As Passover approaches many Jews go into spring-cleaning mode. Getting rid of chametz concretizes into actions such as putting away all of our everyday pots and dishes, or making them kosher for Passover. Many of us also clean out the “gook” that accumulated in the bottom corners of our refrigerator and conduct a detailed cleaning of the inside of our cars.
Often we put so much of our focus into the quality of the cleaning in order to not have chametz on Passover that we forget to think about the spiritual meaning of these cleaning actions. Similarly, when we eat matzah during the week of Passover our thoughts are often on digestion–or lack of–rather than on the spiritual meaning of matzah.
The spiritual meanings of chametz and matzah are actually the flip-sides of the very same Jewish mystical teaching.
So what is the mystical teaching about chametz and matzah? The characteristic of chametz is that it rises and rising symbolizes pride, while matzah, which is flat, symbolizes humility. Thus, the process of getting rid of our chametz is not just about getting rid of physical chametz. It is about ridding ourselves of our “spiritual chametz” – which is our pride and ego, and replacing it with a humility.
It is important to deflate our ego because the more ego one has, the less space s/he has in his/her life God and Godly activities – which leads to more spirituality and real meaning in our lives.
Egotistical people tend to think they are entitled. To cite just a couple of examples: they think that the size of their bank account is a result of their own intelligence and effort rather than God; and we are probably all familiar with egotistical people who think that various rules and deadlines do not apply to them.
A humble person, however, realizes that everything s/he has, from their job to their family and health, is a gift from God. A humble person also doesn’t spend their time complaining, but tries to be part of the solution.
In sum, Judaism teaches that the amount of potential spirituality and meaning in our lives is inversely proportional to the size of our ego; and in order to help people overcome their ego, the Torah commands us to rid our domains of chametz every year before Passover. Therefore, instead of looking with disdain at the amount of time and effort it requires to rid my house and car of chametz, I look at it as being spiritually therapeutic.
So this year when we are scraping the black grit from our oven after spraying it with oven cleaner, I hope we all remember that if we want to live a more spiritual and truly meaningful life then the first step is to reduce our ego.
By Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman
Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman is a middle school science teacher and he writes on Jewish topics.