Sunday, April 17, 2011

Burning the Hametz

Passover has arrived. This is one of those times during the year when I really feel ok with myself. Working as a spokesperson, with all types of media and journalists doesn't always leave me with a good, warm sensation. However, Passover, in Hebrew, Pesach, is known for the hidden words "Pe" "Sach" – "Pe," meaning mouth, and  "Sach", meaning speaks. In other words, sometimes it's a mitzvah, a positive commandment, to talk. 

Now is one of those times.

On the evening prior to the start of Pesach, observant Jews search their homes, ensuring that all "Hametz," that is leavening, has been removed from the premises. Leavened bread, that is regular bread, baked using yeast, is forbidden during the seven day festival. Only Matza, that is unleavened bread, baked only with water and flour, is permitted. And any food product considered to be 'hametz,' not kosher for Pesach, must be removed from a person's home. The final search is conducted the night before the "Seder," which marks the beginning of the holiday.

The next morning, only hours before the start of Pesach, any remaining Hametz is burned, until the only residue is ash.

According to many Jewish scholars, Hametz represents much more than simple leavening.  Leavened bread rises as it bakes; this is compared to the trait of pride. Too much pride can lead to haughtiness. Matza, unleavened bread, represents an opposite characteristic, that of humility. Therefore, on the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish people, as a people, being redeemed from the oppression in Egypt, so too we attempt to reduce our arrogance and self-importance and behave more humbly. For this reason, on the morning prior to commencement of Passover, we burn our Hametz, thereby symbolically obliterating our self-conceit.

But this modesty does not determine our personality, individually or nationally, as that of meekness. Seven days after fleeing Egypt we had no choice but to jump into the sea, our fate being totally in the hands of G-d. But shortly afterward, the fledgling Jewish people were attacked by Amalakites, the most evil of all peoples, who rejected the concept of a G-dly people, and attempted to annihilate us almost before we were able to live as a people. We were then transformed into warriors, who were victorious only when Moses held his hands a high, pointing to the heavens, reminding the fighters to put their overall faith, not in their own hands, but in the Divine hands of the Creator. But warriors they were, fighting for survival against a deadly enemy. A soldier cannot be meek. They are two opposite attributes. But this is the wonder of the Jewish people, even upon their creation: on the one hand, seeming submissiveness, yet on the other hand, fierce combatants on the battlefield.

Perhaps part of our troubles at present is confusion as to our role, and our national personality. Are we to be fighters or are we to be timid? The answer is, of course, both of the above, depending on the given situation. There are times when it is necessary to set our pride ablaze. Yet there are other times when we are called on to battle without fear and without any restraint.  For example, Samuel was a prophet, a seer, a man of G-d, holy from birth. Yet it is written that he cut the Amalakite King Agog to pieces with a sword.

Hametz too has different characteristics at different times. For one week during the year we are forbidden to eat it, or take any pleasure from it. The other fifty one weeks of the year it is not only permissible, it is also a necessary and normal part of our lives. Which then, is the real quality of Hametz? Quantitatively, all year minus one week. But in term of quality, in terms of setting the tone of our lives, determining how we should live, our life's ideal, the one week of Pesach takes precedence. So it is personally, as so it is nationally, as a people.

The Torah commands us, not only to burn Hametz prior to Pesach. It also instructs to literally, 'burn the evil from your midst.. In Hebrew, "u'biarta hara mikirbecha." This phrase is used numerous times in the Bible, telling us that, at times, normal punishment is not enough. Sometimes the evil must be totally destroyed – the evil must be set afire and burned, until nothing of it remains.

Israeli security forces set forth, a month ago, searching for Hametz. Early this afternoon the media reported what some already knew for some time. The creatures who massacred the Fogel family, two teenage cousins, had been apprehended. The details are difficult to fathom. First two children were butchered and then the parents. And then, after they left the house, only to return to search for weapons, did they discover four month old Hadas, crying in her bed. Then, she too was slaughtered. The butchers showed no remorse, except for the fact that they hadn't noticed two other children in the house. Had they seen them, they too would have been brutally murdered.

The butchers from Awarta, (the village where they lived, adjacent to Itamar), must not be allowed to continue to live. They must be tried, as quickly as possible, and executed. As the verse says, evil must be burned from our midst. Those who directly helped them, before and after the massacre, they must die too. There can be no mercy for participants of a massacre. The entire village, Awarta, must be razed and burned to the ground, all its citizens expelled to Lebanon or Egypt. For they all knew, and did nothing. And that site must remain ash, just as Hametz is burned and left as ash, an eternal reminder that the Jewish people are not  meek, that we know what to do and how to do it, when necessary.

But not far from there, next to Itamar, the State of Israel must establish a new city, called Fogel, building fifty thousand homes – ten thousand for each member of the Fogel family murdered.

And we will know, and our neighbors will know, and the entire world will know – we will not be massacred – we will burn the Hametz in our midst, we will seek out and burn the evil in our midst and we will live in our land, for this is the goal of Passover, not to end slavery, not to walk in the desert, but to settle and live in our land, as a free people, in our land, Eretz Yisrael.

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