Passover is almost here!

Getting Ready

Passover is almost here! Cleaning and more cleaning. Shopping and more shopping. Organizing and planning. With all the logistical arrangements (and cleaning), I sometimes forget to prepare for the season’s more important transformations.

I’ve been making a lot of bread this winter: baguettes and pizza, whole wheat loaves and challah. I know from my experiments that flour, salt and water, plus the wild yeasts in my house can combine to make wonderful sourdough bread, given the right time and conditions. It’s been a delicious set of explorations. But I know that next week I can’t just reach for a bagel at lunchtime. So what’s my relationship with that bagel now? Do I want it more because I know that I won’t be able to eat it next week? Do I start ‘withdrawal’ now? The approach of Passover is not just about the bagel (or challah or rye bread), tasty as those home baked goodies might be. It’s not just about the crumbs that all that bread baking has left in odd corners. The question is what those pieces of tasty bread mean.

Some commentators emphasize how light, yeasty breads reflect puffed-up egos, so that eating matzah for a week is a humility practice. But another way to look at avoiding chametz for a week relates to the fact that Shavuot is coming in just seven weeks.

Preparing ourselves for any big change involves separating from the comfortable, almost automatic existences we often lead. It is easy to rely on whatever it is we are used to, whether that is slavery (in Egypt, for example) or sandwiches made on pre-sliced bread. We know that next week there will be challenges to our culinary creativity (the vegan, gluten-free, recovering alcoholic seder guest, for example). But that kind of challenge is what German design theorist Horst Rittel called a ‘tame problem’, the kind of problem that can be solved with the appropriate investment of resources (time, money, and available organic vegetables). The more serious challenge is this: what will we do without the comfort of the predictable; but rather, with abundant freedom of choice within the boundaries of Passover food restrictions? Rittel would call that a ‘wicked problem’, the kind that, when you think you are close to a solution, reveals a whole new set of issues. Freedom of choice is a wicked problem because there is no set ‘correct’ answer, but rather a range of possible solutions, each with unique opportunities and pitfalls.

The culinary restrictions of the week of Passover are an immersion period, when we recall our ancestors plunge into the realities of freedom. We imagine ourselves there, in a way that wakes us up to the impact of change. During that week, we start the seven week psycho-spiritual process of adapting to that freedom, by preparing to receive Torah, using the process of Counting the Omer. We begin the 49 day practice of examining and refining ourselves, exploring the possibilities and limits of freedom. Open to changing ourselves physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, we step into the wicked challenge of the unknown. Counting the Omer begins next Tuesday evening, March 26.

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