This article is reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today's Parents and Children (Golden, 1997) by Yosef I. Abramowitz and Rabbi Susan Silverman.
Q: This is a meaningful, festive holiday, but does it have to be observed so strictly? In recent years, we've relaxed the bread ban and it feels fine. Are we missing something?
A: Traditional laws about food on Passover are indeed strict, although most American Jews pick and choose among them for what fits their lifestyles and value systems. Personal autonomy is an important part of being Jewish, but it is in the context of community and continuity.
We rid our homes of chametz (anything that is acceptable for Passover) in an effort to connect with our ancestors who fled Egypt. The act of burning the Chametz also symbolizes our desire to liberate our souls from unwanted negative character traits that enslave us. Through ritual and recounting the exodus story perhaps we can free ourselves, in every generation and every year, from our modern-day Pharaohs. The more authentic the recreation of the original exodus, the stronger we are in confronting our "slavery" to modern-day vices such as alcohol, consumerism, or selfishness. The power of Passover observance is that it serves as a constant medium for internalizing this central story. Although Judaism values words, we also know that some things are best learned through ritual and symbolic acts. Ridding our homes of bread for a week is a creative way to remind ourselves annually that we can and must liberate ourselves and the world in new ways.