The days and weeks before the Jewish holiday of Passover are famously known as a busy time of year for the adherents of this ancient religion. The Bible demands that not even a crumb of bread, or any other fermented product, be found among one’s belongings or in any way in one’s possession during the seven days of the holiday. Due to the overwhelming prevalence of bread in our everyday lives, there is a requirement to search for leavened products, known as ‘chametz’ in Hebrew, in all the nooks and crannies of one’s dwelling and work places. For many people the strict adherence to the restrictions of chametz has sometimes made preparing for Passover an overly stressful time.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the Yeshiva University Vice President for University and Community Life and Dean of the Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), explains that preparing for Passover can be highly challenging for many people for mostly two reasons, financial and psychological. Rabbi Brander adds that as a result of these two challenges there can be an exacerbation of discord in the home.
“Any Rabbi with a synagogue of any significance will realize that ‘Shalom Beit’ issues (peace in the home) become more prominent right before Passover. There are certain tensions within families that become a little bit more developed around Passover time. Obviously there are two reasons that are self-evident. One is the cost of Passover. ‘Poor man’s bread’ at $14.95 per pound becomes a little bit of a challenge for certain people. And the other thing is the additional pressure that people make Passover into a ‘spring cleaning’ issue.”
In order to deal with the psychological issue Rabbi Kenneth Brander exhorts his fellow Rabbis “to educate the public to the fact that there is a fine difference between spring cleaning and cleaning for Passover. The ‘Shulchan Oruch’ (book of Jewish law) gives us an appropriate protocol for how to deal with it (cleaning for Passover.)”
To deal with the second issue, the financial burden of preparing for Passover, Rabbi Brander recommends that anyone who notices a family that is struggling to make ends meet during the year can be sure that Passover will be even more of a challenge. Rabbi Brander says,
“Don’t wait until someone comes to you in need. There is nothing wrong with you meeting them a month before Passover and giving them an envelope with a few hundred dollars in it and basically telling them that this is a loan that they should pay back if, or when they can, interest free.”
Rabbi Kenny Brander further explains that from a human dignity perspective it is always better to say that whenever money is given it is not as a ‘hand-out’ but as a loan. The loan is interest free and there is no time pressure to pay it back, but it is still not ‘charity’ and is viewed as just a small way to help until the family is more self-sufficient and can repay the loan.
In summary, Rabbi Brander exhorts his students to ease the burden of Passover preparation for their own congregants, students and community members and to bring the joy back into the holiday.