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Chametz: What Would Your Psychologist Say About It?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Ready or not, here it comes… This year1 was a Leap Year so we had an extra month to relax, but we can procrastinate no longer; once again it is time for the annual pre-Passover house-cleaning. It is time to move the furniture and scrub the chairs, line the counters and scour the dinette; perhaps, perhaps, we will unearth a stale cookie or come across a half-eaten piece of licorice which the baby stowed behind the couch.

Why the big fuss? Torah prohibits many items, but – thankfully! – we are not obligated to embark on an all-out assault against every banned item. We don’t have to destroy all food before Yom Kippur, and we don’t have to get rid of our cars every Friday afternoon! Why so much ado over half of a moldy bagel?

So the studious amongst us open up the Kabbalistic texts and discover that Chametz, which rises, represents the ego – something which must be eradicated at all costs. But this only raises new questions: Is a little ego really so terrible? Any psychologist will tell you that a healthy ego is a powerful motivator giving people the courage to pursue their dreams and stand up for what is right. And if ego is such a paramount evil, why then is it permitted to consume chametz throughout the entire year? Is it possible that Dr. Atkins really was onto a profound mystical truth?

true spiritual growth begins with total humility, recognizing that without G-d all pride is simply misplaced arrogance
On Passover we celebrate the birth of our nation. At that historic moment, 3317 years ago,2 G-d intervened on behalf of an enslaved tribe, an assimilated and corrupted clan which bore very little resemblance to its holy patriarchs, and liberated them, both physically and spiritually. Throughout their ensuing history, the Jews were enslaved time and again, but they never lost their spiritual liberty. On that fateful Passover day, the Israelites began their journey to Mount Sinai. They left behind Egypt and all the “Egyptness” which over the course of the years had attached itself to their characters, and they began their spiritual voyage to G-d and His Torah.

Pride is important, when it is in a proper context. At the moment of their liberation, the Jews had nothing to be proud about their G-dless lifestyle. To their everlasting credit, they understood this idea, and jumped at the G-d given opportunity to enrich their lives by improving their character and devoting their lives to serving the Creator. As they distanced themselves from Egypt and its values, they earned the right to be proud of their accomplishments. Just as the proud and tall tree which yields such beautiful fruit started out as a seed which decomposed in the ground, so, too, true spiritual growth begins with total humility, recognizing that without G-d all pride is simply misplaced arrogance.

May G-d bless us all with a truly meaningful and liberating Passover. And as we purge our homes from all traces of chametz, let us strive to rid ourselves of destructive pride, and commit ourselves to a life of Torah-liberty, a life of true pride.

Footnotes

  • 1. 5765 on the Jewish Calendar (2005).
  • 2. 1312 BCE

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Leap Year
Every 2-3 years an extra month is added to the Jewish calendar. Since the lunar year, which Jews follow, is 11 days shorter than the solar year, it is necessary to keep pace, so that holidays corresponding to certain seasons remain in sync. On a leap year, a second month of Adar is added.
Chametz
Any leavened product which is produced from wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats. This includes bread, cake, cereals, crackers, biscuits, yeast, pasta and whisky. It is forbidden for a Jew to possess or consume Chametz throughout Passover.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.