How to Get To Pesach
The spiritual level of Pesach involves many things: leaping beyond our conventional view to reach the clarity of pure Hesed (understanding that everything that exists and happens is an expression Divine love and Grace), disclosing the hidden, secret Shabbat that is always present within the ever-changing flow of time, and empowering the Heart’s true desire to praise its Source. But how do we get ourselves into a condition in which such lofty goals may be attained– through the mitzvah of bediqat chametz (finding our “leavening agent.”)
So the question really is, “what is looking for chametz?” There is a great prayer from Reb Nosson of Breslov that can help us in this. As brilliant as Reb Nosson’s teachings are, for me, it is his prayers that are often most instructive. Rebbe Nachman gave him the practice of transforming all teachings into prayers in order to move the teaching from the mind that hears and records and classifies to the mind of the heart: to the intelligence of the heart that is in direct relationship with the Source. Reb Nosson’s prayers speak directly in the language of the heart that relates to Source as You, as something that is present, as Presence and Being. So he has a special prayer for the month of Nisan, for before Pesach. He says something like this: “please let me eat this matzah, let me taste and eat this matzah all the days of Pesach and let me not have even mashehu chametz …not even the least bit of chametz during the days of Pesach so that I’ll be able to eat chametz the rest of the year.” That’s his prayer and that’s his focus: the secret of really doing Pesach. “Let me eat matzah for eight days and not have the least bit of chametz so that the rest of the year at least I will be able to eat chametz.”
So, you have to ask yourself, “what’s he talking about?” Everybody knows that before Pesach, Jews do an external cleaning. Some people go to all kinds of extremes to make sure that there’s not a crumb of chametz (anything with leavening) in their house. We have the spiritual instructions called “bediqat chametz,” you should look for chametz and you should burn the chametz if you find it; you have to find it and get rid of it.
But the funny thing is that when you do the practice of looking for the chametz you say the blessing, al bi’or chametz (for burning chametz). Even though you didn’t actually burn it yet! So, why are you saying the blessing over burning the chametz when you’re just looking for the chametz? That’s the secret. Because when we’re looking, doing the “bediqat chametz, we are bringing our awareness to recognition of the leavening agent in our experience, “chametz.” Doing the mitzvah of bedikat chametz means that you are using awareness to find chametz in yourself. You can learn from the fact that the blessing that we say when we do this search is not, “al bediqat chametz,” but “al bi’or chametz,” that the looking itself is already part of burning the chametz. When you shine the light of awareness on the places in yourself where this chametz appears there’s already a process of eliminating it.
The proof text is Proverbs 20:27, “ner Hashem nishmat adam:” the light, the candle of G-D is the human soul. The candle with which you look for the chametz is the awareness of the heart that you are shining on all the places in yourself, all parts of yourself. So the instructions (exoterically) say: you should do this process during “the light of the fourteenth of the month.” “Light” here means “sunset,” when the light is changing from one day to the next, meaning at dusk. But Reb Nosson points out, as did others, that all the exoteric instructions have deeper meanings. Why do the instructions precisely say, “light of the fourteenth (of the month of Nisan)?” Because you have to bring the light of awareness to the “four and ten”: four worlds and ten sefirot. You have to bring the light of awareness to the ten sefirot of all four worlds. It is this inner examination that can raise us to the level of Pesach so the mouth can speak from the heart and Pesach can reveal the hidden aspect of Shabbat, and we can leap beyond the rational mind and believing in all the ways we think things are working, to the place of recognition of Divine Providence, “something is happening but you don’t know what it is,” as Bob Dylan sings. Something IS happening but you don’t know, exactly, what it is and that’s as close as we come to knowing, according to Reb Nachman and Reb Nosson…
In doing this, we begin to realize that we’re being pulled into Pesach. Hesed (the right hand of G-D) is pulling us into Pesach. There’s something guiding us and it’s that Da’at, that consciousness that opens us to Divine Guidance that is playing hide-and-go-seek with us most of the time. Each time we have a Shabbat or we have a Pesach we get an opportunity to look through that window into the way things really are just at that moment, it’s so precious, so priceless to have that opportunity. We should be able to look through the window that opens to where Heaven and Earth are rejoicing together and understand that everything that is happening is being guided by that vision which is always calling us, sometimes only in the gentlest way and sometimes in ways that aren’t so gentle but we don’t realize that those ways are also expressions of Divine Grace; expressions of the Love that is guiding the entire world.
