2018-03-28 / Religion Column

We must be ready to clean the chametz from our souls

Asst. Rabbi/ Temple Beth Sholom

The holiday of Passover is just a few short days away. (Takes a deep breath.) Yes, you read that correctly. Passover is almost here. My heart just skipped a beat as well. Many of us are now fully in pre- Passover deep clean. We are meticulously emptying our pantries, scouring our counters, and investigating every nook and cranny of our homes as we fulfill one of the foundational commandments of Passover—the removal of leavening, chametz, from our lives.

While we have entered the pre- Passover “crunch time” of physical cleaning, there is a spiritual dimension to our removal of chametz, as well. The Talmud tells us of the personal meditation recited by Rabbi Alexandri after his private prayers. Rabbi Alexandri would turn his heart and mind towards heaven and say the following: “Master of the Universe, You know full well that it is our desire to act according to Your will; but what prevents us from doing so? The leavening in the dough.” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 17a)

Rashi explains that this leavening is the evil inclination that inflates our heart. Other commentators describe chametz as fluffy and swollen and talk about the chametz within; the puffy, overextended parts of our ego. This is the spiritual chametz that requires purging from our souls prior to Pesach. In his beautiful work, “Preparing Your Heart for Passover,” Rabbi Kerry Olitzky explains our task as follows:

“Just as one removes the leaven by the light of the candle, one should eliminate the evil that dwells within, searching the heart by the light of the soul, which is the ‘candle of God.’ Only with Divine light are we even able to see the chametz that is buried in our soul. And only through that same light are we able to incinerate it. Furthermore, who knows what else might be revealed in the light? We might even see the ones we love just a little differently in the special radiance of this phenomenal light!”

The pre-Passover spring-cleaning we undertake must be more than just an attempt to purge our homes of leftovers and crumbs. The physical act is meant to trigger an internal process, as well—the purifying of our souls. This work is even more challenging. It’s a lot harder to sweep out our illusions about ourselves, the ways in which we try to put ourselves first, the ways in which we hear others a little less well because we think of ourselves as more important, the ways in which we take shortcuts on our integrity and deepest values. There’s no cabinet in which we can lock away our shortcomings for a week.

Rather, we have to seek them out. Like the search for physical chametz that happens in the dark, with a candle, we need to be intentional in our attempts to collect all of the parts of who we’ve been that are not nourishing, that are dragging us down.

Seeking out the chametz that dwells within, naming it, releasing it, committing to grow, purifying ourselves and striving to become the best version of who we are meant to be is truly holy work.

And so, as we scrub and soak and vacuum and wash over the next few days, may we also grab hold of the opportunity to look more deeply into our own lives. What internal “scrubbing” do we require to allow us to be more free? Where have our souls become “inflated” with self-importance? How have we personally become “enslaved” by our urges and temptations? What must we do prior to Passover to remove the fluff around our hearts that impedes our deepest values and truest selves from shining through?

Happy cleaning, happy searching, and chag kasher v’sameah—Happy Passover!

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