Pretzels for Passover

I was about 9 or 10 years old and we were visiting relatives during Passover.  The grownups were sitting around in the living room speaking of grownup things so I went with my younger sister to explore the basement. There did not appear to be much there that was very interesting to children, but we had an advantage. Being smaller than adults, we could see things on a level that might otherwise be missed. And lo and behold, there under the ping-pong table were two very large tins. One contained pretzels and one contained potato chips. What a find! We popped the lids off and began merrily munching beneath the table.

However, our bliss was short-lived. My uncle came downstairs and in shock and horror proceeded to reprimand us for violating the Passover by eating leavened food. Finding such a treasure had eclipsed all our thoughts about it being Passover. Of course, the fault really wasn’t ours, he was the one with the stuff in his house during the holiday.

According to Jewish tradition, any leavened products left in the home must be sold to a non-Jew through the agency of the local synagogue. They thereby no longer technically are “in the possession” of the homeowner.  Nevertheless, during that week they must be in a closed and sealed cabinet in order to prevent mishaps like what happened to my sister and me. After the holiday they are purchased back and then can be used again. I at that point, however, was not seeking to put the blame on my uncle. I was just traumatized that I had broken God’s commandment and eaten leaven on Passover.

Exodus 12:15 (NAS) says, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.

1 Corinthians 5:7 (NAS) says, “Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed.

There is a lovely Jewish custom that is connected to the process of cleaning and preparing the home for Passover. It is called the search for the leaven. It is something that we have done with our children for the last 40 years and still continue to do, now including our grandchildren. The items used in the search are a candle, a feather, a wooden spoon, and a white cloth or sack. While it is yet light on the day before the Passover, small pieces of bread are strategically placed around the house. After the sun has set, the lights in the house are turned out and the search begins. A different person holds each item and the one with the lighted candle leads. As each piece of leaven is spotted it is summarily swept onto the wooden spoon by the feather.  It is then removed from there to the linen cloth. The process continues through all the rooms until all the pieces are found. (It’s important that the one who hid them remember all the places he put them!) A prayer is said requesting that all leaven not found be considered null and void and as the dust of the earth. The next day the leaven is burned. No more leaven is to be eaten until the holiday ends a week later. However, unleavened bread (matza) is not to be eaten until the Seder meal that evening.

The origins of this ceremony are obscure, but what is fascinating is its powerful portrayal of the message of Messiah. The burning candle is a picture of the Word of God that illuminates the darkness and reveals the sin hidden in our hearts. Throughout the Bible, leaven is used symbolically of sin. However, it is only by the Spirit of God, portrayed as a white dove upon whose holy wings our sins can be carried to the one place they can be permanently dealt with. That place is the wood upon which our Messiah Yeshua bore our sins and those of the entire world. Indeed He not only carried our sins there, He became sin for us there (2 Corinthians 5:21) that we might be set free from our bondage and become the righteousness of God in Him.

Finally, He was taken down from the tree and wrapped in white linen and buried. The leaven that was wrapped in the cloth is burned the next morning, totally eradicated, even as our sins are, but we like our Messiah are raised up to new life to celebrate the Passover in sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:8).

Over 60 years have passed since the episode with the pretzels on Passover, yet it’s something I never will forget. After those innocent days followed many more serious sins for which I deserved to be cut off from Israel and the God of Israel. But then came the mercy of God and Yeshua, our Passover lamb. He searched me out and by His sacrifice brought me to recline in freedom at His Seder table, there to share in His unleavened purity and the wine of His joy.

This article originally appeared on Tikkun International, April 15, 2019, and reposted with permission.