Earlier this week, my husband and I worked together, along with our 4-year-old daughter, to clean out pieces of crackers, pretzels, Cheerios and crumbs from between couch cushions, under toys, and within other hidden places in our house.
It sounds like a mundane task, but it was a beautiful, even spiritual experience.
Our search for chometz was part of the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover), which begins at sundown Wednesday and lasts for eight days. During that time we don't eat anything with bread or chometz — we clean out our kitchen and use only food that's kosher for Passover.
Every Jewish holiday is important. Each one is unique in some way, and they all have their own message. Pesach is about the birth of the Jewish people. Passover is "big stuff," said Rabbi Yossi Eber with Chabad Jewish Center of West Pasco in Trinity.
After being slaves in Egypt for generations, hundreds of thousands of Jews were led by Moses into the dessert on an unusual path to freedom. We crossed through a parted sea, manna fell from the sky each day, and eventually we received the Torah from God at Mount Sinai.
But first, the Jews left Egypt in such a hurry that our bread didn't have time to rise — and it turned into what we call matzoh.
The message of chometz — anything that can rise after 18 minutes — represents ego. On the other hand, matzoh, which is flat, represents humility. It's known in the kabbalah as food of faith, and the rabbis say that eating it brings you closer to God.
As for cleaning our homes of chometz, it shouldn't feel like a burden.
"There's a spiritual element looking for the physical bread," Rabbi Eber said, "but also looking within yourself to make sure there's no ego left, no inflated sense of self."
On Wednesday and Thursday night, Jews throughout Pasco County and worldwide will sit down for their Pesach seders. We recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt and teach our children about the miracle of our survival.
Why are we Jewish? Why are we here?
During the seder, we shouldn't just read the Haggadah, but rather we should picture ourselves actually going out of Egypt.
Earlier this week, sitting around the kitchen table, I started casually explaining the story of Pesach to my two young children — ages 3 and 4. I think they sensed my enthusiasm and my faith — it showed on their faces and in their questions.
To be honest, when I was growing up, the seder and the story of Passover was only that — a strange story we heard once a year. Only recently, as I have grown in my religious observance, have I begun to realize that part of me was actually there many years ago. I huddled my children together beneath a full moon and we bravely escaped a life of slavery — fleeing into the unknown depths of the desert.
I can actually feel the chills of fear and the pangs of excitement. It's real, and in many ways, I feel like I was there.
Actually, Passover touches people more than most other holidays. During Yom Kippur, even non-observant Jews want to be in synagogue. At Passover, they want to be at a seder. There's something there that calls out to them.
There are a few community seders being held throughout the Tampa Bay area this week. We'll attend one at Chabad in Trinity on Wednesday night, along with about 50 other people. There's also one at the Jewish Community Center/Congregation Beth Tefillah in Port Richey and at Chabad of Wesley Chapel and New Tampa.
"If I don't do one, they won't have a seder to go to," Rabbi Alan Goldberg with the Congregation Beth Tefillah said of his mostly elderly congregation. He's expecting about 60 people.
On Tuesday night, my family and I will do one last search for chometz, this time in more of a ritualistic way. We'll hide 10 little pieces of bread around the house, turn off all the lights, and search with a candle, a wooden spoon and a feather. Then, we'll burn it in a metal can — our chometz, and symbolically, our ego.
"There shouldn't be a drop of it left within you," Eber said. "No crumb left. That's a very challenging thing."