In a rather strenuous confluence for those of us who observe both ritual holidays, Pesach and Easter are bound up in the same weekend this year with the first night of Passover happening on Friday evening followed rapidly by the celebration of Easter on Sunday. Many Jewish friends are engaged in the ritual of rigorous house cleaning to rid their homes chametz - any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and “rise.” No food products containing yeast or any other leavening agent are consumed during the 8 days of Passover observance.
What will appear on every Pesach table will be matzah. Chametz and matzah are almost the same substance, containing the same ingredients of flour and water. The difference is that while chametz bread rises, filling itself with hot air, in the carefully watched production process, the matzah stays flat and humble. In this central symbol of the Passover seder, matzah, unleavened bread becomes a metaphor for humility, self effacement - - the diminishment of the ego in the service of a life of commitment to the liberation of humankind from the narrow, confining limitations of the many Egypts that limit the fullness of life and joy. So - the yearly symbolic search for and elimination of whatever it is that “puffs up.” No yeast. No baking soda. No Cream of Tartar. No baking powder. Unleavened bread.
As I reflect on the two different ways of thinking about leaven - either as something to be eliminated - as symbolic of ego relinquishment or as something to be celebrated as a symbol of transformation, it is not an “either or dynamic.” Somehow both perspectives are intimately intertwined when it comes to living a life of wholeness.
The removal of chametz becomes a rigorous observance of the inner forces that are governed by the needs of the ego that can and do impede the progress of a life of service in the name of compassion and generosity and justice. At the same time, the yeast of transformation plays a role in shaping a society that is continually moving toward an inclusive justice that allows for fullness of life for all human beings.
So - - A Pesach/Easter weekend is a strenuous time - - a time of integration of powerful central symbols from each tradition. May it be a time of joy and rejoicing and understanding as we celebrate separately together. Chag Sameach! Happy Easter!