It has become the “in thing” for many Jewish mothers to go to a hotel for Passover. Even though this was not the practice of their own mothers, going to a hotel instead of cleaning is becoming the widespread custom for many who can afford – and even for those who cannot afford – such luxury. I was in a small toy store inJerusalem, and I heard the following comment from a religious, female employee to her friend. “I work all year long just so that I can afford the hotel and not have to clean my house for Pesach!!”
Let us take a reality check. What, exactly, are we inspecting in “bedikat chametz”? While reviewing the laws of checking the house for chametz, The Halachic authority mentioned that although the house should be cleaned before one checks, one must be careful, particularly in this stressful hour of checking for chametz, not to get angry at his spouse. The implication is that anger is to the soul what chametz is to kosher Pesah food. In the Yehi Ratzon prayer which we recite when ridding the house of chametz, we say that our intention is also to check and cleanse our hearts for the spiritual chametz that is there. This spiritual chametz is “The evil side of the evil inclination”. And one who is free from spiritual chametz should certainly not be getting angry.
Now, let us direct our focus to an interesting Jewish law about Matza. The only Matza with which one can fulfill his obligation on Seder night is matza made from ingredients that can become Chametz. Matza that is made out of rice and “dochan” is not valid for fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah on the night of the Seder. We learn this from the psukkim. We need flour that can become chametz – allegorically, flour that has the possibility of becoming “evil” – it is up to us to make sure that we get only the good out of it. We are meant to find the good existing within the evil inclination. Paralleling the good and not good components of dough – the elements we catch before they have a chance to become chametz – there are elements in our personalities which must be “caught” and directed to constructive purposes. How is this to be done? The following insight was introduced to me this last week by R’ Aharon Feldman, sh’lita.
The Torah teaches that expression is a human need. Ruach, Nefesh and Neshama are our “spokesmen”. Ideally, the Neshama should be the source of our expression, as the Neshama strives only toward good. (Ruach is the root of the ego- how one perceives himself; Nefesh is the internal drive for earthly needs and wants. In simple terms: The Neshama wants to do what is purely good. The Ruach wants to do what looks good. And the Nefesh wants to do what feels good.) Within Ruach and Nefesh, there are, as it were, “ulterior motives” – goals that are self-serving, goals that pull us down. Ruach, the ego, can be healthy self esteem, or – in its chametz aspect – a drive to make an impression on others by flaunting wealth or intelligence. Nefesh, relating to material needs, is healthy when taking care of necessities: its negative side is pursuing luxury and excesses.
When the negative side of these soul components takes over, the Neshama is clouded. Positive expressions stem from the Neshama. Expressions of Ruach and Nefesh must ideally be filtered through the Neshama, which is “an integral part of our Creator, on high” חלק אלוקה ממעל . Thus, sifting through the expressions of Ruach and Nefesh empower the Neshama to shine forth. Just by negating and discrediting the irrational thoughts of running after honor and fame, or pleasures and dreams, we help the desire of the Neshama to express itself.אלקי- נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא ”HaShem! The soul which You have given me is pure….” The purity of good will is lucid and even powerful .
Let us examine the filtering process in regard to self esteem. There are two ways to tap into the healthy self esteem within us. One is by reinforcing it: recognizing the areas in life in which we were and are successful. The second possibility is to recognize the senselessness of the irrational, self-defeating thoughts that make us look at ourselves as failures. Positive, healthy self esteem that we all have in us, even without reconstructing it, is one of the aspects of our Neshama and Ruach. We can see that when we remove the evil from the yetzer hara, from our Ruach and Nefesh, from the expression of negative actions and behaviors, there remains a positive essence.
How does all this affect our relationship with G-d?
We are commanded to love G-d and fear Him. How can we understand being commanded to have a particular emotion? We either have the emotion, or we do not – we naturally feel a certain way, or we don’t.
The answer is that deep down we all have a place in us where we love G-d. This feeling and expression is that of the Neshama, coming through the Nefesh. The reason why sometimes we do not feel our love for Him is because of our irrational thoughts and expectations. Or our passion for worldly things that clouds the feeling of love toward G-d . When we remove these worldly passions and desires, our love for and belief in Him are revealed. This happens at special, memorable moments in everyone’s life. It is simply the Neshama expressing itself through the Nefesh. It happens even in the lives of people who seem to be the most distant from spirituality.
R’ Yehuda Tzadka, zt”l, related a story about a close friend of his to his students. The friend had wanted to increase merit for Jewish neighbors who did not have a mezuzah by offering them to write and put up a mezuzah on their door – all costs covered . At one of the doors that he knocked on, a woman opened, and, hearing his request, declined the offer. She said, “Thank you, Rabbi, but I am a non – believer”.
Just at that moment, her daughter popped out of one of the bedrooms and said to her mother- “Mom – do not lie. Last week when I had a 39-degree fever, you said a prayer to G-d. The G-d who you prayed to when you needed Him is the same one who asked you to put a mezuzah on the door.” And she did.
Deep down, we are all believers. All we must do is to clear away the fog. To get rid of the chametz.