic. As ironic as the children forgotten in the family rooms and backyards while mothers feverishly scrub the chrome to gleaming and wrap ovens, tables, counters and cushions in plastic lest they carry some imagined taint of long-forgotten leavening.
As a last word, I think of the sheer passion inherent in making bread. Every other week of the year, my children and I take yeast, water, flour and salt and swirl them into an elasticy mass as yet inedible.
It requires time, patience and understanding to nurture the dough to elevation, then to shape, then to baked perfection. It is a process that is worth undertaking and one which yields more than simple sustenance.
All of that is cast aside and left on a shelf to wait until this approaching week is past. The holiday of Passover is said to be the seminal moment in the history of the Jews.
Juxtaposition. Dichotomy. Self-imposed anguish. You figure out the answer for yourself. I’m already on my way.