The Search for Chametz

The Search for Chametz

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel … For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread. (Exodus 12:14-15, 19-20)

An Eternal Tradition

Every year just before Passover Jewish families all across the world turn their homes inside out in search of the dreaded chametz, or food items containing leavening. Many go to great lengths to assure the search for chametz is complete. Couches are pulled out, beds are broken down, ovens are pulled out, shelf-paper is replaced — all due to the search for chametz that might be hiding in any crack or cranny. And the reason for this is a good one. The Scriptures state quite clearly, “On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses” (Exodus 12:15), and then again, “For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses” (Exodus 12:19). Hashem makes it pretty clear that He’s serious about this leavening thing, and even makes a contingency that if a person actually eats of anything that is leavened during this time, “that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread” (Exodus 12:19-20).

For most Christians, removing leaven and leavened products from one’s home may seem a superficial or even legalistic endeavor. But for the Children of Israel, this is serious business. It’s not just an ancient ritual of bygone years. It is a spiritual reality that exists to this day, as it is written, “you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever” (Exodus 12:17, emphasis added). God not only expected those fleeing from Egypt to keep this decree during their lifetime, but emphasized that this tradition be kept “forever” — dor l’dor — from one generation to the next. According to the instructions of the One who redeemed Israel from Egypt — Who calls Himself by this very title — every person of Jewish decent is to painstakingly remove all traces of chametz from their dwelling year after year at this season. It is a yearly reminder of the redemption from Egypt, as well as a time to use the search for chametz to drive home the spiritual reality of hidden sin and its ramifications. Let me explain …

Leaven as Sin

The Talmud asks the question, “And who prevents us from performing Your will?” It answers its own question by responding, “The yeast in the dough” (b.Berachot 17a). At first, the answer doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. But if we think about it, we can make the connection. In Jewish and biblical tradition leaven is the quintessential analogy for sin. It represents that which is impure, corrupt, infected and arrogant. The “yeast” (in this context) which prohibits man from properly and whole-heartedly serving his Creator is his yetzer hara, or “evil inclination,” a term used frequently in Judaism equivalent to what Paul calls “the flesh” (cf. Romans 7, Galatians 5). Frequently, the Talmud uses this phrase, “the yeast in the dough,” to refer to man’s propensity towards evil.

James, the brother of Yeshua, affirms this concept when he says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). We don’t need to blame haSatan for our sinful behavior. It is the desire within us and our submission to our sin nature which make us fall into sin.

Yeshua uses the yeast/leaven metaphor in a fashion similar to the Talmud. We hear this when he instructs his disciples saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). His disciples, being educated in the basics of Scripture but not yet as familiar with the rabbinic jargon, begin to scratch their heads trying to grasp the meaning of Yeshua’s instruction. Contextually, they had just witnessed the feeding of the five thousand a day or two previously and the feeding of the four thousand just moments beforehand. They began to wonder about the meaning of Yeshua’s reprimand. Maybe they thought he was criticizing them for not saving some of the miraculous bread to take with them on their voyage across Lake Galilee and sustain them during their travels there? Maybe Yeshua thought they had some starter dough that had somehow become contaminated with their encounter with the Pharisees? Maybe he didn’t want them relying on the food from the now-critical Pharisees and the Herodian traitors? But Yeshua heard their discussion and their erroneous conclusions and interrupted, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21). After realizing that his disciples really had no clue, Yeshua sets the record straight and tells them plainly that the yeast for which they must be on their guard is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).1

The Search

There is a pre-Passover tradition that on the evening before Passover begins one final search for chametz takes place. It is more of a token of finality and time to engage the children than to actually do a final, house-wide search, but it represents something very important. The major search and cleaning has already been done. This search represents a final inspection to remove any traces of chametz that may be hiding or have somehow slipped by without our knowledge.

The interesting component of this ritual is that the search is traditionally done with a candle, even in an age where we have the convenience of flashlights. The search is done together by the father and the children. As they come across a piece of chametz (conveniently placed by the mother), they brush it onto a wooden spoon with a feather and place it into a paper bag which will be ritually burned the following morning.

King David said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24). This ritual represents this plea. Rather than being oblivious to our sins, we are to be carefully examining ourselves asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the corners of our hearts to see if any chametz may be lurking unbeknownst to us.

