I brought them down to the bottom of the stairs in the dining room, which was in total darkness, and asked my older daughter to light the candle while her sister held the feather and the large wooden spoon. I held the paper bag. Together, we made the blessing for the search for chameitz (leavening).
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu al biur chameitz. Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Source of all being, who makes us holy with mitzvot, and commands us to remove chameitz.
I told the girls that our search for the ten pieces of bread (which they knew I had hidden a few minutes before) would be done only by the light of the candle and, as much as possible, in silence. We were searching not only for pieces of bread, but also searching ourselves for all the stuck places in our hearts where we wish to free ourselves. The two of them started wandering through the house, holding back their squeals of delight each time one of them spotted a square of quartered sandwich bread. The feather would come out to sweep it into the spoon and then the spoon would deposit it into the bag.
Why do my girls love this ritual so much? Of course, there is the excitement of knowing that Pesach (Passover) begins tomorrow night. There is also the fun of carrying the lit candle through the house and playing with the props of feather and spoon. Maybe that's it. Maybe they also really like seeing how seriously I take all the Pesach preparation and give them their own special role in all the madness. Maybe, they also get some of the deeper stuff. Maybe.
I know why I love this ritual. I love the way we use rituals to do the impossible and pretend that we have accomplished a miracle. We are supposed to rid our homes on this night of every vestige of leavening. Every single molecule of grain in the house is to be hunted down and exterminated so that the festival can be celebrated in a state of purity and perfection. We pretend that it is so, and in so doing, we really do perform a miracle.
It is the miracle of creating within our souls the memory of deliverance. We were slaves and now we are free. Our imperfect lives — so filled with so many forms of self-imposed servitude — are redeemable. We are made free with a word, a spoon and a feather.
The pieces of bread are all gathered in the bag. (Well, actually, all but the one that the dog found and ate while I was trying to find a feather.) Tomorrow morning I'll burn the bag on my driveway and utter a formula declaring my home to be free of chameitz. I'll be ready to sing the songs and drink the cups of wine at the seder tomorrow night. I'll know, against all material evidence to the contrary, that I personally was delivered from slavery in Mitzrayim. A miracle.
Tonight, my children and I performed one of their favorite rituals, and I have to admit that it is one of mine, too.