By the Light of a Candle
Bedikat chametz: the search for chametz
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
As the eve of Passover fast approaches, it is vital to acquire a spiritual understanding of the depth and beauty hidden in the mitzvah of the search for chametz.
Chametz is defined as a food that is made of grain and water which has been allowed to ferment and rise. Examples of this are: bread, cereal, cake, cookies, pizza, pasta, and beer, but any food that contains grain or grain derivatives can be chametz. In fact, all processed foods that are not certified “Kosher for Passover” may potentially include some chametz ingredients. The spiritual manifestation of the negative implications of chametz is spiritual coarseness and egotism, which like a leavening agent gets puffed up with self importance. The puffed up chametz dough also alludes to pride and arrogance. The Torah is more stringent regarding chametz than any other forbidden food. A Jew cannot consume it or have it in his possession during the entire Passover holiday.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld writes in his inspirational and insightful article titled “Search and Destroy Mission: Getting Rid of Chametz,” that the mitzvah of searching for chametz and the mitzvah of burning the chametz are unique mitzvot that are unlike any other mitzvot that we perform today. He asks, “Where else do we search for something throughout our house and then destroy it by burning it in the street?” He answers that the message is very simple. “The more we realize that the physicality behind these rituals is not just about ridding our homes of the bread products inside of them but rather the purpose of our elaborate searches and burning of our chametz is to rid ourselves of our spiritual faults in preparation for the holiday of Passover, the holiday of our Redemption.”
Rabbi Herzfeld also states that it is rare that the Torah requires us to search for a prohibited item, destroy that item, and then forbids us from even owning it. Rav Menachem Kasher (M.Kasher, Haggadah Shleimah, Appendix 7), raises this question and offers a novel approach to understanding the prohibitions of owning or even seeing the chametz. Rav Kasher writes “Nowhere is it explained why the Torah prohibits chametz with the added prohibitions of not seeing it and not owning it. Why is it different from all other prohibitions in the Torah which do not have these added restrictions?” He suggests that we do not know the reasons for the super strict prohibitions of chametz and that we must say it is a “CHOK”. He goes on to argue that the closest comparison of the way we treat and react to the prohibition of chametz is the prohibition of idolatry (avodah Zara).
There are many sources that support this argument of a relationship between chametz and avodah zarah. There is a text from the Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah, 1.1) which gives a connection between chametz and avodah zarah: “Avodah zarah teases the worshipers.” The Torah states, “do not bring an offering of chametz on the altar.” Second, the Zohar specifically states that one who eats chametz on Pesach is like one who worships idolatry.
The Baal Haturim asks the question: “why is chametz placed next to avodah zarah in the Torah? To teach us that just like as it is prohibited for us to have any benefit, in any minuscule amounts from avodah zarah, so too it is with chametz. The Rambam in (Guide III: 46) teaches that “the reason that the Torah prohibits an offering of chametz is because the idolaters used to bring an offering of leaven on the altar.”
Rav Herzfeld concludes by noting that the connection of chametz to avodah zarah teaches us that the removal of the physical chametz from our domain is also meant to inspire us to perform a spiritual purging of the chametz in our soul otherwise, we could get drawn into an aspect of idol worship.
Therefore, on the evening before Pesach, the 14th of Nisan, as we watch the glorious setting of the sun, we gather our household together to do a final search of our home, BY THE LIGHT OF A CANDLE, for any hidden chametz. In an article based on a sichah from Rav Ephraim Wachsman, shlita, it states in the Gemara Pesochim 2a that “Ohr Learboo Asar Bodkin es Hachometz Leor Haner-On,” which translates to: we “check the chametz by the light of a candle.” Why does it say, we check the chametz instead of saying, we check the house for chametz? He shares a beautiful insight into the deeper meaning of the word chametz.
Rav Wachsman says, that chametz represents all the superficial things in the world that we think are important and meaningful. But that’s only if we let the evil inclination put us into darkness and confusion. Because, when we take the light of Torah and mitzvot and shine it on all those things, we get a whole new perspective and we see what is really important and eternal and what is just temporary. And the light gives us the vision and understanding not to be taken in by the darkness and foolishness of the world, and instead to see the world in its true light. We “check the chametz” in the world to see what is real and what is not.
