by Yossy Goldman
It’s into the final stretch now. Soon we’ll be conducting the search for chometz (leavened bread) and then it will be Erev Pesach (the day preceding Passover) and the beautiful festival of freedom will be upon us.
The very first Mishna in Talmud Pesachim states that we must search for chometz in all places where we may have brought chometz in during the course of the year. Any room where we never brought chometz into does not need to be searched.
There is the well-known interpretation that chometz symbolizes arrogance which, like a rising dough, is all about the inflated ego. Now, let us understand the Mishna in light of this definition of chometz. Where should one search for chometz? Anywhere we may have brought chometz into. This would then mean, where should one seek to uproot arrogance? Anywhere we may have brought arrogance into. Now, do we bring arrogance into someone else’s personality? Not usually. We are responsible for our own egos not someone else’s. So, according to a Chassidic twist on the Mishna, we have no business searching for arrogance in other people. The place we need to be searching is inside our very own personalities and psyches.
It is sad that all too often we tend to find fault with others. We might consider someone else to be bigheaded or egotistical. But, actually, the unhealthy ego which we need to ‘search and destroy’ is not the one in others but the ego within ourselves. After all, did we bring arrogance into anyone else’s personality? Are we ever the cause for someone else’s ego? Not really. Why then are we searching in a place where we never brought any “chometz” into? We should search in our own backyards.
Why do we look for “chometz” in other people at all? Why look for some juicy piece of gossip or a little misfortune to gloat over? Why not look for good news, happy things or positive information?
There is an interesting question raised concerning the traditional custom of searching for chometz. This was done – and still is – with a candle, a feather and a wooden spoon – the candle to search for any crumbs in every nook and cranny and the feather to sweep the crumbs into the spoon. Then it is all put into a paper bag which is thrown in the fire when we burn the chometz the next morning. So the question is this: it makes perfect sense to burn the objects which came into direct contact with the forbidden chometz, i.e. the wooden spoon, the feather, the bag, but why must we burn the remainder of the candle? The candle never touched the chometz at all?
And the answer is that it was the candle that went searching to find the chometz. This candle is an evil-seeker, searching every corner to find the negative. Such a critical, judgmental, disapproving object deserves to be thrown in the fire!
Recently we also marked the birthday of my saintly mentor and teacher, the Rebbe, on the 11th Nissan. The Rebbe, too, was a candle. But he was a candle that only sought to illuminate the good – to find the spark of G-dliness in every Jewish soul, no matter how far away, no matter how dark its surroundings. The Rebbe saw only the good in everyone and encouraged us to see it too. He sent his students to every corner of the globe to be candles, lamplighters and lighthouses to illuminate the world and to warm it with the light of Torah and Mitzvos (good deeds). May his memory be a blessing for all of us.
Please G-d, we will find and remove our own personal chometz, our own shortcomings and only highlight the good in others. Thereby we will help bring our generation to the ultimate exodus and the final redemption.
Excerpted from the book From Where I Stand by Rabbi Yossy Goldman. Available at leading Jewish booksellers.