Cleaning our hearts for Passover
March 30, 2018
Let’s focus on two qualities that make the biggest messes: anger and jealousy. How do I clean my heart of those?
Cleaning the house for Passover is an opportunity to do a tremendous soul cleansing as well. On a spiritual level, bread products, or chametz, represents 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 Passover. Doing so requires us to come face to face with our chametz, our shortcomings. And really... who wants to do that?
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 Passover arrives (the 14th of Nissan) we turn off the lights, light a candle, and finish off the process of getting rid of our 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 since it’s very clear that we do this cleaning at nighttime! Why then this language “by the light of the 14th” if it’s night?
Let me try to explain.
When Moses walked toward the burning bush to investigate the wonder he was seeing, God said, “Take off your shoes because you are standing on holy ground.”
The question is, why didn’t God tell Moses to take off his shoes before he stepped on the holy ground?
Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon said because the ground wasn’t holy yet. What made it holy was Moses 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 desire to become better. You can see this is in the Hebrew word for candle, ner. It’s spelled with the Hebrew letters 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 (or today a flashlight is also good) but not a torch. Why? Because if we see too much of our own imperfection we’ll freak out and get depressed. There’s too much to fix! When it comes to this inside cleaning, we take one step at a time.
In fact, one of the most amazing customs is that when we do find chametz (remember that stands for the evil inclination) we sweep it away with a feather.
A feather of all things!
Do you see the beauty of this? Our sages are teaching us that when you go into those dark places within yourself, don’t forget to be gentle.
How do we start?
The truth is that cleansing the heart is a lifelong process. But Passover is a time of Divine favor, and all the gates of heaven are open now. 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. Once that’s done... now we can begin. Fixing anger begins with understanding that everything comes from God, both 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 Talmud compares 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.
If I want to clean my heart of anger, it begins with my looking Above, and understanding that there is no power other than God.
What about jealousy? How do I clean my heart of that?
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 soul mate. 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 hard. But so worth it. Because when we fix our hearts, we fix the entire world.
David Sacks is an Emmy award-winning writer producer. His weekly podcasts are available at torahonitunes.com.