It’s Pesach, the holiday on which we pay our respects to the time of our liberation.
By Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus | Photography by Vera Franchesi
Pesach, the holiday of Passover, is referred to as “the time of our liberation.” The Exodus from Egypt so long ago is not only celebrated on Pesach, but throughout the year we are instructed to remember the Exodus from Egypt, every day and every night. What is most compelling about this “daily celebration” is the direction we are given on how to commemorate and observe what is often and commonly referred to as “Freedom.”
When Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses, was sent by G-d to Pharoah to demand the Freedom of his people, he requested, “Let my people go, so that they shall serve Me.” The Exodus from Egypt was the “road to Freedom,” which culminated with the Giving of the Torah and the revelation of G-d at Mt Sinai.
Why is freedom so intertwined with “serving” G-d? Why cannot true freedom mean to simply “do as you please,” without the “strings attached” of serving G-d? The answer to this question can be found in the Mishna, Pirkei Avot (which is studied each summer, beginning with the first Shabbat after Pesach). The Mishna teaches that “there is no free man other than the one who occupies himself with Torah.” Only when one connects to the infinite Torah, which is one with the infinite G-d, can one “escape enslavement” and truly celebrate freedom. When you celebrate the Seder this year, remember the Freedom you merit to observe: a Freedom that breaks you out of slavery, a Freedom that connects you with the Divine, and a Freedom that attaches you to the infinite.
It is this Freedom that we must celebrate each Pesach, and every day of the year.
The first two days and last two days of Passover are full-fledged holidays. Both nights after lighting and saying the blessings over the candles, prayers are recited. The first two nights we celebrate the Seder, a festive meal that includes the Kiddush and the blessing of the matzah. Likewise, on the last two days, dinners and lunches are introduced with the Kiddush and matzah. Also, on these days, we don’t go to work, drive, write or switch on or off electric devices.
We are permitted to cook (from a pre-existing flame) and to carry outdoors. The middle four days are called Chol Hamoed, semifestive “intermediate days,” when most forms of work are permitted. The main prohibition is eating or owning any chametz from the day before Passover until the end of the holiday. Chametz includes any food or drink that contains even a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives that weren’t guarded from leavening or fermentation. This includes bread, cake, cookies, cereal, pasta and most alcoholic beverages. Processed food or drink is assumed to be chametz unless certified otherwise.
Ridding our homes of chametz involves a full in-depth cleaning of the house the weeks prior to Passover, which ends with a search for the chametz ceremony on the night before Passover (this year, on April 17th at night), and then a burning of the chametz ceremony the next morning. In order to keep chametz in our possession, we sign a power of sale to a rabbi who in turn sells it to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday.