By Bruce Walton
Rabbi Saul Oresky of the Ohev Tzedek Temple said Passover is a time of physical cleansing – a time for “spring cleaning” and clearing of clutter in one’s life.
Passover begins at sundown today.
“We return to the simple gratitude to God for our liberation and our gratitude for miracles done to us and for the miracles that we hope will still come,” Rabbi Oresky said.
The eight-day Passover observance celebrates the anniversary of the Jewish people’s liberation by God from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. The story is immortalized in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Exodus, in which the Israelites free themselves from slavery in Egypt.
Jews observe this festival of freedom by cleaning out their pantries of any leavening of bread, usually yeast, and replace it with matzo. Matzo, an unleavened bread made with only flour and water that doesn’t rise, plays a crucial role in the religious holiday, Rabbi Oresky said.
Matzo symbolizes the renouncing of unnecessary parts of people’s physical lives, luxuries that distract from focusing on the more important relationship with God.
This observance also focuses on the strengthening of bonds of friendships and family. Going through Passover means going though a time of simple living, he said.
Rabbi Oresky said his favorite part of Passover is the seder, or “order” in Hebrew. All seders have a family and friends gathering for a telling of the Passover story and a meal in the middle of the ritual. The meal also has five symbolic pieces representing offering to the temple, rebirth, the bitterness of enslavement, tears and the mortar and bricks used by the enslaved Jews.
It’s sometimes difficult for the Jewish community to find kosher food, and people sometimes must travel as far as Cleveland – as Rabbi Oresky and his wife did – for Passover food ingredients.
Ohev Tzedek will have service days at the first and last days of Passover. At those services, they read a passage aloud from the Jewish Bible and have a hallel, or prayers, to God.
Rabbi Joseph Schonberger of the Temple El Emeth in Youngstown said many make an effort to live without unnecessary luxuries such as watching television or shopping during their observances. This helps emphasize the priorities of life and the mitzvot, or commandments, that make life precious.
Every year Jews work on every level to serve God while also improving themselves, Rabbi Schonberger said.
“We’re not perfect; that’s why we’re working on it,” he said.