I'm Jon Spira-Savett, rabbi at Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, New Hampshire. This website and blog is a resource for Jewish learning and Jewish action. It is a way to share my thoughts beyond my classes and weekly Divrei Torah. You'll find blog posts, standing resource pages with links and things to read, and podcasts as well.
Three takes on chametz as we clean and prepare our homes for Pesach:
1. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chasidism, taught that chametz represents haughtiness. Yeast comes into the mixture of simple flour and water, and it starts eating. The byproducts are gases that become trapped in the dough and expand it. So too, our egos can cause us to be puffed up, gas bags! Matzah represents humility, keeping ourselves in the proper place.
2. Rabbi Yehuda Leib of Ger noticed that the letters of the words chametz and matzah differ only in one way. One has a chet ח at the beginning and the other a hay ה at the end; the other sounds are the same. There is a leg at the left of the hay in matzah, a small leg that represents the inner point, the soul connected to directly to God and separated from the dominant world by a space. In chametz, the larger body of the letter chet fills the space and overpowers the inner point. In the same way, the rising bread represents the material forces in our lives that attempt to dominate the soul. By banishing chametz and eating matzah, we restore our focus on the inner point.
3. For the biblical farmer, Pesach was a time of clearing out the old grain remaining from last year's harvest. Old grain lies around, damp from the winter rain. Fermenting occurs naturally -- chametz -- a sour taste, a sign of spoiling. On Pesach, we eat new bread without any taste of sour fermentation. This is the Torah's new year, a time to burn off anything sour from the past year, a time of freshness for our souls and our lives.
A zissen and kosher Pesach -- Wishing you a sweet and kosher Pesach!
The Baal Shem Tov thought of the Jew's relationship to God as a romance, and it disturbed him to see how many rituals had become routine rather than rapturous acts, exercises in repetition rather than gestures of surprise -- a hand without a heart. Faith was fire, not sediment. Did not a pillar of fire serve as a guide when the people Israel roamed in the wilderness? And fire was the beginning of light.
One of his contributions was to awaken a zest for spiritual living, expressed in hitlahavut, which literally means "being aflame" -- the experience of moments during which the soul is ablaze with an insatiate craving for God, when the memory of all other interests and the fear of misery and persecution are forgotten...The Baal Shem thought that obedience without passion, comformity without spontaneity was but a skeleton, dry, meager, lifeless. A Jew should serve God with ardor. It was necessary, vital, to have fire in the soul.
Next week is the first week of Adar, the month of Purim and joy. So here are some words from Heschel about the Baal Shem Tov, who restored simcha to the center of Judaism:
The Baal Shem Tov was the founder of the Hasidic movement, and Mezhbizh was the cradle in which a new understanding of Judaism was nurtured. When millions of our people were still alive in Eastern Europe and their memory and faith vibrated with thought, image, and emotion, the mere mention of Reb Israel Baal Shem Tov cast a spell upon them. The moment one uttered his name, one felt as if his lips were blessed and his soul grew wings.
The Baal Shem Tov made being Jewish a bliss, a continuous adventure. He gave every Jew a ladder to rise above himself...Rarely in Jewish history has one man succeeded in uplifting so many individuals to a level of greatness...The Baal Shem Tov brought about a radical shift in the religious outlook of Jewry. In ancient times the sanctuary in Jerusalem had been the holy center from which expiation and blessing radiated out to the world. But the sanctuary was in ruins, the soul of Israel in mourning. Then the Baal Shem Tov established a new center: the tzaddik, the rebbe -- he was to be the sanctuary. For the Baal Shem Tov believed that a man could be the true dwelling place of the Divine.
When we listen to the Baal Shem, we hear words issuing without premeditation from an overflowing heart, like the strains from the harp hanging over David's bed...The Baal Shem Tov was the Song of Songs of his time, intoxicated with the love of God.