It’s my annual custom to buy a few new haggadot each year in the weeks leading up to Pesah. This year things got rather hectic, so my first real opportunity to shop came the Sunday before Yom Tov at a Judaica store in Toronto. One of my new purchases is called The Haggadah Connection; the commentary is written by Rabbi Reuven Bulka, the legendary modern Orthodox rabbi in Ottawa. When it came time later that night to search for hametz, I grabbed that haggadah so I could read the blessing and the Aramaic formula of nullification that follows the search.
As I opened to the relevant page, I looked at the commentary, which addressed the most practical of concerns. I, for one, keep my haggadot far away from hametz, so they don’t get messed up and rendered useless at the seder table. Why, then, does a haggadah bother to include this ceremony? Isn’t that asking for trouble?
Bulka explains that this publishing decision is not just one of convenience. Rather, it’s a strong symbolic statement. Pesah is the beginning of the Jewish theological calendar (in the Bible, Nisan is the first month). Cleaning out the hametz is a way of starting anew. He writes: “To the extent that we have cleaned out the remaining leaven, to the extent that the home reality reflects intense labor to start afresh, to that extent will the seder be a meaningful experience.” So the search for hametz is Act One of the seder itself, and truly belongs in the haggadah.
After days of intensive cleaning, our family sat down at the seder table well aware that we were facing a new reality. We had no choice but to prepare in a way that was starting afresh. Dad wasn’t able to come downstairs, so we left his seat open, with the place setting and his new haggadah, a gift from his shul for his dedicated volunteerism. We went up to his room and my eldest sister made kiddush for him. And then we had a seder that reflected his indelible mark on each participant. Those melodies that are uniquely his–those we sang with intensity. Despite a changed home reality that is not to our liking, the seder was a meaningful experience.
The ritual of searching for hametz is in the haggadah in order to challenge us to embrace change. Sometimes, change is thrust upon us, and we have no choice but to adapt. It is better to search actively for hametz, to take the initiative to start afresh, and control that which is in our power. That way, we can make seder–order–out of chaos, giving life meaning even in its most difficult moments.