Pesach, Matza and Bitter Herbs

It is not enough to spring clean our homes, we must also spring clean the government.

Passover has many names - Pesach, the Festival of Matzot, the Festival of Freedom and the Festival of Spring. Here is another suggestion: The Festival of the Poor, inspired by the scriptures and the struggles. Poverty is a central theme in the Haggadah, and the poor are its heroes. The needy have never had it so good. Israel has taken them out of Egypt and broken their routine - with one week of relief from shame and hunger.

On the Seder night, Erev Pesach itself, the poor can virtually get lost among all the options - all doors, not to mention hearts are open to them. Nineteen gates of mercy are open, as against the country's 19 richest families. Poor people throughout the country will ask why, why doesn't Pesach come more often.

Just last night they went to bed hungry, Israel's one million poor people. Just this morning they were still knocking on the doors of charities. But this night is different from all other nights. This night we are all happy. "God heard our voice and saw our suffering and our toil and our oppression." Even Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog saw and heard, and added NIS 22 to our welfare payments, now jingling in our pockets.

Next week life will be crap again. Feet will wander and hands will search, but the memory of Seder night, the personal and national memory, cannot be ruined; everything was in order and everyone observed it. Who knows, perhaps over the years poor people develop the camel's ability to store food in its hump for leaner times.

Matza itself is the bread of affliction, the bread of fleeing slaves who had no time for their dough to rise. That is why the Seder begins with, "This bread of affliction," immediately followed by the invitation, "All who are hungry, come and eat, all who are needy, come and celebrate Pesach with us." This is Jewish nature, to be compassionate. When they are sitting around the holiday table, they think about the poor, only about the poor. Thus the needy assemble in masses. All the hungry push and shove until there is not even a place for Elijah the prophet - or the abducted soldiers.

In the spring atmosphere of the Song of Songs, when, "The voice of the turtledove is heard in our land," we suddenly hear other verses through the open window, "Oh, Lord our God, please do not make us dependent upon the gifts of mortal men nor upon their loans, that we may never be shamed or disgraced..."

What happened here? Who is putting a damper on the joy? Is this the thanks offered by the needy to the generous? If they are not desirous of gifts and loans, and if they do not want to be embarrassed, let them not do us any favors, let them not beg for another bottle of wine and another bottle of oil before the next holiday. There is nothing more loathsome to the 19 families than an arrogant, ungrateful pauper. We did not deal kindly with you in sanctifying the holiday, just to hear your subversive ceremonies, that taste of bitter herbs, that spread like covert criticism against our colleagues in the government.

Ten days ago it was already clear that Pesach 2008 would be different, sad, after the court permitted the sale of chametz (leaven) during the holiday. People were angered, the heavens roared, and Shas head Eli Yishai declared the end of the Jewish state.

As someone who has gotten by all these years without eating bread on Pesach, I see other possibilities for the end: When the education minister perpetuates ignorance, it is not Jewish and it is the end. When a political movement does not vomit up the forbidden foods eaten by some of its leaders, it is not Jewish and it is the end. When that political movement's publication completely ignores news reports of observant Jews who abuse children and infants, it is not Jewish and it is the end. And what is it when they prevent organ donations to the desperately ill? When Jewish schoolchildren are rejected just because their skin is black in a white area, and the shouters are silent, that is not at all Jewish and it too is an end. Was it not God who commanded Moses and Aharon, when the Jewish people left Egypt: "And if a stranger dwells among you and will keep Pesach ... he shall become a citizen of the land"?

Before taking a lighted candle and feather and a paper bag to collect the last crumbs of leaven, it would be better to take a big broom and a dumpster and shine a great light on the whole loaf of bread that is moldering.

It is not enough to spring clean our homes, we must also spring clean the government.