As we enter the month of Nissan and begin our Pesach cleaning, shopping, cooking, reviewing of Halachot and everything else that goes with this beautiful holiday, I cannot help but ask the obvious question: Why does the Torah adopt the extreme attitude of chametz on Pesach? Not only are we told to clean but we must also search and burn. Should chametz be found during the holiday (“Hey, where did that Cheerio come from??”) we must immediately cover it (on Shabbat or Yom Tov) and then burn that Cheerio totally. But wait… there’s more! The normal nullification rule of 1-60 does not apply to chametz on Pesach. Imagine that: If a drop of milk accidentally falls into your chicken soup, you can still enjoy the soup but if one crumb of a Dunkin’ Donut falls into a 100-gallon (378.4541178 liter) pot of Pesadika’ chicken soup… you must spill out the soup. Why?
I’ll make the question even stronger. Our Rabbis have told us that chametz is symbolic of the ego, arrogance, and pride we need to avoid. Flour turns into chametz when yeast is added or when enough time allows it to rise. Matza has nothing added, is not made into fancy shapes and comes out simple. This is what a Jew needs to be; simple, modest and humble… so the #1 question is; Why, then, is chametz permitted the other 51 weeks of the year? If it’s so bad, make it like pork, lobster and a cheeseburger! Think about it; chametz is on top of the FBI “Most Wanted List” for 7 (or 8) days, yet you can enjoy this bad-boy, arrogant, pride-filled-food the rest of the year?? What’s going on?
To answer this question, we need to enter the world of Chassidut and see how the Chassidic masters relate to chametz. Many of the great Rebbes wrote about this concept but I will quote from just one of them; the great Slonimer Rebbe of blessed memory; the Netivot Shalom. I preface his comments with a serious warning: Once you read the next few sentences, your Pesach will be changed forever. There’s no going back. Therefore, if you’re not prepared to have the most meaningful Pesach experience of your life, stop reading this immediately and start watching a show on Netflix (Shtisel, of course…)
Here’s a summary of what the Netivot Shalom writes; Our fathers and mothers didn’t just leave Egypt, they went through a conversion process! When they came to Egypt they were simply the sons of Yaakov but when they left, they were Am Yisrael. As you know, a convert needs to leave everything from his old spiritual life behind. He can take all physical belongings but nothing else. His conversion needs to be complete. He cannot take “just one little idol” or his “small Xmas tree”… nothing!! Not one crumb! This is why the night before leaving Egypt the men all had a brit milah… they became Jewish! They were not only leaving Egypt, rather, Egypt was leaving them! Therefore, they had to clean and burn it all out and could not take anything from that old life on their new journey.
What does that mean for us? Simple; we need to do the same thing! Contrary to popular belief, the biggest challenge of the seder night is not drinking 4 cups of wine or eating all that matza… it’s fulfilling the most important goal of the night: “In every generation, one is obligated to feel as if he left Egypt!” Do you understand that? We are not just reading about leaving Egypt. We are not just talking about it… we are reliving it!! Therefore, in order for us to accomplish this task we must convert! We need to leave everything behind including all the Western values that prevent us from being complete Jews. We cannot take anything along as we march towards Eretz Yisrael to build the 3rd and final Bet Ha’Mikdash.
This is the holiday when we became the chosen nation of HaShem! That is why on this holiday – and only on this holiday – we destroy, annihilate and burn every drop of chametz and why “battul b’shishim” (the 1-60 rule) does not apply.
Am Yisrael needs to be in Eretz Yisrael following Torat Yisrael. That’s the goal and all of those ingredients must be free of chametz. May we learn this lesson and have the greatest Pesach of our lives! Welcome to the Jewish nation!!