The Torah sheds some light on this when it gives us instructions in regard to observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Exodus 12, Hashem is giving the Children of Israel instructions for that first Passover, as well as additional instructions for future observances. In verse 17, there is an ambiguous phrase that has been subject to various translations over the years. The Hebrew of the first phrase reads:‭ ‬וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם‭ ‬אֶת–הַמַּצּוֹת‭ ‬— Ushmartem et hamatzot, which literally means “And you shall guard the matzot (plural for matzah/unleavened bread).” This is usually smoothed over in translation and rendered something to the effect of “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread.” But literally, this is not what it’s saying. The word chag (feast) is not included as it is just three verses previously. This appears to be a slightly different context in which Hashem is instructing the Children of Israel to not allow their matzah to become leavened during the feast. It is a glimpse into the spiritual principle of rejecting apathy and being proactive in our spiritual discernment.

Guarding the Matzah

When we look at a piece of matzah and compare it with a piece of leavened bread (particularly sour dough, which was the only type of “yeast” bread known in the ancient world), what do we see? What is the difference between the two? One is flat, having been baked before giving it time to rise; and one is puffed up, having been allowed to rise before baking. They have both been made from the same basic ingredients: flour and water. The difference between the two is someone had to pay close attention to the unleavened bread to ensure that it did not rise, while the other was left alone and rose on its own accord.

It’s easy to allow sin to creep in. Just don’t do a thing. Don’t put your guard up. Don’t do regular self-examination. Don’t spend regular time in prayer and study each day. Don’t do anything that would enhance you spiritually. Just don’t do a thing. Sin will work its way into us and puff us up so that we are spiritually blind to our own undoing. Remaining pure and unblemished by sin and the world requires much more effort. It requires us to be proactively aware of our spiritual condition and to guard against the influences of the world, rather than sitting back and allowing the world and its influences to permeate us. It’s the difference between a loaf of bread and a piece of matzah.

Israel was set free for a purpose and it wasn’t to return to being slaves. We have been made free as well, but not to return to the enslavement of sin. Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). We are supposed to be guarding against “the yeast of the Pharisees” so that it does not creep into our hearts and lives to enslave us once more. Hypocrisy and arrogance follow on the heels of apathy.

Let us conclude with Paul’s admonition in this matter and heed his counsel:

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

May we all be a new lump of dough, purged of the old leaven we once knew in our lives and live daily guarding against the subtle infusing of the leaven of the world as we enter into this season of redemption.

  1. Although Matthew records the interpretation of the “yeast of the Pharisees” as being, “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” this is surely a scribal addition which attempts to explain Yeshua’s teaching since it is not a direct quote from Yeshua and does not appear to agree with either the context of the passage, nor his other teachings in this regard. For instance, his discourse against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 which begins with “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3) is in agreement with their teaching, but not their application. This statement is immediately followed (verses 4-36) by a litany of accusations which are centered around his condemnation of their hypocrisy and lack of integrity, rather than false teachings. His overarching accusation was that they “outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (vs. 28).

Anavah – Humility

Humility Visualization

First, let me say that I am no expert in mussar. And in all honesty, I haven’t really even started. Right now I am only exploring the middot (character traits – middah, singular) that ring out to me as I prepare myself for the actual practice of mussar. From there I will pick the thirteen which I feel to be most applicable in my life and begin to focus on them one week at a time, journaling about my journey. However, from what I have read in Everyday Holiness, almost every middah hangs on anavah (humility). According to Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda, in his book Duties of the Heart (as quoted by Morinis in Everyday Holiness), “All virtues and duties are dependent on humility.” And it makes sense. Once I learned the Jewish perspective on anavah, humility, I became drawn to it, realizing my deep lack of understanding of this character trait, as well as my deficiency of its possession. Here’s why…

When the word humility is mentioned, what comes to mind? Too many times our working definition of humility is self-abasement. My new, working definition of humility comes from Morinis in Everyday Holiness. My paraphrase is as follows:

Humility is occupying our proper space, neither too much, nor too little.

I think this is the best definition I’ve ever heard. It makes sense on so many levels. When we break down a character trait into a definition such as this, we are able to truly define it’s parameters, rather than it being some ethereal, elusive non-tangible. Let’s explore this definition for a moment.

If humility is “occupying our proper space, neither too much, nor too little,” it’s obvious the result when we occupy too much space. At the minimum this is pride, and at its extreme, narcissism. We become so wrapped up in ourselves that the boundaries between us and others is unseen. We quickly overstep those boundaries and invade someone else’s space, whether physically, socially or verbally. One example Morinis gave that I thought was really good was in regard to speech:

“…when someone shares a piece of news with you, do you come right back with your own concerns, filling the space they’ve opened, or do you make room to follow up what the other person has introduced?” 1

I have had this flaw as long as I can remember. I remember when a friend of mine first brought it to my attention. His bringing it to my attention hurt me, but it was a much needed exposure of a flaw in my character that brought it to the surface in order that I could deal with it, and not be oblivious to it. However, since I was only made aware of this, and not given any tools for tikkun (repair / undoing), I still have not overcome in this. Now, I have passed it on to my children. And seeing this blemish magnified in them, it has set off internal alarms that I did not understand until recently. Having a proper definition of this middah with well-defined parameters helps me not only to better identify the breach in our family composition, but gives me a more solid means by which to correct it.

