Years and years ago, I spent a week in Tel Aviv over Pesach. Due to the holiday my friends and I accepted that certain foods would either been unavailable or radically altered. We ordered hotdogs from Miss Lucy's off of Dizengoff Square and instead of hot dog buns we got matzah, rapidly turning mushy from the ketchup and mustard on them. At night we went looking for beer but had to settle for dry red wine. We shrugged and accepted it. In a world where billions lack clean water out of their taps or any water at all, where billions live in oppressive states that murder and rob with impunity, this was at most a minor inconvenience.
But not for one of my classmates. He decided he wanted a ham and cheese sandwich and searched the downtown district high and low until he found a small hole-in-the-wall place that would make him one. And then, prize in hand, he marched proudly out onto the street for all to see his triumph over religious oppression.
For him it was a glorious victory over fundamentalist fanatics. For me it was "What, you couldn't have waited seven days?"
I'm not about religious coercion. One of the most important foundations of Judaism is the freedom of will God gave us to carry out his Torah. If people are forced to observe the law then where is the choice? Where is the glory of God in our actions?
But something about people who davka go looking for chometz on Pesach to show people that they're not one of us primitive religious types really annoys me. It's the pettiness, the childishness wrapped up in wonderful phrases like "freedom from religious oppression". It's not about your right to eat a ham sandwich whenever you want. It's about showing off like a small child who's just outfoxed his parents and gotten away with something he should have, the "nah! nah! you can't catch me!" attitude.
Is a ham sandwich on Pesach such an important symbol? Does anyone really believe you're making a statement of freedom to the world? The person isn't, of course. In reality, they're showing they're still enslaved to their materialistic desires. This isn't about liberation. It's about not being able to put aside one's personal desires for SEVEN WHOLE DAYS in the name of tradition.
Honestly, in a world where billions are either straving or on the verge of it, you can't put up with Pesach food for a week? You can't stop eating for one day in Tishrei? You can't sit inside a sukkah on some of the most pleasant days of the year?
For those who observe Pesach k'hilchaso, this demonstration of an inabilty to control one's lusts is a perfect reminder of the true freedom the holiday granted us. Instead of being slaves to our inclinations and animalistic desires, we overcome them with our unique human intelligence and spirituality. We learn to say "no" to ourselves in the name of a greater good.
And the best part? We don't even suffer.