The Bread of Affliction

Two years ago I wrote this about cleaning for Pesach. It should surprise you not even a bit that I am still procrastinating, still arguing, still searching. I once heard someone say, “Some people are born knowing, while others die searching.”

The thing is, because I am all in-betweensies in my Jewish practice — because my kashrut, like my spiritual life, is a work in progress — I have dear friends who won’t eat in my home during Pesach no matter how well I clean. I don’t blame them. Look, not even I am confident that all the chametz will be duly removed from my home.  They are honoring the holiday the way it makes sense for them. They don’t ask me to change, I don’t ask them to change. (So they invite me, lucky for me!)

For me, the cleaning is a hassle, a chore, a reminder of how little I know. Another dear friend regards the process of cleaning as transformational; as she cleans her home, she is also — purposefully, mindfully — cleaning her soul. She is a brilliant, creative homeschooling mother of three who has organized her life’s work around her home and family. In her, it makes perfect sense to me, this pairing of spirituality and Pesach cleaning.

For me, though, the path is elsewhere. Matzo is also called the bread of affliction — lachma aniya.  When I eat matzo during Pesach, it calls to mind the injustice of slavery, the terror of escape, the insecurity of wandering.  It asks me to wrestle with the slaveries, physical and metaphorical, that exist today, even in my own life. The bread of affliction reminds me that I have a role to play in diminishing the afflictions of others, and that I am responsible for freeing myself from that which enslaves me.

Ultimately, this is not Lent. During Pesach, we are not giving up chametz. Instead, we are embracing the bread of affliction, allying ourselves with the afflicted of this world and asking ourselves the hard questions.

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