First day of the Omer
Leonard Felder's "Here I Am"

New poem: Bedikat chametz in the toddler house

BEDIKAT CHAMETZ IN THE TODDLER HOUSE

 

What does it mean to remove chametz
when my cupboard overflows
with toddler-friendly goldfish
and mini-muffins? If there is

any chametz I do not know about
-- odds are good there are stale O's
in the crevices of the car seat,
but the rest of our leaven is

in plain sight, soft whole-wheat
awaiting jam's unfurling --
that I have not seen or removed,
I disown it.
That part

of the formula at least still works.
An invisible line: between
his english muffins, his toasted bread
and my boxes of matzah, waiting.

Even if I don't light a candle
Ribbono shel Olam, help me
to sweep the crumbs from even
the ill-tended corners of my heart.

The too-sour puffery of ego,
the impulse in me that needs
to be in charge, needs to be right,
needs to be praised. The part of me

that forgets the daily importance
of prayer and kindness. I disown it.
I declare it to be nothing
as ownerless as the dust of the earth.


Bedikat chametz is the ritual of removing leaven from one's home on the night before Pesach begins. Having otherwise removed every bit of leaven (and everything leaven-able) from one's home, one "hides" crusts of bread and then, by candle-light, finds them and sweeps them up with a feather and a wooden spoon in order to burn them the next morning. The italicized words in this poem are the traditional words one recites after having done the ritualized search for leaven.

This is the latest poem in my "...toddler house" series, though I think it may hold meaning for others who for reasons other than parenting a picky two-year-old may not have pitched or sold all of their leaven this week. There are many people I know and love who, for one reason or another, don't wholly remove chametz from their homes: maybe their housemates aren't into it (or aren't Jewish), maybe their partner, maybe their parents, maybe their kid(s). Can those who are in that situation still find meaning in the old ritual and its language? I hope so.

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