Tonight, throngs of Jews, from Bangor to Boca, Brooklyn to Berkeley, will engage in the search for chametz. We’ll put out 10 pieces of bread in our homes, some immaculately cleaned in anticipation of Pesach, while others still lag behind (This year, we are blessed to be among the former!). We are commanded to remove the chametz from our houses and we recite a passage after completion of this task declaring any other forms of chametz in our midst, aside from items that we may have arranged to sell to a non-Jew, ownerless. For many families, this activity is merely symbolic, taking very little time at all to complete. We know that any unaccounted chametz being found in our quarantined home is highly unlikely. There are those, however, who are engrossed in bedikas chametz for over an hour, scouring every possible landing spot for crumbs. No matter how long your search takes, we place ten pieces of bread around rooms where we would most likely encounter this nefarious 8-day foe, collect them all, and dispose of them the following morning. This is the best case scenario, as there have been accounts of those searching for the afikoman on Seder night discovering, to some horror and humor, pieces of bread from bedikas chametz which had been left behind. Nevertheless, despite the great care that must be taken to ensure that all chametz placed is found, the ritual stands, and the hunt is on.
Many sages have connected the commandment to eliminate the chametz from our houses with a charge of removing our spiritual chametz. Although this bedika is done with far less pomp and circumstance, it’s often a harder search to conduct. To cleanse our souls of chametz is to overcome our cynicism, doubt, and negativity and channel our energy back into positively serving Hashem.
I get the email every week like clockwork. I see it in my Gmail inbox and I fight every urge to not delete it right away. It’s not the worst email I’ve ever received: I’ve been chastised, ripped apart, and even told horribly sad news by email, both much worse than the message I’m currently glancing at. This message comes from the Tomchei Shabbos organization in my area, and it says succinctly “Can I count on you this week?” Some weeks I can swing it, while others weeks I am busy during the schedule of delivering food to those who need it weekly. Yet, for some reason, it would bug me. I agreed to take a route one week for Tomchei Shabbos. After having a hard time deciphering the exact location to unload my delivery, I arrived at my destination and exited my car with two heavy boxes. I held the handles on the side of the bottom box for no longer than three seconds before it ripped, and I scrambled to regain my hold as to not send both boxes tumbling to the ground. I ring the doorbell with trepidation as I wait for someone to answer. Nothing. I ring it again 30 seconds later, and I’m met with the same response, so I leave the boxes on the doorstep. I walk back to my car with a great sense of frustration. The GPS had no idea where to take me and I got lost, the box handles rip once I finally get to where I need to be, and then nobody even answers the door to get the precious package I shlepped?! I suddenly stopped in my tracks as I reached for the handle on the driver’s side door of my car. As much as it pained me to go through that ordeal, to take time out of my day and get home later than usual, the realization hit me like a ton of bricks.
You know what’s even more frustrating than this? Having to be on the inside of that door waiting for that package to come every single week.
What was I thinking? What was wrong with me? Since then, my attitude changed toward this holy endeavor, even though I cannot commit every week.
Rabbi Chaim Ezra HaCohen Fatchia, a mekubal in Israel known as the Chalban, has a poignant comment on the wicked son referenced in the Haggadah, as mentioned in his book on Pesach. The question posed by the rasha is, on the surface, not significantly egregious. “What does this labor mean to you?” Although the Hebrew “avodah” is used here regarding the work pertaining to the Korban Pesach, the Chalban writes that the hang-up expressed by the wicked son is the sheer work involved. What does this work mean to you? Why do you go through this year after year after year? When we consider the avodah to be laborious, to be painstakingly long, and nothing else, that is where we encounter a problem in our own “avodah.” But is this question so foreign to us? Do we ask of ourselves or of God what exactly is it that we’re doing and does it even make a difference? Hashem, what does this work that I’m doing even mean to You?! The behavior of the rasha can seep into our way of life, and permeate the very underpinnings of our spiritual aspirations. It’s our duty to erase this type of chametz just as we do with the leavened products in our home in anticipation of Pesach. It’s my hope that this type of chametz does not make its way back into our homes and into our souls after Pesach as the chametz we sell does.