The rain washed down the windshield in torrents undeterred by the wipers. The driver wiped his bleary eyes and the world swam. Only a few more miles, he thought and I will be able to deliver the medicine from the pharmacy and go home. He glanced at the directions scribbled on a wrinkled paper. Here’s the turn. There’s the house. He wearily unlatched the car door, hitched his jacket over his head and moved quickly through the Spring storm to the front door. As the door bell rang , he heard the sound of small feet running in his direction.
The door opened and he blinked to adjust his eyes to the dim light inside. He looked and nearly giggled, “It’s nighttime, he thought, “do you know where your children are?” If you don’t , they are probably here tiptoeing one behind the other in a long uneven line, following a man carrying a candle near to the ground, squinting as he stoops down and peers into the back of a sofa cushion. No one paid attention to the stranger at the door, except for one small boy who seemed to be motioning him to join in. The young delivery man stood there awkwardly staring at this odd sight, early memories stirring deep within him.
What could he be thinking – this stranger? What could he understand of this Jewish law and time honored custom of (bedikas chumetz) – the searching for any grain product, such as bread and cake, that has risen. Now, we know what it is all about, we are used to it, we understand it – or do we?
It is Erev Pesach. We have just spent weeks cleaning our homes from top to bottom, making certain that not one crumb of chumetz remains anywhere in our realm. We have scoured every crevice, turned each pocket inside out and emptied our children’s secret treasure troves of cookies and pretzels. And just as we have begun to feel that unique once- a -year feeling, that sense that we really have managed to rid ourselves of every crumb — at that moment – we assign someone to secretly hide (the custom being ten) pieces of chumetz throughout our homes and possessions. Then specifically in the darkness of the night we make a candle light “search”– and as we find each piece, we carefully sweep it triumphantly away with the help of a feather and a wooden spoon into a guarded place.
Why are we doing this? Is it merely symbolic? What is going on?
What would this soggy stranger think, if we told him that we were regaining our freedom with those ten pieces of bread?
Yet, it is actually true. The night of bedikas chumetz, like every other meaningful event in life has three components, the person, that is ourselves, place and time. The Creator is referred to as HaMakom , the
Place, because there is no place devoid of His Presence. However Hashem has made room for us and allows us and our possessions to exist in His world. When we do bedikas chumetz, we are proclaiming that it is His world and we are his invited guests. When we accept this upon ourselves and fulfill the commandment that requires us to relinquish a kosher, ordinarily innocuous possession , that is when we begin to taste freedom. This is because it is difficult to pull away from the lures of this world which can enslave us, and addict us and remove our freedom of choice. But when Hashem directs us to do so, and we comply, He provides us with the ability to let go.
The third component of this event is time which plays the major role in our Pesach preparations. It is only time that separates chumetz from matzah, for they both start with the same ingredients, flour and water. Chumetz, leaven, is created through a process of fermentation that causes pockets of air to form in the flour and water mixture, expanding the dough and making it grow large. Like dough, egos can also be inflated. The leavening agents can be money, power, vanity or fame, together with the flattery that catalyzes them into a bubbling brew that pumps up our sense of self importance. One extra moment can mark the difference between leavened and unleavened –one moment can be enough to transform the mixture of flour and water from permissible matzah into forbidden chumetz. And it only takes but a moment of time for us to feel achieved and congratulate ourselves for our accomplishments thus improperly taking personal credit for that which Hashem has given to us.
So as we make our bedikas chumetz or any other mitzvah, we should try to do so with the un-self conscious innocence, inspiration and joy of a child.
Now with a better understanding of the need for the bedika, let us ask but why search in the darkness of night? We might think that it is not such a good idea as evening symbolizes the powers of the dark side- the sitra achra. However, on this special night, we are given the assignment and ability to enter its realm on a “search and destroy mission”. In those moments, that ner/candle is a holy spiritual beam that is able to penetrate deeply to expose any sign of ego inflation. In the esoteric tradition the Ner represents a vessel for the – shefa – the holy influence that channels the Divine Radiance thereby illuminating any dark or hidden places, allowing us find, identify and remove any impurities. Through the removal of any “excess baggage” we are then prepared to receive the special (kiddusha) holiness that permeates the night of Passover.
One final thought on the multifaceted value of the bedikas chumetz. The ideal way to perform this minhag is to allow some member of the house or close friend to hide some small portions of bread or mezzonos. Many have the custom of placing ten pieces for esoteric reasons and also to insure the finding of some chumetz in an already thoroughly clean home. But this practical reason is not necessarily the only explanation.
This hunt for chumetz is a joint mitzvah that gets everyone involved in an effort to accomplish this task. So in the years when my children were young, we would use this night to send a not-so-subtle message to them. Chumetz would be put in places where old battles were fought. So, for the child who would leave his shoes in the middle of the room for others to trip over, chumetz would be put in that shoe. For another
child, a messy closet was the battle ground and she would find a piece of chumetz there. We would all end our bedikas chumetz laughing over things that frustrated us during the year. Pesach is a time of unity and what better way to nurture this idealistic state than making a bedika from within and without.
This captivating ritual of bedikas chumetz, one of the many heart warming mitzvot of Pesach, transforms a mundane cleaning process into a sacred and mystical rite. This creates the atmosphere in which Pesach is renewed each year – And as Pesach is renewed – so are we. As for the young delivery man who was standing at the entranceway, may that glimpse into the Pesach experience be just the right “prescription” for his transformation.
La Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem – La Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem