April 11, 2024
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Getting Spiritually Ready for Pesach

With less than two weeks to Passover, the arduous task of getting our homes and apartments ready for Pesach is underway. Our search for chametz reaches a climax on the night before Erev Pesach—the 14th of Nissan—of bedikat chametz, where—based on the Rama and kabbalistic customs—we place 10 pieces of bread throughout our homes. We search for chametz, by the light of a candle, using a feather to gather them into a bag (to be burned the next day). By this point, if our homes are cleaned for Pesach, why put bread around the house? One reason given is that since we make a bracha, we don’t want it to be a blessing “made in vain,” so hence the placement of the bread reminds us it’s a real search. It’s also helpful to actually have chametz to nullify and burn the next day at biur chametz.

But, amidst the halachic obligations we have in the searching, nullifying and burning the chametz, there are also spiritual underpinnings that can make these rituals even more meaningful. 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 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 “leaven.” In fact, the rabbis analogize that the yeast—which causes the bread to rise—is akin to the yetzer hara, the negative inclination within us. Thus, eradicating the physical chametz becomes a chance to also rid ourselves of spiritual chametz within us.

One of the requirements for the search that we find in the mishna in Pesachim is the requirement that the search we conduct be done at night—not by the light of the moon—but with a candle, not a torch. The Mishna Berurah says the reason for a nighttime search is that people are most likely home and would more likely forget to do the search during the day. We also learn from the Gemara in Pesachim that if we searched during the day, there may not be enough daylight to actually see within all the small spaces.

But why then use a candle and not a torch? (Today, that would mean we should use a candle with one wick and not, for example, a candle with two wicks—like a havdalah candle. For safety reasons, some use a flashlight). But wouldn’t we be more likely to see more with a larger flame than with a smaller one? The rabbis reject the torch because they remind us that with a candle, we can hold it up close into smaller areas; while using a torch is so strong that we couldn’t hold it near us and see beyond it into smaller holes. It’s too overwhelming to get into the smaller crevices. This too, provides for us an important reminder that when we seek to look inside ourselves and see what aspects of negativity we wish to shed, we should do so with care and deliberation.

This approach resonates into the next day, when we continue with biur chametz—the burning of the chametz. The Belzer Rebbe posed the following question: 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 it? As we have seen above, leaven is also spiritually symbolic of our flaws—puffery, ego or 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. We don’t want to reuse it because we don’t want to allow those negative traits to reappear again.

Pesach, then, can serve as the beginning of a new approach to use the light to look for the good in others and within us, and when Pesach is over, we must not allow the spiritual chametz to reemerge. I hope these spiritual tips can enhance our preparation for Pesach and, iyH, we will have not only a halachic, beautiful, healthy and safe Yom Tov, but a meaningful one as well. Chag kasher v’sameach!


Rabbanit Adena Berkowitz, a practicing therapist, is Scholar-in-Residence at Kol HaNeshamah NYC, an organization dedicated to reenergizing the spiritual life of both affiliated and not yet affiliated Jews. She is the author of the bestselling “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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