November 20, 2018

Cleaning Our Hearts for Pesach

Everyone gets that cleaning the house for Passover is a hassle. Having to go through all the cabinets, sweep, vacuum, mop (in Morocco, they would replaster the walls!) is no fun.

But it’s an opportunity to do a spiritual cleaning, as well.

On a spiritual level, bread products, or chametz, represent our negativity, or our yetzer harahs — those aspects of ourselves that we’d love to get rid of.

Maybe on a deeper level, that’s what’s so difficult about cleaning for Pesach. Doing so requires us to come face to face with our chametz, our shortcomings. And who wants to do that?

While cleaning, aspects of ourselves that we’ve grown comfortable with suddenly get exposed as the enemy.

Muffins? Laziness. Cake? Lust. Cookies? Greed.

Well, not exactly, but you get the idea.

Cleaning for Passover has two parts. The first comes in the days or weeks leading up to the holiday.

That’s the “normal” part of the cleaning process, and most likely takes place during the daylight hours.

But then things get, well … interesting.

When the night before Pesach arrives (the 14th of Nissan), we turn off the lights, light a candle and finish the process of getting rid of the chametz.

This is when the “inside” cleaning begins.

The Talmud describes this process in the most interesting way. It says that we do the cleaning by “the light of the 14th of Nissan.”

This is strange because we do this cleaning at nighttime!

Why, then, this language “by the light of the 14th”?

Let me try to explain.

When Moses walked toward the burning bush to investigate the wonder he was seeing, HaShem said, take off your shoes because you are standing on holy ground.

The question is, why didn’t HaShem tell Moshe to take off his shoes before he stepped on the holy ground?

According to Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, it is because the ground wasn’t holy yet. What made it holy was Moshe’s wanting to investigate the phenomenon and learn more about God.

This, then, is the light of the night of the 14th. It’s more than a candle.

It’s the light your soul generates by your very desire to become better.

You can see this is in the Hebrew word for candle, nare. It’s spelled nun raish. Our holy rabbis teach that the nun stands for neshama, and the raish stands for ruach, two parts of our soul. From this we see clearly that the light of the candle is the light of the soul.

According to Jewish law, we must use a candle (today a flashlight is also good) but not a torch. Why? Because if we see too much of our own imperfections, we may get depressed. There’s too much to fix!  So the rabbis teach when it comes to this inside cleaning, we go one step at a time.

In fact, one of the most amazing customs is that when we do find chametz (remember that stands for evil!) we sweep it away with a feather.

A feather, of all things!

Do you see the beauty of this? Our sages are teaching us, when you go into those dark places within yourself be thorough, but also, don’t forget to be gentle.

So where do we start?

The truth is that cleansing the heart is a lifelong process. But because we get a special blessing on Passover, we have to take advantage of it.

So let’s focus on two qualities that make the biggest messes: anger and jealousy.

How do I clean my heart of those?

The first step is to acknowledge the difficulty of the process.

Now we can begin.

Fixing anger begins with understanding that everything comes from God, the good and the challenging. When I get angry and blame other people for things, I attribute a power to them that they simply don’t have. This is why the sages compare anger to idol worship. Big stuff.

It doesn’t mean that the person who brought the pain into my life is blameless. It just means that they aren’t the ultimate source.

So if I want to clean my heart of anger, it begins with my looking above, and understanding that, ultimately, there is no power other than God.

What about jealousy? How do I clean my heart of that?

Muffins? Laziness. Cake? Lust. Cookies? Greed. Well, not exactly, but you get the idea.

By knowing that God never runs out of blessings. Whatever you need, there is plenty more of it in heaven. The more we realize God can do anything, the more we come to understand that the person I’m jealous of didn’t take my portion. Didn’t marry my soulmate. Didn’t give birth to my child.

When we really believe this, and we’re secure in the knowledge that there is plenty more available of whatever I need, if God wants it for me, then I can at last take joy in other people’s joy — and not feel like their happiness is coming at my expense.

If all this seems like a big job, remember the words of one of our greatest teachers, Rabbi Israel Salanter.

He said that the loudest sound in the world is the sound of a habit being broken. He also famously said that it’s easier to learn the entire Talmud than it is to eradicate one bad character trait.

It’s difficult. But so worth it because when we fix our hearts, we fix the entire world.


David Sacks is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. His weekly podcast, “Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World,” is available at torahonitunes.com.