Cleaning Our Homes and Hearts

passoverThis Shabbat is Shabbat HaGadol or the Sabbath of “the Great One”. The Great One is Elijah the prophet, the one who according to tradition will herald the coming of the Messiah. So on this last Shabbat prior to Pesach we are alerted to prepare ourselves and our homes for this extraordinary event.  So let’s  consider the preparation of our homes and our hearts for Pesach.

To properly rid our homes of chametz ( leavened foods) we must begin the process early and plan carefully. For a month prior we try to plan our meals carefully avoiding the purchase of larger quantities of prepared foods that we will have to discard. A week before Pesach we begin to gather unopened chametz for donation to food pantries and we package up more valuable food and drink for “sale” to our non-Jewish neighbors. All of this preparation is necessary so that we might be able to complete a thorough cleaning of chametz a few days prior to Erev Pesach when we perform bedikat. The point is that only through a long and methodical process are we able to search for the last of the chametz and recite with conviction a nullification of chametz.

But there is a deeper meaning to the long, methodical and exhausting task of cleaning out chametz. According to the medieval commentator Rabbeinu Bachya, “ It is well known that the chametz prohibitions allude to the yetzer hara (evil inclination), for man is obligated to utilize his yetzer tov (good inclination) to subdue his yetzer hara.” Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam of Bobov adds, “Thus, the long and laborious task of making one’s home chametz-free is far more than mere “spring cleaning.” The scrubbing of cabinets and closets helps scrub the chambers of one’s heart and purge them of that which distances one from his Creator.” Finally as Messianic Jews we cannot ignore the impassioned exhortation of Rabbi Sha’ul of Tarsus, “ Since Messiah our Pesach Lamb has been sacrificed, let us keep the Holiday without the old chametz, the chametz of malice and wickedness, but with matzah without chametz, the bread of sincerity and truth.”

Agreeing with our the tradition of our sages regarding the parallel between cleansing our homes of chametz and cleansing our lives of sin and bad associations, I would suggest that we undertake a similarly exhaustive regimen to prepare our souls prior to Pesach that we employ for our homes. The laws of removing chametz are elaborate and well defined. If we merely articulate our desire to remove sin from our lives without plan, process or ritual I am afraid that our best intentions might be set adrift in the Sea of Arbitrary. We cannot remove what we have not identified.

My recommendation is to begin a process of deliberate moral assessment a kind of spiritual bedikat chametz. Then when the search for both physical chametz and spiritual chametz is complete, recite a nullification of both, burning a written inventory of our moral shortcomings along with our household chametz. The question remains though, “how does one inventory character flaws and bad associations?” To do so we must know where to look. Flaws in character usually expose themselves in our relationships. So here are the steps that I would undertake in preparing for this unique search for spiritual chametz.

  1. Pray specifically for Hashem’s strength in making this arduous search.
  2. Make a list of relationships that in the past year have experience or created feelings of anger or anxiety. Include not only people but institutions as well.
  3. Identify the exact nature of the problems or unsettled feelings in each relationship. For instance have you experienced resentment, shame, guilt or confusion? How have you felt threatened? Are there unhealthy patterns of activity, thoughts or associations in your life that you need to separate yourself from?
  4. You may want to discuss this list with a trusted confidant, perhaps your chevruta, your spouse or your rabbi.
  5. Pray and ask Hashem to help you distance yourself from any thoughts or associations that would cause you to be a less effective servant. As you would ask for nullification of the chametz that you did not find, so ask Hashem to nullify any spiritual chametz that you could not locate.
  6. Burn the list with the chametz! It’s not yours anymore.

Song of Songs Rabba, an early Aramaic commentary that dates back to eighth century, explains and augments the Divine voice stating compassionately, “My children, give me an opening of repentance no bigger than the eye of a needle, and I will widen it into an opening through which wagons and carriages will pass.” Here the Holy One is pictured not as a harsh judge, rather as a loving father assisting His children who aspire to imitate his nature. The echoes of this statement can be heard in Yeshua’s gentle admonition that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Certainly the Messiah was not advocating the self-inflicted poverty; rather he was suggesting a more God approved form of “bookkeeping”, whereby we do not become weighted down by frivolity, self-sufficiency, false piety, base thoughts or unhealthy associations. By removing such excess inventory, we can become “lean and mean” making room for the “treasures of heaven, that can be achieved through the ethical standards of a Torah centered life.

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