Sunday, March 25, 2012

Identifying the Chametz in Our Lives

The second of my #BlogExodus entries is a little late...but it's still before midnight on the west coast.

Many Jews go to great lengths to rid their homes of chametz (leavened foods) during Passover.  And that's a significant endeavor, as it follows the letter of the law laid out in the Torah: "Chametz shall not be seen within your territory [during Passover]" (Exodus 13:7)

But what of the spirit of the law?  Other forms of chametz can enter our lives and distract us from the things upon which we should be focused.  Think of this sort of chametz as extraneous things-- like leaven in our baked goods, these things are nice, but not essential to survival.

Admittedly, I'm in somewhat of a glass house here.  I like my gadgets and toys as much as the next person.  But on Pesach, I try to also be mindful of those who are not as fortunate as I am.  The rabbis of the Talmud teach us that our commemoration of Passover should not merely be a history lesson, as though the events we recount are rooted firmly in the past.  Rather, each individual is to live as though he or she were personally present at the moment of the Exodus; as though he or she was personally redeemed from slavery.  Embracing this mindset allows us, perhaps, to be more sensitive to the needs of others, and more reflective upon the chametz impacting our own lives.

The gentleman below is Don Edwards from New Orleans, Louisiana.  He lives in the Holy Cross Neighborhood of New Orleans, a predominantly African-American neighborhood that is in one of the lower basins in that city.  An artist and photographer, Don had purchased a house to use as his residence and studio.  When the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina, the house was heavily damaged by the water and was almost a total loss.

Since 2009, I've taken a group of congregants to New Orleans each spring to help with the ongoing rebuilding effort.  We've been working with Don, who gutted the house down to the studs and is determined to restore it.  This man, who has lost nearly everything, welcomes volunteers with coffee, cookies, bottles of water, and other accoutrements of hospitality.  His story and his resilience are mirrored by so many others whom I've met in the Holy Cross Neighborhood.

I'll be thinking of Don this Passover as I give thanks for what I have and consider what in my life might be nothing more than chametz.

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