Batya Hefter
Batya Hefter

‘Bedikat Hamitz’ — keeping in check

‘In the night [first ‘light’] of the 14th [of Nisan] the chametz must be searched for by the light of a candle. Any place into which chametz is never brought needs no searching…’Pesachim 1:1 (Oxford translation)

This first ‘light’ of the 14th, does not refer to daylight, but to the ‘beginning’; it means the very beginning of the 14th day, which begins the night before, as darkness descends on the 13th day. In darkness, we check to see if we have chametz, by the light of the candle.

‘Any place where there is no chametz — leavening, does not require checking.’
Chazal were very practical about the extent of checking that is necessary. Any place where you might usually expect chametz to require checking, but not more than that. You have to check the places where you usually leave chametz, places where you can see, where you typically go and where you can physically reach. The Mishna stresses this and limits our responsibility to that which is realistic.

Chametz, this leavened substance, which requires ‘checking’ can be compared to our evil inclination, the inflated part of ourselves. Like chametz, which has become bloated and has ‘forgotten’ that it is really nothing more than just water and flour, we too often lose touch with the simplicity of our truer selves and forget who we really are.

The first ‘light’, the day before we usher in Pesach, the holiday of freedom, we are told to check our own internal chametz, those pretentions that may be the cause of our disconnection, our unrealistic expectations, our misunderstanding of others and of ourselves, or perhaps the illusion of our own control and influence. We scrutinize those aspects of ourselves that keep us trapped and enslaved. We shine the ‘ohr’, the light, and bring to our consciousness that particular chametz, and we do our best to clear out the clutter in our minds, so that we can return to the simplicity of our basic, more authentic selves.

‘Any place where there is no chametz — leavening, does not require checking.’

As we saw, there is a statute of limitations put on the extent to which we are held accountable to get rid of our chametz, and this goes for our personal chametz as well. How responsible for our flaws, our transgressions, our unhealthy or unbalanced desires can we be held? How much checking must we do, to what extent can we get rid of the chametz, to what extent can one purify one’s heart? Can we really clear away all of the chametz so that only the simple ‘matzah’, the most basic and essential part of who we truly are, is all that remains?

Moreover, if our freedom, going out of Egypt, our personal mitzrayim (literally, narrow straights) depends on getting rid of all of our chametz, can we ever be free?

R. Ya’akov Leiner, in the context of the Pesach narrative, teaches that our emotional and spiritual nature is constructed of ten characteristics (the ten sephirot). The lower seven categories (malchut, yisod, hod, netzah, tifferet, gevurah and chessed) correspond to our actions and our emotions. Since these are areas that we can see and feel, we are held accountable to check, to do ‘berur’, (ethical and spiritual refinement) only in those areas. Only those revealed places require ‘bedikah’, searching for chametz.

However, in the areas which are out of reach and inaccessible, the hidden recesses of our minds which are beyond human comprehension, (binah, chochma, keter), there we are not required to do ‘bedikah’.

On erev Pesach, we are asked to do bedikah, to check our own internal chametz, only on those ‘shelves’ where we can reach. If we earnestly shine that light of introspection on our personal chametz, and do our best to cleanse ourselves of the flaws we can see, then, R. Ya’akov Leiner teaches, The Holy One Blessed be He, will do His part, so to speak. He will take us out of mitzrayim, the narrow places, the unhealthy constraints that have been holding us back in our lives. This reciprocity is not some magical thing but is a direct result of our effort; it is the generous effluence that may naturally flow forth from our sustained, concerted labor.

This year, as you light your candle to check for chametz, try to stay focused. Remember, we are required to clean out and purify only those places where the light shines. If we do so sincerely, we may merit to experience for ourselves the freedom of Pesach.

About the Author
Batya Hefter is founder and Rosh Beit Midrash of The Women’s Beit Midrash of Efrat and Gush Etzion and the founder of the Women’s Beit Midrash of Cleveland. She holds a Masters in Rabbinic Thought from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After being the Executive Director of the Women’s Beit Midrash for 21 years, she is now the director of the newly emerging Transformative Torah Project whose focus is to transmit the teachings and spiritual path of the hasidic masters for the seeking modern Jew.
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