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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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