As someone who has Easter eggs and not chametz on her mind at this time of year, I was a little unnerved to write about Passover. But through the Museum’s collection, and by talking with my colleagues there, I’ve learned so much I’d like to share. Take this sign, for instance, which hangs in the Museum’s Limud Center:
It says, in part: “The sale of chametz will take place in the synagogue and be conducted by the rabbi.” I knew that chametz — anything leavened, including yeast breads, some kinds of cake and many alcoholic beverages — may not be consumed during Passover, recalling that the Jews fled Egypt so quickly that their bread had no time to rise. But this sign is about preparing for the holiday. In many Jewish households, all traces of chametz are removed in the weeks and days before Passover. Spring cleaning has a special meaning for Jews at this time of year.
But what does this sign mean? Congregants could bring any unused leavened products that they had cleared from their homes to the synagogue, where the rabbi would offer to buy it. The chametz would then be burned, offered to non-Jews, or sold back to the congregant after Passover concluded.
The sign also refers to another pre-Passover tradition. Exodus tells us that when the Egyptian Pharaoh refused Moses’ demand to release his people from slavery, God unleashed ten plagues. During the final plague, when the angel of death was sent to kill the first-born of each household, the homes of the Israelites were “passed over” because they had marked their doorways with lamb’s blood. To commemorate God’s kindness, the first-born sons of many Jewish families fast on the day before Passover, and then gather together to hear the conclusion of the reading of a chapter of the Talmud that they had been studying. This sign tells congregants that this will happen in the synagogue as well.
What this all says to me is that it is important to remember the hardships endured by those who came before us, to be grateful for compassion, and to live and act with kindness and gratitude. I’ll be sure to tell my daughters that as we color our eggs this year.