Clearing out the "Chametz"

This week’s Dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Leah Richman, CAJE’s Director of Adult Learning and Growth.

Refraining from eating chametz (bread and other leavened foods) for a week can become perfunctory for many of us. After a few days, we lose the excitement and spiritual uplift of the seder and it’s difficult to find spiritual meaning in our restrictive diet. One way to find more meaning in the full week-long holiday is to think about bread and leavened items as a symbol for something in our moral character.

Many Jewish texts equate chametz with the yetzer hara, or the evil inclination. According to Jewish tradition, we each have within us an inclination to do good and an inclination to do evil. Chametz then represents the drive to do evil, which stands in the way of our relationship with God (Rashi on Berachot 17a). More specifically, many texts suggest chametz is a symbol for arrogance, because leavened items are “puffed up” like an arrogant person’s pride (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah #117). Even the mitzvah of cleaning our homes before Pesach can become more meaningful when we view in this light. Removing chametz can be symbolic of removing the evil inclination from our hearts (Rabbi Eliezer Papo, Peleh Yo’etz)

This viewing of chametz as the yetzer harah is helpful and very Jewish. Chametz is forbidden only during Pesach and is permitted the rest of the year. Likewise, we do not view the “evil impulse,” as entirely evil. Even good things can and do come from the yetzer hara. Most of us though, get carried away with the yetzer harah, and it is important to remember the dangerous nature of it. This is why once a year we need to take the time to examine our pride and arrogance and return to a more simple and humble way of living. 

Living life at Passover means living with the simplest food there can be, matza. What can be more simple than flour and water? We add to this diet, meat, fish, potatoes, vegetables and fruits. There are very few reasonably priced processed foods available at Passover, so those who observe strictly (and oppose price gouging!) find that the diet becomes very simplified. I have taken the occasion in the past to use this week to do a return to healthy living. Without all the ready-made cakes and snack foods available to buy at every location, it is easier to return to the foods that G-d meant for us to eat. 

Returning to wholesome living gets us back in touch with nature and simplicity and reminds us that we are created by G-d. When we make this G-d connection, we become more humble, focused less on ourselves and our own complaints, and more on helping others. May we all take these last few days of Passover as a chance to examine our impulses and our behaviors, and as an opportunity to for change for the better. Every day has the opportunity of being the first day of the rest of your life.  Being in the spring, Passover has the distinct advantage of enjoying the themes of renewal.  So enjoy the parsley even after your seder! 

I wish you all a chag kasher v’ sameach for the remainder of the holiday.


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