Words from the Rabbi – Pesach 5783

We do some very strange things over Pesach.

One of the strangest things, in my mind at least, is the Pre-Pesach ritual of Bedikat Chametz, searching for leaven. After we’ve cleaned the house for Pesach and removed all the crumbs and bread, we then deliberately hide 10 pieces of bread around the house (hopefully wrapped up to avoid getting crumbs in your nice clean home) and then we look for them. While many search the house with candle, feather (to sweep up the bread) and a wooden spoon (to hold the bread), our family custom is to search with a torch (we use our phones), last year’s lulav, and a dustpan. We also make sure to turn all the lights out, and play ‘hot and cold’ as we search for the bread.

Why do we do this rather bizarre ritual?

In theory, the idea is to make sure your home is properly checked for any chametz you may have missed, and I will admit that at least once we did find more than the 10 pieces of Chametz we hid. Sometimes going around with a torch in the dark does help you see things from a different perspective. In general, however, no extra Chametz is found. So why do it?

I think that Bedikat Chametz is parallel to the search for the Afikomen that we do on Seder night. On the 14th of Nissan we search for bread to be got rid of and burnt, then on the 15th we search for the matzah that we can’t do without, the afikomen that we need to eat to conclude the seder meal. Two different searches, two different outcomes.

I think these two searches remind us that all of us have hidden depths, parts of ourselves that are buried or dormant. The searching of our house reminds us to search ourselves, and we do so in two stages.

First of all, we have to seek out and destroy the leaven within. As we learn in our recent class on Chametz, the spiritual meaning of leavened bread can be found in the Talmud (Berachot 17a), and Rabbi Alexandri’s prayer:

“Ruler of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that our will is to perform Your will, and what prevents us? the yeast in the dough, and the subjugation to the kingdoms.”

It seems to me that Rabbi Alexandri is contrasting two forces that stop us from doing the right thing. The external factors (the subjugation) and the internal factors (yeast in the dough). It just takes a little yeast, a little time, and dough swells up and becomes huge, puffed up full of hot air. So too it is with us, that we can easily become puffed up with pride and hot air, full of ourselves, slaves to our own ego. We search ourselves for those hidden bits of yeast, and free ourselves by destroying them.

The next step is to reach in and find our untapped potential. The skills we have that go unused, our capacity to love that needs stretching, our generosity that could stretch further. Like the afikomen, we need to find the hidden positives within us to enter the next stage of our lives.

We aren’t the only religion that engages in a ritual of hiding and seeking at this time of year – while we’re looking for the afikomen our neighbours are looking for Easter Eggs. Spring is in the air, after all, and spring is all about that which is bidden bursting forth – the emergence of flowers, blossom, chicks. Unlike the Christians, we search twice, first to uproot the bad and then to find the good. True transformation comes only when we can do both.

May this be a year of true freedom for us all, liberated from the yeast in the dough that puffs us up and ties us down, free to bring our hidden gifts to the world.