BATH TWP.: Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin burned his bread on Monday.
And it was no accident. It was part of an ancient pre-Passover tradition called burning the chametz – bread and all (leavened) foods whose ingredients rise during preparation.
“As we watch the chametz go up in smoke, we are reminded that inside of us, we all have something that we need to get rid of, something that is rising within, like arrogance and pride,” said Sasonkin, spiritual leader at Anshe Sfard (Revere Road) Synagogue. “We ask God to rid us of those things. So, the burning is not only a physical ritual. It is spiritual as well.”
Passover, which began at sunset Monday, commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. According to the Bible, the Hebrews left so quickly that there was no time to allow baked bread to rise — which is why Jews stick to unleavened bread, or matzo, during Passover, as a reminder of their liberation.
Preparation for Passover includes thorough cleaning, shopping for required kosher foods and preparing the traditional seder meal with symbolic foods. The Jewish faithful typically begin a full-out spring cleaning, called kashering, weeks before Passover to rid their homes of every trace of chametz. A ceremonial search for chametz is done on the night before Passover.
Sasonkin said the customary burning of leftover chametz (including that found on the night before) is based on a biblical commandment “to remove leaven from your houses.” During the burning ceremony, all chametz – “whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not” – is nullified.
Ariel and Elad Ohayon were among the dozen people who gathered for the special burning of chametz behind the orthodox synagogue. The Bath Township brothers, 15 and 18 years old respectively, said it was important to be in a community to participate in the ritual.
“It’s a nice way to transition from the normal everyday into Passover,” said Elad Ohayon, a first-year student at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. “This is a tradition that our family has kept, since before we were born. It’s a good reminder to rid our lives of negative things and to fill them with good.”
During the burning ceremony, Sasonkin recited a special prayer, asking God to remove the dominion of evil from the earth, just as he had removed the chametz from his house.
“May it be Your will, Lord, our God and God of our fathers, that just as I remove the chametz from my house and from my possession, so shall You remove all extraneous forces,” Sasonkin prayed. “Remove the spirit of impurity from the earth, remove our evil inclination from us, and grant us a heart of flesh to serve You in truth.”