On the opposite extreme is not occupying enough space. If we occupy too little space, we are not fulfilling our God-given role in the world. It is not stepping up to the plate for which you were created. Hillel tells us,

“In a place where there are no men strive to be a man.” (Avot 2:6)

Remember, “Birth is G‑d saying you matter.”2 And you really do. We all do. We all have our special role to play. And if we don’t fill up our alloted space, we are destined to fail others who are relying upon us.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)

In this quote from the Apostle Paul, he reminds us of the exact same thing. We all have our role, and we must not only fill that role, but we must also be content with that role.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:20)

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21, ESV).

I believe humility is the starting point for this. Once we realize the space we are supposed to occupy, we can begin filling it properly and neither spilling out onto others, nor shrinking back from our responsibilities. Are you occupying your proper space?

 

  1. Morinis, Alan, (2008). Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar. Trumpeter, 52
  2. Jacobson, Simon, (1995). Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe (a Collection of Teachings By Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson). William Morrow Paperbacks, 14

What’s Stopping You?

One of this week’s mussar teachings from A Daily Dose of Torah (ADDT) references arguments & techniques of the yetzer hara (our “evil inclination” – or as Paul would say, our “flesh”) which keep us from achieving our potential. It summarizes it as follows:

The arguments and persuasive techniques of the yetzer hara are presented in two categories: (1) those that involve raising doubts about fundamental religious beliefs and faith; and (2) those that try to dissuade a person from concentrating on spiritual concerns, and urge him instead to focus on the physical and the self. 1

ADDT defines these things as things which raise religious doubts, and arguments which cause us to loose our spiritual direction. I would like to broaden these to two general categories. In a nutshell, the two things that keep us from fulfilling our divine purpose in life are Doubts and Distractions.

Doubts

We have all had doubts that creep in as to our purpose… Should we be doing this? Should we be doing that? Should we have done this? Should we have done that? Is this really the choice I am supposed to make? What if I’m wrong? The list goes on and on. Doubt is a huge factor in following the will of the Almighty. The problem with doubt is that it is so deceptive. In nearly every case, we can overcome doubt by looking at the possible outcomes of our choices, and the “what if” scenarios. “What if” we made this choice? “What if” we made that choice? Would it be a disaster? In some cases, yes, it would be. But in the vast majority of cases, no, it would not. It would just mean that we would fail trying to accomplish something. Therefore, our pride is the only thing standing in our way. Our pride guards our doubts, and therefore cripples us from ever really knowing if something was the will of the Almighty or not.

“…the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6)

I don’t believe that it is as much of waiting to hear clearly sometimes as it is taking initiative and allowing our Heavenly Father to open and close doors along the way. He can do much more with one who is in “drive” than in “park.” In other words, “Get off your duff, and go for it!”

Distractions

In regard to distractions, I think this may be the single-most pitfall of Western Christianity. We are so distracted by entertainment (and even “edutainment”) that the Adversary doesn’t have to work hard to keep us from fulfilling our purpose. Our X-boxes, Wiis, iPads and smartphones keep our minds revolving around things other than our spiritual needs. We are constantly being inundated by the TV as to what to eat, wear, & buy. Not only do we rush off to get the latest trendy gadget or hairstyle, but most of the time we view it as a “necessity.” What if we focused all of that time, energy & money on doing something that would have eternal repercussions? What if we weren’t so distracted from our spiritual purposes? The sages were unsympathetic in regard to making excuses for distractions:

Rabbi Jacob said: If a man is walking by the way and is studying and then interrupts his study and says: “How fine is this tree?” or “How fine is this plowed field?” Scripture regards him as though he was liable for his life. (Avot 3:9)

The author of the epistle of Hebrews says something similar:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

And then Paul admonishes us:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

So… we can either use our time to serve our flesh, or to serve our Heavenly Father.

Rabbi Yosi said… Let all your deeds be done for the sake of Heaven. (Avot 2:17)

Are you pursuing things that are eternal, or are you allowing doubts and distractions to direct your life? What if all believers across the globe actually lived out their faith every moment of every day? What if we actually put aside doubts & distractions to accomplish the work of the Kingdom? Wouldn’t that be strange…?

