Passover 2007

Appreciating Freedom
By Neal L. Spevack

How can one fully appreciate freedom?

The abstention from eating hametz (leavened bread products) is a symbolic activity designed to help us appreciate our freedom. And the absence and presence of hametz in the house can be thought of as a symbol of the morally right and wrong choices acted upon in our life. In the Passover holiday we imagine ourselves as slaves. `Avadim hayinu, “we were slaves,” is the first response in the Haggadah to the Four Questions that the youngest family member recites at the Seder table.

In the home the seder observance of Passover is filled with symbols such as the four cups of wine, the four questions, the four sons, karpas (vegetables), the shank bone, the roasted egg, salt water, matzah, maror (bitter herbs) and so on. One symbol, the salt water, reminds us of the tears of our ancestors as they experienced slavery for hundreds of years in Mitzrai’im (Egypt). These observances, again, help to visualize our ancestors’ servitude and their lack of freedom, a status which we often take for granted.

It is funny what memories arise as we think back in our lives. My parents did their best effort to make Passover a significant memory when I was young. There are two particular memories that are clearly vivid. Each one was not during the Seder but more in the observance of the holiday in general, each one with a a different parent.

When I was 10 years old, in order to observe b’dikat hametz or cleaning out the hametz, I learned we needed tools – a feather, a lit candle, and a dust pan to pick the chunks of bread my Mother planted around the house for me to find and ultimately burn. Where were we going to get the proper feather? My Father decided that the Lower East side of Manhattan would be the appropriate place to look. We went to Miller’s and purchased Kosher l’Pesach cheese, butter from a barrel, herring, and other food items appropriate for Passover. When we asked where to find a feather, the shopkeeper said: “maybe the butcher?” When we got to the butcher, he directed us to go underneath the Manhattan or Williamsburg Bridge (I don’t remember which) and there we would find the slaughter house where chickens were slaughtered. My Father told me to wait in the car under the bridge, and he went in to get some feathers. When he came out, he had a fistful of feathers to show me. He related a tale of meeting a blood stained, white aproned man. My Father asked him for feathers. The man responded “you want feathers?” with a Yiddish accent. He then picked up a live chicken by the neck and yanking a few feathers out of the chicken as it was wildly cackling away. No doubt it was painful for the chicken.

The other vivid memory was when I was 14 or 15. One of the ways I spent time with my Mother was playing golf with her. This particular time we played golf at her club in the midst of the holiday. Getting to the ninth hole I was definitely hungry. Normally we stopped at the half way house to get a bite to eat. My Mother insisted that this time we could not eat at the half way house because it was not kosher l’Pesach. I was not a happy camper and complained for the rest of the day. The second nine holes did not go well. Refraining from eating hametz was a real sacrifice to me at the time.

Each of these accounts revolves around hametz or the absence thereof. The cleaning of the hametz and then refraining from eating hametz through the entire holiday period is a sacrifice, departing from our daily routine. It is symbolic of those who have nothing to eat. We empathize with those who truly are afflicted, their images before us in the news and TV. Other people lose their freedom as they get old and less mobile. Passover reminds us of our need for freedom and how precious it is.

How can one fully appreciate freedom? By what we remember, what we refrain from doing and by what we choose to do. We remember we were slaves in Egypt. As this holiday comes and we refrain from our normal menu of foods, let us also try to be mindful of those who are less fortunate. Let us invite someone to our seder. Let’s make a point to visit and help a person without the means to move about by themselves.

May we all enjoy our Holiday of Freedom in good health.