Esther Feinstein
Esther Feinstein

The Chametz Seder

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Each week, as it gets closer to Passover, my eldest son always gets a little bit irritated and upset about what is to be. Although he loves each holiday and takes a long time to prepare for it, this holiday felt different to him. The giving up of certain favorite foods never sat well in his lap, so Passover remained at arms’ lengths.

No chametz! A world without leaven, pizza, chips, coke, any or all junk food? It must be stopped! It was this thinking that brought out our compromise. 

First, we must have Passover, and not just the regular Passover list of what not to eat of chametz, but the Chabad way of what not to eat. My kids noticed that the list for the Chabad customs goes on, and on, and on. 

“Wow! So long, Mommy! Pesach is hard!” each one shyly mutters to me at some point throughout the week of the Passover holiday, but in the end, they all miss the hard but worthy holiday. There is something so beautiful that one can’t exactly put their finger on that makes Pesach beautiful. It is a holiday worth missing when it passes.

This is when my son a few years ago in a pact with his brothers made a rebellion. If there is a Passover Seder where we honor the matzah and forbid all chametz, then after Passover we have to forbid all matzah and celebrate the chametz. Whether it made sense or not, this new style of Seder becomes the boys’ tradition. 

Each year the rules to the bread Seder grow, and this year was no different. I am an excellent note-taker and sat obediently and studiously to make sure I took proper notes. What would be their demands? What would I need to prepare for this fun-styled but serious Seder

Passover was finally here. A few guests popped in the doorway, and my usual excitement to greet them had to be subdued and quieted, so I could finish lighting the holiday candles. 

Holiday candles are a time where I could reflect on my Jewish connection with G-d. It becomes my mitzvah, my privilege, my G-d-given right that this candle lighting time then becomes a special time for me.

As a Jewish woman, I embrace this quiet but spiritual time to be able to bless and share my prayers with others. I always try to keep these close to my heart: prayers for my husband, community, and goodness in the world. 

The more my eyes stayed closed and covered the more I got busy thinking of those in need of my prayers, but reluctantly I knew that I must cut short my private audience with the King of Kings. Rather, I needed to get busy with my true responsibility as the mother to a group of little boys and a hostess to my local Jewish community.

It was time, and Passover herself pushed over the threshold, and the music of the night’s tradition began. As the night continued, the Seder routine began to shape itself and bring its own uniqueness each year along with it. It is then I heard the whispers, “Mommy, don’t forget about the BBQ chips you promised me.”

A few minutes later, another one mouths his lips so you can barely hear anything at all, “Mommy, don’t forget my treat is chocolate chip cookies. Please don’t forget!”

It was up and down the stairs, and my little helpers faithfully served their community. Masks and special distancing were all on their minds and helped to make the night go smoothly. A smaller group this year than most still brought that Seder feel to my husband and family.

The next morning I was sat down by my eldest and was given the “Talk,” the gentle reminder of the rules that needed to be implemented for the chametz Seder: “First, pizza will represent the matza; next, the pickle will be in place of the customary onion. Lastly, the BBQ chips dipped in spicy salsa will stand in for the bitter herbs. Can you make sure you remember all of this?” he said. 

“Sure, definitely!” was my response. 

Then I thought of one last thing: “What will be in place of the four cups of wine?” I curiously asked, waiting to hear what new idea he had. 

“Mommy, I have to run to shul, but it’s obvious we will have any soda of one’s choice, and it must be four cups!” he said in such a matter-of-fact tone that I almost agreed. 

It was then that I comprehended what he said; four cups of coke or sugary soda in my little boys late at night probably was not a good idea. In fact, it was a terrible idea! I kept my concerns to myself, and  I didn’t dare change the good mood. It would have to be dealt with later.

 It was already the second Seder night. Normally, The second Seder is only a handful of guests and close family, but this year because of the pandemic, we were honored with a single family friend to be with our family. I was so thankful that we had our guest because this would mean the boys would try to be on their best behavior. 

This guest was very in tune with my boys, and he seemed to really understand them. Whenever he was asked about how old he was, he always responded with a cute kid’s voice that he was 9. It made all of us whatever we were in the middle of doing just laugh out loud. 

However, he, coming from a conservative background, was really excited to be a part of our family Seder. It was a real chance for him to see how the rabbi interacted with his young sons Seder night. What is a Chabad Seder really like? How do Chabad rabbis act with just close family?

At the beginning of the night, we joked if we can go past the earlier rabbis in the Talmud times–whose students had to remind them to say the Shema because they were so engrossed in their Seder. The silliness and jokes subsided, and what enveloped our night and what stood facing me was the feeling that my boys were much older than their years. 

Question then answer, answer then question, this became the nightly rhythm for hours. The speeded pedaling on their imaginary bikes only broke up for a short breath of air. To hear the stories that the rabbi told left them determined as ever to keep the beat going. 

Our 9-year-old, slightly greying guest watched enthusiastically. He usually was the questioner on the Torah portion but felt relaxed to watch this back-n-forth show.

 After a while, the littlest boys fell like flies on their cots hoping even though sleeping to be a part of the Pesach ambiance. It seemed late, so I quickly glanced at the time. My eyes just looked at the numbers but felt it wasn’t the reality. When I looked again, I realized that it really was 2:00 in the morning. 

Wow! The time sure does fly. The meal finally ended, and it was time to go home. Getting up to leave I heard the same whispered words, “Mommy, I have another food that I want you to put on the chametz Seder.”

About the Author
Born in New York state into a family on Shlichus, Esther was formally trained in Chabad institutions in America and Canada as an educator and community leader with the lifelong goal of helping an under-served Jewish populace. She and her husband, along with their children, have been serving the local community, as well as the Northeast Wisconsin region, for over a decade, providing for any and all needs of everyone's personal journey with G-d.
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