Wouldn’t It Be Strange

(by Charlie Peacock)

I’ve got a question for your consideration
I’ll make you privy to my contemplation
Let me say in my defense
I know it goes against all common sense

It’s not our nature
Not what we’ve been taught
Flies in the face of every lie we’ve bought
It’s hard to see it
Harder to explain
I know it cuts against the grain

Wouldn’t it be strange if riches made you poor
And everything you owned left you wanting more?
Wouldn’t it be strange to question what it’s for?
Wouldn’t it be strange?

I know we’ve got some interest to protect
A set of dots we’re committed to connect
It makes us nervous in light of how it’s been
To play a little game of pretend

Wouldn’t it be strange if power made you weak
And victory came to those who turned the other cheek
Wouldn’t it be strange to welcome your defeat
Wouldn’t it be strange?

Wouldn’t it be strange to find out in the end
The first will be the last and all the losers win?
Wouldn’t it be strange if Jesus came again?
Wouldn’t it be strange?

  1. The Kleinman Edition, A Daily Dose of Torah, Vol. 10, p. 139.

Life Without Limits

No Limits

He [Hillel] used to say: The more flesh the more worms; the more possessions the more anxiety; the more women the more witchcraft; the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more manservants the more theft. But the more Torah the more life, the more study the more wisdom; the more counsel the more understanding; the more charity (righteousness) the more peace. (Avot 2:8)

While studying this mishnah (“saying”) from Pirkei Avot, I came across some interesting thoughts in regard to Paul, and how we might understand one of his teachings on an entirely new dimension than before. First, let me give some background.

Less Is More

The more flesh the more worms; the more possessions the more anxiety; the more women the more witchcraft; the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more manservants the more theft.

This maxim can easily stand on its own. We all realize, to some degree or another, that “less” is often “more,” and “more” is often an overdose. The main point Hillel is making here is that just because we think we need “more,” it is not necessarily a good thing. “More” can often lead to our demise.

Our Animal Nature

In Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s excellent commentary on Pirkei Avot, Visions of the Fathers, he expounds upon this saying through a couple of illustrations. He says that if we look at a human being we will find that he is composed of both a physical body, and a spiritual soul. Our bodies are essentially the same as any other animal, and living for our bodies as our main priority (it’s easy to find out if this is true or not, by simply looking at where we invest our time & resources) causes us to be no better than an animal. In actuality, in some ways being an animal would really be better, because animals generally don’t over-indulge. When they have eaten to their fill, they stop. Not so with humans. Too often we eat more for pleasure than for our physical needs. Animals don’t struggle with obesity. Humans do.

So to primarily feed our physical bodies puts us at a level that is actually below the animal kingdom. We miss our calling of truly being human. Therefore, just as this mishnah states, we must attend to our physical needs with limitations.

Our Spiritual Nature

On the other hand, however, our spiritual needs are different than our physical needs. While we must be careful to limit our physical pleasures, our neshamot (our spiritual beings) should be handled with an entirely different approach. Just as God is infinite, the needs of our neshama, made from the spark of the Divine (“…breath deep the breath of God”), are also infinite. Therefore, placing a limit upon our spiritual pursuits (in contrast to our physical pursuits) may actually be detrimental to us, rather than beneficial. Rabbi Twerski sums this thought up with the following:

There are some things for which halachah does not designate an appropriate limit, but for many other spiritual activities — such as helping others or Torah study — there are no limits.1

This immediately brought my mind back to a passage from the Mishna that is recited each morning:

These are the precepts that have no prescribed measure: the corner of the field [which must be left for the poor], the first-fruit offering, the pilgrimage, acts of kindness, and Torah study. (Peah 1:1)

These things “have no limit.” They may be done “to excess.” After all, can we be too kind? Too generous? Too devout? Should we place a limit on godliness?

The Fruits of the Spirit

This brought my mind back to something we hear from the Apostle Paul that has always troubled me in its wording. In his letter to the Galatians he introduces his concept of the “fruit of the Spirit” with the following:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16,17)

He essentially does the same thing as our mishnah. He warns us against “feeding our flesh,” and contrasts this with being sensitive to the Spirit and living a more spiritual life than a fleshly one. But the curious part about it is when he actually gives us his list for the “fruit of the Spirit”:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23, emphasis mine)

Paul could have stopped with “self-control.” However, he concludes his list with the phrase, “Against such things there is no law.” In other words, these are things which “have no limit,” just as the corners of the field, the first-fruit offering, the pilgrimage, acts of kindness and Torah study. There should be no limit to love, nor joy, nor peace, nor kindness, nor goodness, nor faithfulness, nor gentleness, nor self-control.

Have you been limiting yourself unnecessarily? I know I have. Are you ready to live life without limits?

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

This is how we do it. This is how we truly live. To coin a phrase… “Just do it.”

 

  1. Twerski, Abraham, Visions of the Fathers, p. 104.