June 18, 2024
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Getting Spiritually Ready for Pesach 5781

With Rosh Chodesh Nisan upon us this coming Sunday, without a doubt we know that Pesach will soon be here. When we reflect on last year’s Yom Tov, it conjures up difficult memories of the enfolding pandemic, lockdowns, unrelenting sounds of ambulances and terrible suffering and losses of so many. Here we are a year later, and we need to remind ourselves that the long arc of Jewish history teaches us to follow what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov urged his chasidim. Jews, never despair, never give up hope! Despite everything, things can go from the very worst to the very best in the blink of an eye.

We have seen and continue to see the very worst from this pandemic. We will always remember the losses and the sacrifices of this time. But hopefully now, with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines, the severe threats to our health—both physical and mental—and our general wellbeing will begin to dissipate. As the vaccine becomes more widely available we can begin to look forward to the time when our lives will take on more of a sense of normalcy. For some of us, this normalcy can begin this Pesach, being able to host at our sedarim those who have been vaccinated, or even going away to a COVID-safe program. Wherever we find ourselves for Pesach, the lead-up to the holiday provides a good opportunity not only to get our homes ready but our souls ready as well. Not only engaging in actual house cleaning, but what I like to call Holy Housework. I coined that phrase, inspired by a story from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, well-known chasidic rebbe and leader who lived in the 17-18th century and was famous for advocating to God for justice for the Jewish people. When Passover would be approaching, he would go out and watch all the Jewish women hard at work as they labored to eradicate every last morsel of chametz. He would lift his eyes heavenward and in the same spirit evoked on Rosh Hashanah (when we ask that the angels born of the shofar blasts of [Ta]kshr”k, the identifying letters of the Hebrew words Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah and Tekiah, should speak on our behalf), he would say, “Master of the World! May it be Your will that the angels born of Toiling, Scrubbing, Rinsing and Tidying come before Your Throne of Glory and speak on our behalf.” (In Yiddish the initials of these four terms are [Ta]kshr”k—kratzen [scouring], shobben [scraping], rieben [rubbing] and kasheren [making kosher]). Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev’s words remind us of something very meaningful. The cleaning we do for Pesach is not meant to be mere spring cleaning. There is no question that we need to seek out the places where chametz may be, particularly where we eat, and make sure we give it a good purging. But we should never forget that the impetus to do so is not only to fulfill the mitzvot connected with the chag and in so doing live up to the halachic requirements, but also to feel the spiritual pull of our task. There is no doubt that the work can be so overwhelming, and often it falls primarily on women. But hopefully preparations are becoming more equally shared, and we all can replace the feeling of engaging in mere drudgery and rather feel that it is Holy Housework! Even in the seemingly mundane task of cleaning, holiness resides. That focus can carry us through to bedikat chametz and biur chametz. Based on kabbalistic custom we place ten pieces of bread throughout our homes, and by the light of a candle we search for them and use a feather to gather them into a bag to be burned the next morning. (FYI, because Erev Yom Tov this year is Shabbat, we search Thursday night and burn the chametz on Friday morning but delay saying the passage that “all chametz in our possession is null and void” until Shabbat morning. Check with your LOR for all correct procedures this year.) As we gather up those 10 pieces of bread, which represent the idea that we look to “find” chametz we may or may not have eradicated in each of the rooms we search, it becomes a good moment to look inside ourselves and think of 10 aspects of our lives that we can internally erase before Pesach. Do we have a tendency to get angry very quickly? Are we very impatient? Sometimes not grateful enough? I am sure we all, including myself, can come up with at least a few things we need to work on. It becomes an opportune time to get rid of that kind of “chametz” and continue on to biur chametz, the burning of the chametz, the next day. As we do, we can have the question posed by the Belzer Rebbe in mind. He noted that it makes sense to burn the spoon and feather used to gather the leaven since they come in contact with the chametz. But, he asked, why do we also burn the candle, which doesn’t even touch the chametz? He replied that chametz represents not merely physical leaven but also is symbolic of our flaws—puffery, ego, yetzer hara—our negative inclinations and things that are lacking within us. As the candle was used as a vehicle to search for the negative in all the crevices, we burn it as a means to remind us to eradicate the negative things and defeatist attitudes within us. It’s also a reminder to use the light to look for the good in others and within ourselves. I hope these spiritual tips can enhance our preparation for Pesach and, b’ezrat Hashem, we will have not only a halachic, beautiful, healthy and safe Yom Tov but a meaningful and spiritual time planning for one of the most glorious holidays of our mesorah. Chag kasher v’sameach!


Rabbanit Adena Berkowitz, a practicing therapist, is a scholar in residence at Kol HaNeshamah NYC and senior educator at the Manhattan Jewish Experience. She is the author of The Jewish Journey Haggadah, which is available on Amazon and your local Jewish bookstore. She can be reached at [email protected].

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