One of the mitzvot associated with Passover is that of removing chametz, leaven, from one’s domain. In contemporary practice, this involves not only getting rid of pasta and cookies from the cupbord, but also, for many, cleaning everything (most especially the kitchen) thoroughly, covering up countertops on which chametz has been prepared, taking out dishes on which chametz has never been eaten, and a lot of other things. It’s a rigorous, physically demanding process of cleaning, wiping, boiling, and sorting. But at the end of it, as Passover starts, there’s often a gorgeous feeling that one has purified, in a way, one’s physical surroundings.
These preparions for Passover can feel deeply spiritual in one way, but also invite us to ask whether we’re removing the spiritual chametz from our lives along with the physical stuff. A lot of traditional commentators describe chametz as fluffy, swollen (think of bread rising), and talk about spiritual chametz as the puffy, overextended parts of our egoâ€”the way we try to posture and preen, to achieve renown rather than just existing as we are, being gentle and modestâ€”a mere humble matzah, if you will.
It’s a lot harder to sweep out our illusions about ourselves, the ways in which we try to put ourselves first, the ways in which we hear others a little less well because we think of ourselves as more important, the ways in which we take shortcuts on our integrity and deepest values. There’s no cabinet in which we can lock away our pettienesses and our meannesses for a week.
Rather, we have to seek them out. Like the search for physical chametz that happens in the dark, with a candle, we need to be intentional in our attempts to collect all of the parts of who we’ve been that are not nourishing, that are dragging us down. We need to look for it, and we need to be willing to find itâ€”to confront it, to face it, to name it, to take it from where it’s been hidden all this time. This work requires tremendous bravery.
And then, when we find it, we must burn itâ€”to give it up completely, to let it go, to transform ourselves by putting the worst of who we have been on the pyre.
We know, on some level, that like the cookie crumbs under the sofa, that some of it might come creeping back after Pesach is over. But it is the act of seeking it, naming it, and releasing it, to committing, year after year after year, to purifying the self and becoming the holiest version of who we are meant to beâ€”it is the work of seeking out and releasing our internal leaven that is, in itself, an offering to God.