Courtesy of the Green Menorah Program of the Shalom Center

Passover is about the renewal of earth-life in the spring, as well as about renewing our freedom from oppressive top-down power. Both issues are raised by the danger of global climate crisis. This supplement follows the timing and pattern of Passover, from the search for leavening beforehand to the end of the week, in order to heighten our awareness and information about the global climate crisis and especially what we can do about it. We invite rabbis and eco-conscious committees and comunities to make copies and distribute it broadly, and use it in sermons, newsletters, articles, etc. Please drop us a line at to let us know how you have used it.

Searching for Chametz - What is chametz in Our Lives Today?

Before Passover begins, we traditionally rid our houses of "chametz" in any form. Chametz, literally, is anything made out of wheat, spelt, barley, rye and oats, that has been mixed with water and allowed to ferment for more than eighteen minutes. It is food that has swelled up. Chasidic teachers, though, saw chametz metaphorically, as the swelling up of excess in our own lives.

What is metaphorical chametz in our own day? What is the excess in our lives that we need to rid ourselves of, or that we can at least tone down, to keep it in proper proportion and perspective?

Chametz, first of all, can be carbon dioxide. It is the one single element most responsible for the global climate crisis. It is the element that we must immediately reduce our spewing of into the atmosphere.

Chametz can be seen as overconsumption. Is one lesson of Passover this year that we should simplify our lives?

More specifically, is coal-fired electricity a kind of eco-chametz? Is our addiction to the over-use of oil, coal and gasoline a eco-chametz?

Seen this way, what then do we need to do in order to sweep eco-chametz from our lives?

Some answers:

Switching our households and institutions to wind power and other renewable sources of energy; supporting legislation that supports this switch, as well; getting an energy audit; changing all lightbulbs to CFLs.

Driving less; purchasing fuel-efficient and hybrid cars; supporting public transportation; shopping on-line.

Making green renovations and new buildings. Supporting legislation mandating such measures.

Making these changes is, of course, not easy. Chametz looks better and it tastes better. Being more puffed-up in size, it tends to attract people and get more attention. And it's not even completely bad, as it's permissible to enjoy chametz 51 other weeks of the year. What's not all right is to be a slave to it. More about that later.

Shabbat HaGadol - The Great Sabbath

The Shabbat just prior to Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol. This year it falls directly before Passover begins, since the first seder is on Saturday night of April 19, 2008, immediately after Shabbat HaGadol ends.

A long-standing and only partially tongue-in-cheek reason for calling this Shabbat "Great" is because it (along with the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) was one of two times in the year when a lengthy sermon would be given. As Eliyahu Kitov, in The Book of Our Heritage (volume 2, p. 156) observes: "From as far back as the days of the Tana'im and Amora'im it was the custom, wherever Jews lived, for the outstanding scholar of the town to address all the people on Shabbat HaGadol. He would instruct them in the ways of God and teach them how to behave. …He would also introduce into his address some topical comments and explanatory notes in order to arouse the interest of his audience." So while we encourage leaders to keep their sermons mercifully short on Shabbat HaGadol, we do endorse using the tradition of "addressing some topical comments" to focus this year on the global climate crisis.

Shabbat HaGadol also gets its name from the haftarah, the prophetic portion that is traditionally read on this day. The context of the haftarah is dramatic: its 25 lines represent the final words of the final prophet, Malachi.

He writes, speaking on behalf of YHVH:

Behold! I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of that great and awesome day of YHWH, so that he will turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents, lest I come and strike the Earth with utter destruction. (Malachi 3:23-24)

This call from 2500 years ago that the generations must work together to heal the earth from the danger of utter destruction comes alive with new force in our generation. When we invoke Elijah the Prophet on Shabbat HaGadol and during our Passover seders, we must make sure that we are giving voice to our own commitment to take actions in our own day to move this world closer to redemption.

This leads to yet another meaning of "HaGadol," as pointed out in the commentary to this haftarah in the Etz Hayim chumash: "Shabbat ha-Gadol calls attention to an ultimate or "great" accountability that all creatures bear for the resources of the earth…(p. 1296)."

This points toward yet another meaning for "HaGadol." According to the 14th century commentator Abudraham, someone who turns thirteen years old and takes on the obligation to fulfill the mitzvot/commandments is called a gadol, an adult.

And the commandment in Exodus (12:3) that "on the tenth of this month, everyone take a lamb for each family" represents the entire people of Israel being given their first mitzvah. Therefore, in the days leading up to Passover, we mark the entire people becoming b'nai mitzvah - responsible and accountable in a new way. As we head toward Passover during a time of global climate crisis, what are our responsibilities?

Finally, we learn that King David never went out to war on the eve of Passover because this day was destined from the time of Creation to be a day of dew that gives new life, a day rich in blessings.
For on this night no human creature is permitted to destroy any of the works of the Creation. Can we reclaim Passover as a Spring festival, as a time when new life blooms, and destruction of Creation is no longer permitted?