Last evening, and perhaps days before, in the homes of several of my friends the age old tradition of cleansing the house of chametz – or products of wheat, barley, oat, spelt or rye which is forbidden during the days of Passover – was performed. This is done to observe the admonition in Exodus 13:3-7: No leaven shall be eaten . . . For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread . . . and no leaven shall be seen of yours [in your possession].
The preparation for Passover, the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, begins with this ritual cleansing. It continues in earnest tonight with the first seder of Passover. A table will be set for the ceremony with the objects that should be in place before the celebrant:
(1) Three cakes of specially prepared Unleavened Bread (Mazzoth)
(ii) A baked egg, reminiscent of the Free-Will Offering that accompanied the Paschal Offering, and a token of grief for the destruction of the Temple. It is also the symbol of resurrection.
(iii) A portion of the shank-bone of a lamb, a representation of the first Paschal Offering.
(iv) Haroseth – a compote of apple, almonds, raisins and cinnamon to symbolize the Mortar used by the Israelites during the Egyptian bondage.
(v) Karpas – parsley or a similar herb, dipped in salt water as a remind of the tears shed during the time of captivity.
(vi) Hazereth – the green top of a bitter herb – often a leaf or two of romaine lettuce
(vii) The Bitter Herb – grated horseradish meant with it’s companion to represent the bitter years of servitude in Egypt.
The beginning of the Passover seder includes welcoming anyone who is hungry to the table, an idea that comes straight from the Book of Exodus (23:9), which states: You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Later in the Torah, Leviticus 19:33 says: When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. It is theme that is repeated in the next verse which states: The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
Those words that have as much impact today as they did when written millennia ago. There should always be room at any table, not just those of a feast, for a stranger.
The illustrations and the explanations of the objects on a Passover Plate have been taken from a wonderful Haggadah (I wrote of these sometimes glorious, sometimes simple ritual notes on another Passover) which I got last year for one penny and the cost of postage. I wondered at but didn’t question the cost because at any price it would have been a wondrous gift. It is illustrated by my beloved Emanuele Luzzati, translated into English by Cecil Roth. In contrast to the heart-breaking memory of Passovers past and one in particular as recalled by Elie Weisel in the forward, Lele captures – as he so often does – the joy of the feast. He tells the story of and celebrates the liberation of the Hebrews from captivity with his usual vibrancy and colour.
Though he may ended his preface in both sadness and, perhaps even righteous anger, Weisel begins it with the universal invitation that is given on this evening: This is the bread of affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry enter and eat thereof …”
On this day in 1977: Optical fiber is first used to carry live telephone traffic.