Rabbi’s Corner

Unsure about new practices? Think ‘not yet’ instead of ‘no’

Rabbi Helen T. Cohn
Rabbi Helen T. Cohn

I recently read a long document about how to make a kitchen kosher for Passover. The work involved at that level of detail took my breath away. Transforming a kitchen to the highest level of observance is on one end of a continuum.The Jews who can’t be bothered to do anything for Passover and who see no value in refraining from chametz (leavened products) for a week, are on the other end of that continuum.

Each of us finds ourselves on this continuum, moving in one direction or another as things change for us both internally and externally. Although removing chametz from our home has been a long-standing practice of mine, I admit it was only after my husband and I moved to Tucson that we acquired separate plates and utensils for Passover. At the time I thought of Franz Rosenzweig who said “not yet” when asked if he wore tefillin. He was expressing an important principle: not to say “no” to an observance, but to remain open to embracing new practices when the time is right.

Perhaps there is a “not yet” that is ready to turn into a “yes” for you this Passover?

Eating chametz is prohibited by the Torah. The traditional practices in cleansing the house and all utensils of every itty bitty crumb is rabbinic elaboration on the Torah’s rather simple commandment: “No leaven shall be found in your houses for seven days. For whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the community of Israel …” (Exodus 12:19)

The Hebrew word for “cut off” is kareit, which is understood as a spiritual punishment, rather than a punishment meted out by human courts. Kareit is often interpreted as losing one’s spiritual connection with the divine source. But I think it also connotes being cut off from one’s community. Not physically, like excommunication, but a cutting-off that the person does to his or her own self. During Passover the Jewish world eats matzah and foregoes bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, cookies, etc. We are all in it together and there is a great sense of connection with Jews around the globe, from the seder to the jokes about the effects of matzah on one’s digestive tract.

Whatever your level of preparation for Passover, I do hope you will observe the simple Torah instruction to remove leaven (putting it a sealed box in your garage counts as “removing”) and join with the Children of Israel in observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread.