Bidikat Chametz – Search for the Chametz (Bread)

This week’s mitzvah Monday is about adding meaningful customs or traditions to our lives. The night before Passover (sounds like the lead in to a Christmas song) when I have been working to thoroughly cleanse my house for several weeks and tried to remove  every piece of bread and leavening we possess (well hopefully) we observe a family tradition that while customary is also quite fun. We  started observing this custom many years ago when my daughter was a toddler.  We gather in the dining room and make a short blessing thanking God for his commandments and commanding us to remove the chametz from our house.
I think of this custom as a family version of hide and seek. Before we say the blessing, I have hidden pieces of bread wrapped in paper bag material  throughout our living room and dining room. Then my kids and I walk through the house with a candle for light and a feather to pick up the last remaining pieces of bread and officially declare any other bread left in our house that we haven’t found yet null and void  – whew that takes care of anything later found in jacket pockets or somewhere else I might have overlooked. I love the symbolism of this last preparation for Passover as well as the fun it provides our family while we “search” by candlelight for the bread.

I often compare preparing for the Passover holiday to my gentile friends preparing for Christmas because there is so much expected as we approach this spring holiday, including cleaning, switching regular dishes for Passover dishes, shopping and cooking. But by the time we reach the search for the chametz I am ready. Both spiritually and mentally, ready to tell the story of the Exodus of the Jews from the land of Egypt, ready to eat some matzah and experience another year of Passover with my family and friends. Creating new traditions with our families can be as easy as learning about something we didn’t know existed and adding it to our routine.

Choosing to start a new custom in our lives, shouldn’t be overwhelming. Growing up, my family didn’t observe this search for the chametz, but as a young mother somehow I added this custom to our family and have always thought it was fun for the kids. This is the perfect season to start a new holiday tradition since Passover and Easter are both this week. A couple of great suggestions are collecting tzedakah (charity) right before your holiday meal to donate to your families favorite non-profit, or making a blessing before or after a meal, additionally you could make a blessing over your children and let them know something you are proud of that they have done that week. We typically do this on Friday night but any night of the week could work. Whatever custom you decide to add to your life, find one that is meaningful and adds joy when you do it. For me, the yearly custom of Bidikat Chametz makes me smile each and every year and why shouldn’t it, who doesn’t love any version of hide and seek?

Wishing everyone a wonderful spring holiday season.

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Thou Shalt Not Covet

For years, I coveted.  There I admitted it. I know, I know the 10th commandment is Thou Shalt Not Covet and yet for years I couldn’t help myself. After my paternal grandmother died, my parents brought her white Rosenthal China in the Classic Rose Maria pattern– to our home and I absolutely loved it. I wanted it for myself and begged to have it. It brought back memories of spending time in my grandmother’s fourth floor walk up apartment in New York City. My grandmother had been an observant Jew and a kosher caterer in the 1960’s. Her food looked and smelled delicious and those dishes reminded me of meals shared with her in that small apartment. I coveted those dishes for more than twenty years and this week, after all these years, my stepmother had them painstakingly packed, which apparently took more than 4 hours so that UPS could feel confident they would arrive unharmed, and sent them to me.

Three massive cardboard boxes, big enough to hold my children, arrived on Tuesday. I knew they were coming but the excitement was still palpable. It has been so long since I have actually seen the dishes in person. After all these years, I honestly couldn’t remember what they looked like, until I unpacked that first group of plates, tripled layered in bubble wrap from their cross country trip. They look like I remembered, twelve sided plain white plates with an embossed flower patter, though a few have some chips and blemishes.

Immediately, I wanted to say the Shehecheyanu Prayer, a prayer Jews say when they arrive at a special occasion or time . The prayer is:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֶלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם שֵהֵחְיָנוּ וְקִיְמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנו לַזְמַן הַזֶה

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

The Shehecheyanu prayer gives us an opportunity to give thanks for reaching a special moment in time. For me this moment deserved more than just a moment of gratitude it deserved several moments of time, to reflect what it must have been like for my grandmother to buy this set of dishes, still highly valuable at today’s standards and probably something she worked very hard to earn in her days. I will use them and think of my grandmother and the nourishment we both provide our families to sustain and nurture ourselves. This set of dishes will be a reminder of my family lineage and one I am delighted to finally put to good use.

Thank you God for letting me reach this wonderful occasion. I will covet no more!

Mitzvahs aren’t fun?

Tuesday night, was the shiva minyan (service) for a friend of mine you had lost her father. After the funeral of a mother, father, brother, sister, child or spouse the mourner and their family return to their home and begin the period of shiva, the most intense period of mourning in Judaism. Shiva means seven, and this ritual is observed for seven days. Mourners are to remain in their homes and community members come to them, sitting with them and quietly lending an ear to let the mourner share, laugh, or cry. It is a mitzvah to visit a mourner during this time, and is one of the most important acts a community member can do. This is known as a shiva call. During the shiva period, the daily services are often moved to the house of the mourner so the community can come to the mourner and allow them to say the kaddish or mourner’s prayer. Since my friend’s father had lived out of town, which changes some of the shiva procedures, there was only going to me one night with a shiva minyan.

After school Tuesday, I asked my daughter if she could bake some cookies so that we could bring them to the minyan that night. It is customary to bring some food with you to the shiva house. My daughter was happy to do it, since she loves to bake. She was baking the cookies for the next hour and the recipe yielded more than enough to bring to the shiva house and keep a few for ourselves. I thanked my daughter for the mitzvah she had performed and she looked at me funny, she said, “I didn’t do a mitzvah, because it was fun and I got to eat some of the batter while I was baking.” I laughed and asked her if she thought mitzvahs weren’t fun. She said they weren’t.

I guess in time she will learn that sometimes, even while participating in doing a mitzvah you might still derive pleasure from what you are doing. Perhaps that is a lesson that takes time and maturity to realize.

Pots and Pans for Purim

This Saturday night, Jewish families will celebrate the spring holiday of Purim. I have written about Purim before on my blog since it is a wonderful family holiday where kids dress up in costume, give gifts to friends and family, eat a festive meal and generally enjoy the celebratory feeling.

Last year, Roz Babener, the director of  the Community Warehouse, a charitable non-profit that redistributes furniture and home goods to approximately 100 social service agencies throughout the greater Portland metro area, had the idea that synagogues could  gather pots and pans and cooking utensils prior to the Purim holiday, use them for noise makers and then donate them to needy families. (NOTE: During Purim, it is customary when we hear the story retold to make as much noise as possible when we hear the name of the evil Haman.) The experiment last year was such a success that Pots and Pans for Portland is being established now as a yearly event.

The Community Warehouse hopes to share their idea with other Jewish communities around the country that might want to implement similar Pots and Pans for Purim events in their community. Information on the Pots and Pans for Purim how to kits are available online. Visit communitywarehouse.org or contact Roz Babener at roz755@aol.com.