It is a sobering experience to open up our cabinets, closets and spaces and see what is revealed right before our eyes. Quite often, we are presented with the revelation of disorder, dirt and disarray. The cleaning and organizational opportunity allows us to shift from dirt, dust, and disarray to one of cleanliness, purity and order. However, the drama that explodes upon the scene of our Pesach cleaning is ultimately the drama of our lives. Removal of the chametz residue reminds us to uproot all that is negative within ourselves. In fact, the scrubbing of our cabinets and closets and sweeping of our floors helps scrub and sweep the chambers of our heart and soul. It removes that which distances us from our Creator. So, upon reaching the climax of this process, a symbolic gesture is called for, in order to bring about closure and forward movement.
Thus, the culmination of the process of cleaning our home in preparation for Passover occurs through undertaking this deeply symbolic mitzva of the search, BY THE LIGHT OF A CANDLE. Just as the search cannot be done by the light of the sun or the moon or torch but only by the light of a candle, so must the search of the evil inclination be done by the light of the soul, which is called a candle as Proverbs 20:27 teaches us: “the soul of man is the candle of God,” searching all the inward parts.
It is traditional to use a wooden spoon, a beeswax candle, a feather and a paper bag for collecting any chametz that is found. One can easily feel the excitement of this “search and destroy mission,” as we attempt to uncover any remaining chametz in order to eradicate it completely and create a chametz-free environment. Prior to the search, a person should have in mind that he is starting to fulfill the mitzvah to destroy his chametz and will conclude the mitzvah on the following day. Additionally it is auspicious to attach a faulty character trait you desire to get rid of to each of the ten pieces of chametz placed around your house. Thus by sweeping them up, and spooning them into the bag you consciously remove them from your presence. By cleaning the final residue with a candle which represents the light of the soul, a feather which represents a practical tool to utilize and a wooden spoon also used as a tool, we glean an understanding of our true mission in the world: to connect the spiritual and physical in all aspects of our lives.
The physicality of this search for chametz is meant to inspire us to perform a spiritual search as well. In as much as we are ridding ourselves of physical chametz, the real chametz, we are searching for are those negative aspects that have gotten into our relationships, especially in the home. Thus it is essential, that the entire household enter into this spiritually dynamic experience of the search. For when we direct the beautiful light of the candle into the cracks and crevices of our home, both inner and outer, we illuminate what needs to be removed. Thus, we gently take the lightweight feather and lovingly brush the chametz into the wooden spoon and then spoon it into the paper bag…..a little at a time, just the right amount that can fit into the spoon. There is no need to overfill or overwhelm but to do the work slowly, lovingly, joyously and carefully with focus. And through the pure intentions of ridding our entire house, inner and outer, of chametz in all the details of its manifestation, we metaphorically lay it on the Temple Altar for to be burned up and destroyed. We symbolically offer it up as our Pesach offering.
The next day prior to the fifth hour (around 10am), we take all the chametz we have collected and willingly burn it in a fire, likened to the Temple fires of purification. We go through a physical process of burning our chametz which is also intended to help us physically act out our desire of destroying our destructive habits. We re-enter our chametz-free home, having completed the Passover preparation process, in order to live our lives with greater personal freedom and more expansive divine consciousness. We focus both the “light of a candle” and the light of the fire burning the chametz into the light of hope, love and unity for our family and our nation so we can then enter the Pesach Seder night with Freedom, Joy and True Perspective. Thus, BY THE LIGHT OF A CANDLE, we expose our soul to the deepest wisdom of the Torah, enabling us to fan its flame into a huge bonfire of devotion to G-d, His Torah, His Nation, His Holy Land and all of mankind, as we truly become A LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS.
With love and Blessings for a deeply connective, spiritually empowering, truly humbling Passover Seder where we fully commit to a deeper Avoda HaShem!