The weeks before Pesach are a time of intense physical work, getting our homes ready for the holyday. We turn our house inside out and upside down to seek out and destroy any trace of chametz – leaven and leavened bread. This process is a reflection of an inner process of cleansing that also takes place during this period. Be it through our own conscious efforts, be it through the prodding of the hidden Divine hand, we search through all the corners of our inner self to find the spiritual chametz that is there.

Chametz represents our ego, the puffed up part of ourselves that tends to think that we know everything and that is deaf to any criticism or advice. It is the selfish tendencies within us that care only about our own wellbeing – that turns away from the suffering of others. Chametz is the fears and doubts that we carry within us. It is our anger and pettiness; it is our jealousy and our greed.

Chametz is the part of us that wants to remain just as we are; the part of us that is resistant to change and growth. Chametz is the part of us that is afraid to see our faults and failings, the part that claims that we need not make any real efforts toward perfection, because everyone is on the same level, because every path is just as valid as the next.

Chametz is all the excuses that we make for not advancing further, for not confronting our long term problems because it is too difficult. Chametz is the power of the lower self to bind us to destructive patterns of thought and behavior. Chametz is the despair that leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless, without any belief in God or in ourselves.

Chametz is our sentimental attachment to old ways and out of date traditions without any thought as to their relevance or truth. Chametz is our tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water, to reject the beauty and spiritual power in the tradition along with its problematic parts.

In the weeks before Pesach, we seek out and confront the different levels of our chametz. In the weeks before Pesach, we gather up our courage and do our best to try and clear it all away.

What is it that we find in our search? On one level, we discover that things aren’t as bad as we thought they were. Once we look in those dark neglected corners that we have been avoiding, we find that most of the time there is really nothing there at all. Much of what we worried about or feared was only an illusion, a shadow cast by an issue that has since disappeared from our lives.

In other places we discover a few crumbs, left over from a meal or experience that we “ate” long ago. The real problem has been removed, but there are still traces of its experience affecting our hearts and minds, influencing the way in which we react to the world. Letting air and light into these dark corners of our mind reveals the existence of these hidden thoughts and feelings. This enables us to see these crumbs of “personality chametz” for what they are, gather them up and dispose of them once and for all.

In some places we may discover larger pieces of chametz – a slice of bread, a piece of a biscuit, a cracker that has slipped behind a counter or shelf. These pieces require more thought and effort to get rid of them. We need to examine them carefully and understand from where they have come. Utilizing the fire of discrimination and the burning love for God in our hearts, we need to strive to eliminate these negative qualities from our character and set out to create a chametz-free direction for our lives. These pieces can be put aside and then placed on the fire on the morning of Erev Pesach (the eve of Passover), a burnt offering before God for the festival.

This process of cleansing comes to its culmination on the night before Pesach when we search through the house by the light of a candle. Proverbs 20:27 states: “The soul of a human being is the candle of God.” On this night, we are illuminated by the light of the soul that shines into the hidden corners of our heart. With this soul light, we see ourselves with a new understanding and clarity. We see our lives in a more expansive way. This, Rebbe Natan of Nemirov explains, is the inner meaning of the Talmudic dictum that the search for chametz must take place Or l’arba asar – on the eve of the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nissan, or read more literally, by the light of the fourteenth. On that night, the great light of the holyday already begins to flood into our awareness. This Divine light opens new windows of opportunity that provide us with a fresh direction in removing the deeper levels of chametz from our lives. [1]

Yet, there are some areas that we simply cannot change on our own; some qualities and personality patterns that are too deeply ingrained in us, too intimately intertwined with the way in which we perceive the world and ourselves. The only thing we can do in such cases is to hand them over to God. This is why the prayer that we say after we burn the chametz declares: “All chametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, should be annulled and considered ownerless, like the dust of the earth.” This is our way of saying to God:  “I cannot do it all on my own; I do not know how to get rid of this chametz. Please, in your infinite compassion, remove this chametz from me; please take away these fears and worries, please eradicate these failings and imperfections from me.”

On Erev Pseach, we recognize, confront and then burn up our chametz, so that we are ready to receive the gift of freedom at the Seder on Pesach night.

My mind is in ecstasy, hearing, that the Lord is to come into my Home.

O my mates, Sing now ye the Wedding Songs, for, my Home hath now become a Temple.

Yea, Sing ever the Songs of Joy that ye are infected not by Woe or Sorrow…

Ye hear the Unstruck Music [of the soul], and through the Lord’s Name, enjoy ye the Lord’s Essence.

Sayeth Nanak: “This is how I met with my Lord who’s the Creator and the Cause.”

Guru-Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scriptures, Ramkali M. 3:34 [2]

Preparing ourselves and our homes for Pesach should be a joyous process. The Hasidic text, Or Haganuz, compares these preparations to the preparations that a loyal subject makes when he knows that the king is about to visit his house. Our mind and body is the house in which we live. During the weeks before Pesach we do the work of cleansing the negative aspects of this symbolic house so that we are ready when the King of Kings comes to visit on Seder night.

Think of the joy that we feel when someone whom we love deeply is coming to visit. We should cleanse our homes and our hearts for Pesach with same feeling of joy and anticipation as we prepare to receive our beloved Lord.

Think of the joy of knowing that we are clearing away the junk from our house. We are removing old ideas and misconceptions, discarding unhealthy desires, cravings and fears. We are eliminating long held prejudices and grievances that have been strangling our feelings and suffocating our growth. We are getting rid of a multitude of negative thoughtforms and emotions that have cluttered our hearts and our minds and given us little space in which to expand out and breathe.

There is a great sense of freedom and joy in putting down all these old burdens. We can stand straighter and reach higher without all the excess baggage on our backs. We can break out of the confines of our personal Egypt, Mitzrayim or metzarim – the narrow places in our lives – and enter into the open desert, the place of wide expanses and infinite horizons, where we can journey to the Holy Mountain and meet our God.

copyright © 2012, by Yoel Glick

first published  19/3/2010

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Natan of Nemirov, Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Rosh Chodesh, halacha # 3
  2. Guru-Granth Sahib, English translation by Dr. Gopal Singh

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Penina Adelman says:

    Inspiring to read this about chamez on the day I start to clean my kitchen. I think of my Granma on this day and how she cleaned, exactly as if she were expecting a royal guest to visit. All guests were royal to her.
    Hope your Pesach is liberating.
    Pesach Sameyach!

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