דניאל ברוק, מונטריאול, תשס”ג
Every year around this time I start wondering while watching my mother breaking her back over the pre-pessach cleaning: What is the point of cleaning, and cleaning, and cleaning…? Why is it necessary to locate and annihilate every last morsel of Chametz? What in the world does this have to do with re-living the exodus from Egypt? If anything, it makes us feel as if we are still actually slaves! Matzah, Maror, the shank bone, four cups of wine… those I can understand. But where does destroying the Chametz fit in?
The first paragraph of the response to the Mah Nishtanah begins with: “Avadim Hayinu – We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Hence, we are deeply grateful to Hashem for emancipating us. We then continue: “Had Hashem not taken us out, we and our children… would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Is that really true? After all, Pharaoh is no longer around – except for occasional appearances on the history channel and in museums. In fact the inhabitants of present-day Egypt are not even the biological descendents of the original Egyptians. Even if the original royal family had succeeded in preserving their dictatorship, given the vast change in world politics over the past 4,000 years, it is highly doubtful that we would have remained under their absolute rule. For the most part, slavery is a thing of the past.
However, a close reading of the above cited paragraph of the Haggadah reveals two different forms of the Hebrew word for enslavement. The paragraph begins with the word “Avadim”, and concludes with the word “Meshubadim”. What is the significance of the slight but obviously significant difference? Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin explains: Avadim are physical slaves; Meshubadim are slaves of the spirit. In this light the paragraph may be read as follows: Hashem liberated us from physical subjugation in Egypt to provide us with the opportunity to aspire to attain spiritual freedom. Had Hashem never taken us out, we could never have ascended beyond the physical limitations placed on us by the Egyptians. “Mitzrayim” (Egypt) connotes limitation (“Tzar” means narrow). “No slave ever succeeded in escaping from Mitzrayim” (Yalkut Shimoni Yitro 269).
By setting us physically free and giving us the Torah, Hashem equipped us with the tools to continue the process, to realize ultimate deliverance of our inner soul and pursue every Jew””s longing to dwell in the palace of God. As the Ramchal says in Mesillat Yesharim every Jew has this desire but due to the pursuit of gashmiut (physicality) a person is led astray by his evil inclination. In Egypt, due to this “physical” bondage we were not able to grow spiritually.
What is the nature of spiritual enslavement? The moment Adam tasted from the Tree of knowledge, we became “enslaved” to evil. The confusion between right and wrong, good and evil, makes it extremely difficult to battle the effects of evil. Indeed, for many years, it had been virtually impossible. Only with the exodus and the giving of the Torah did we obtain a fighting chance. “I created the evil inclination, and I created the Torah as its antidote” (Kiddushin 30b).
The Gemara in tractate Pesachim teaches us that a person should perform the Searching for the Chametz with the light of a candle. Our sages compare the light of a candle to the Torah, emphasizing that evil is destroyed through the immersion in Torah. Learning Torah alone is inadequate to entirely destroy evil. One must actively search it out and destroy it. The Jew must carefully examine himself for any traces of evil that may exist within him. Then, when he finds such traces, he must uproot them completely, lest they return to haunt him at some later date. Destroy evil, lest it destroy you.
Chametz symbolizes evil (Zohar Vayechi 226b). And its influence is unquestionable. A tiny bit of Chametz possesses the potency to ferment substantial amount of dough. To be safe from its harmful effects, it has to be removed completely. To forget a single crumb is to invite future trouble. By seeking and destroying the Chametz we train ourselves to become sensitive to even the smallest particles of evil, to accurately assess their significance, and to spare no effort to get rid of them. Just as we use a candle to seek out the Chametz in every nook and cranny, so do we shine the flashlight of introspection upon our souls (See Pesachim 7b and Mishlei 20:27). Our goal is to clean ourselves as well as we can, thereby removing the shackles of our spiritual bondage, allowing us to soar far beyond the limitations of evil (Pharaoh) and confinement (Mitzrayim).
In this week’s Parsha, Tazria, a person who came down with a case of Tzara””at (a spiritual skin disorder described as lepracy) would turn to a Kohen for diagnosis and treatment cure. Interestingly, a Kohen who became ill would have to refer to another Kohen; he could not treat himself. Why not? The Mishnah explains: “All blemishes can a person see, except for his own (Nega’im 2:5).” Somehow the spotlight of critique dims when I shine it upon myself. Our search, however, should be as thorough and sincere as can be. We need the help of “objective measures” in order to improve our character.
We have an opportunity this Pesach to free ourselves. We are not merely commemorating an event that took place thousand of years ago. We ourselves are slaves! “Why is this night different…? Because on this night WE can go free! A Jew must see himself in every generation as if he himself was taken out of Egypt. He must believe that if Hashem hadn””t taken him out, he would not have had this opportunity. We ourselves would have forever remained slaves to the ideologies and morals of Pharaoh and Egypt. But Hashem did set us free. And now the next step is completely up to us.
The Matzah, Maror and shankbone are all fundamental components of the Seder night. But freedom begins with the search and destruction of the Chametz.