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At the beginning of the night of the 14th of Nisan (the evening before Passover), check for chametz (leavened products) by the light of a candle, in the holes and in the hidden spots, in all the places that chametz might have entered.
The Shulkhan Arukh, 431:1, 16th Century codified source of Jewish Law
As I begin my Passover cleaning, I am keeping my eyes on the prize: a home that is free of chametz. The quote above describes the final act of Passover cleaning. This experience, performed in the dark, with one tiny flame, reminds us that although we are each small individuals — and a small people — we have a profound impact on our own redemption.
On the night before Passover, after all of our cupboards have been cleaned of chametz and our kitchens have been made kosher for Passover, Jews all over the world search their homes with a candle in one hand and a feather and wooden spoon in the other. Tradition tells us to plant little pieces of bread throughout our homes, and then, in the dark of night, to search for them. These pieces of chametz are then collected and burned the next morning, before we say the final proclamation ridding ourselves of any chametz that we may have unwittingly missed in our cleaning.
This ritual — which is great fun for little ones — is not only about Passover cleaning. Chametz symbolizes the swollen parts that exist within us — our egos, our wrongdoings, our imperfections. The process of cleaning out our cupboards is symbolic of the internal cleaning we desire to do at this time of year.
Why, then, does the Shulkhan Arukh tell us to do this final act of cleaning in the depths of the night? Would it not make more sense to do this in broad daylight, when all can be seen?
No. We engage in this final search in darkness of the night for a reason. On the night before Pesach, as we stand with a candle in hand, we recognize that there is much darkness in our world, and that we are continually in need of redemption — both in our own personal lives and in the universal human struggles that plague our larger communities. We acknowledge that this redemption cannot come without our commitment to being the very candle we hold. It is our job to be the flame, truly shining our light into the darkness, into the crevices and holes that are filled with our personal chametz; by facing our most personal struggles, we begin our self-improvement for the coming year. We must not limit our light to our own crevices, however. We must also shine our light into the larger world, illuminating the various ills of society and doing our part to solve our more universal problems.
The Sfat Emet, a 19th Century Chasidic Commentator, teaches that we each have a pure kernel of God within us. This kernal is renewed each year at Passover, and it is our job, for the remainder of the year, to allow this kernal to emerge and expand to spread this deep goodness.
This kernal is our candle, our flame.
Each Passover we tell of our past redemption and we dream of our redemption in the future. May we strive this Passover to move from dream to action. May we connect with that Godly flame inside of ourselves, and may we embody it. May we allow that light to shine brightly in the dark areas of our lives, spotlighting the corners where there is chametz, and enabling us to become better individuals as we work to create a more just world.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronounced: nee-SAHN, Origin: Hebrew, Jewish month, usually coinciding with March-April.