4 Nissan 5765
Avoid the Pesach Rush:
Eradicate Chometz and Find the Real You
By Rabbi B. Gershenfeld
Nisan has arrived and the Pesach rush is in full swing. We are busy cleaning our apartments, buying Pesach foods, shopping for new clothes, inviting friends and preparing for seders.
These activities magnify a constant dilemma of modern life; we are always so busy that we don’t have time to think about important spiritual issues. In Nisan this tension increases because on one hand we are especially busy with mundane chores and yet we know that Nisan starts a new year and that this is the time when we must also focus on our spiritual growth. Pesach celebrates the birth of the Jewish nation. It also marks the birth of spring during which trees and plants begin to blossom. Creation and creativity are in the air. Where in the midst of this pre Pesach rush can we find the time to personally blossom?
Chazal direct us to begin our Pesach preparations by searching even in the nooks and crannies to eradicate chometz. Our first step on the road to redemption occurs when we become sensitive to the existence of chometz. Chometz is what prevents us from taking the first steps of growth — it constricts, blocks and confounds our creativity. But why is chometz the symbol of stagnation and evil? The Rashba explains that the word chometz does not mean “leavened bread” but that chometz is a general term used to describe objects that have become so complicated they have lost their original value. For example, with proper fermentation a cluster of inexpensive grapes becomes a fine wine. But, if the process is not monitored and the purpose of the fermentation is forgotten the sweet valuable wine becomes cheap, bitter vinegar. Its natural greatness is lost. This state is called vinegar or in Hebrew — “chometz”. The first step to redemption on Pesach and our own personal growth is to recognize that we have become lost in complications. We must each search for the chometz in our lives and destroy it. We are always rushing and working hard but we have forgotten the essential goal of our labors. We must rid ourselves of our mindless rush after the externals and refocus on the essence and purpose of our lives.
The term matzah articulates this same vision positively. Matzah does not mean simply “unleavened bread”, rather it denotes anything that is “essential”. For example, the Talmud (Shabbas 79a) calls raw leather matzah because it is “essential”, it is neither tanned nor oiled, just plain leather.
Matzah rivets our attention on the essence so that we don’t get lost in the complications. We shouldn’t get caught up in the superficial. When we focus on what is real and essential only then will our personal and spiritual growth begin.
Through the laws of Pesach Hashem directs us to begin anew. We should avoid chometz, unnecessary complications, and we must eat matzah — just flour and water without sugar or leavening — to awaken us to our essence, our most basic human and spiritual needs.
The mitzvas awaken us but we must apply their lessons to our lives to take complete advantage of their power. To find our deeper selves we must avoid becoming distracted by unimportant decisions, between Gucci’s and Pucci’s, between Polo and LaCoste. The trap of wealthy American society is that holiness is lost in the rush for non-essential luxuries and complications. We are so busy shopping for the nicest object we forget to spend time working on the essential problems of our lives – how can we grow more, how can we strengthen our connection to Hashem, how can we express our tzelem elokohim. It’s Nisan and it’s springtime; we must blossom, we must strive for personal growth. But in order to begin we must focus a little bit each day of Nisan on these essential questions and specifically outline new areas of spiritual growth for the coming year. We cannot allow ourselves to get caught up in tangential matters. At first, moments of introspection and consideration, spiritual accounting and theorizing, appear to be powerless to impact our hectic lives. However, the power of small daily repetitions to produce change is familiar to all who exercise or diet, and it is no different in spiritual matters and personal growth. Involving our neshamas and brains in this effort connects us to the greatest dynamos of life. Finally with siyata dishmaya and the segula of zeman Pesach we can be optimistic about our ability to make new beginnings and develop our latent potential.
At Jerusalem’s Angel’s Bakery decisions abound — white, dark , rye, bagels, laffa, pitas, whole wheat, seven grain, dieter’s special, Italian, garlic or spelt. This array of goodies is fine for the rest of the year, but for Nisan it is a distraction. For these seven days of Pesach it is not a decision between bagels and pitas. We are commanded to choose matzah, and find our deeper selves. When our only bread is matza we can begin to discover what’s really important in life?
How can we grow? How can we begin?
If we avoid the Pesach rush and find some time daily to examine our essential ideals, then we will experience the deep joy of freeing ourselves from the shackles of hectic modern society and be able to open our hearts to rejoice this Pesach in our holiday of freedom.
Chag Kasher V’sameach.