So, in following the instructions of “bedikat chametz,” we’re looking for chametz, we’re looking for all those places which block us in our minds from recognizing Divine Providence: seeing where we’re held down, where we really don’t quite believe it here. We have to go through each of the four worlds. We have to go through of our actions (World of Assiyah): how do we act? How’s our Malchut doing, our sense of what we think is powerful. Do you really think that a few people in some powerful institutions are really determining everything that is going on in this world? That’s chametz. The thing that’s blocking us from recognizing that Life doesn’t really work that way. There is something behind the scenes. There’s something beyond what we can see that is really guiding the whole show. You have to take an account of your soul, of your self. When I really take a look at myself I’m looking for chametz, my chametz. What are the places where I fall into the trap of falling asleep– so I think that this is happening like this and that’s happening like that and that’s why I get angry about this or get angry about that or whatever it is that is blocking us, that’s taking us away from Shabbat? That’s chametz.
This is the world of action: how do I think it works? What do I really believe is going on here? And I have to check myself out: where am I blocked and where am I holding on to something that is constricting me, in this case, keeping me in Mitzrayim?
Then you have to look at Yetzirah, the emotional level, how feelings are aroused and whether we’re expressing them with attachment or identifying with them? That is the realm of feeling.
Then we have to go up into the level of Bri’ah. We have to look at our construction of the world, our ideas and concepts and beliefs, and see if we have any chametz up there. Are there concepts that we really think are true that bind us and limit us because of our attachment to them?
And then we have to look for chametz in Atzilut. We have to go to our spiritual world, our spiritual life and see where we’re bound there. That’s sometimes a tough one because we have to see whether we’re holding on to beliefs and practices that we might think are very spiritual, but nevertheless might be blocking us from something deeper. It’s very easy to get attached in that level and that can lead to a lot of disappointment and frustration. If you have distortions in the spiritual world and the way things are, it can strengthen our sense of being separate. Our sense of knowing, which in a certain sense is something that grows, is something that we always have to be transcending. Rebbe Nachman famously said to his students that, “you think my knowing is something special, but my ‘not-knowing’ is way higher than my knowing.” You want to have a lot of “not-knowing” in your spiritual world, in Atzilut. If you have a lot of not-knowing, there’s a lot of room for more knowing and then you can feed the knowing to somebody else so you keep opening to not-knowing and that way, you can keep receiving. There really needs to be a lot of humility. As Moshe Rabbeinu is called “the Most Humble,” of all people. In the spiritual world, it’s always good to have the sense of not so much attainment, that you haven’t attained so much. A lot of the chassidim, Rebbe Nachman especially, always emphasized you should always see yourself as a beginner, like Suzuki roshi’s, “Beginner’s Mind.” Better to be able to begin anew and never think that you did anything yet and that’s a chassidic principle: that I didn’t even get started yet.
So this is bedikat chametz. And this is the meaning of Reb Nosson’s prayer, “Please let me taste this matzah for eight days. There shouldn’t even be ANY chametz at all during Pesach. In general, a dish doesn’t have to be 100% in order to be kosher. Sixty parts kosher can cancel one part not kosher. But when it comes to Pesach, Reb Nosson wants no chametz at all. You can’t fix chametz by sixty times more matzah. So you want to have NO chametz, no chametz at all.
So, you do the search, but how can you succeed in this? How would you even know that there isn’t still more chametz? Even so, what we have to do is LOOK for chametz, that’s the mitzvah, that I’m going to look, I’m going to take the time and reflect and see if I can find my chametz. But I don’t assume even then that I managed to find everything. So I burn the rest and do a ritual where I say, “if I missed something, it’s not mine. If I missed it, it’s not mine.” After the search, you have to make the radical move of dis-identifying with any chametz that you couldn’t find for the sake of Pesach. We’ve just disowned any chametz that you couldn’t find. Do your best and after you do it you just deny that any of the chametz (that might remain) is yours.
So, matzah represents pure Da’at, pure consciousness. Ordinarily,”consciousness” doesn’t come without chametz. Chametz represents all of the extensions—all appearances within pure consciousness itself. All of the garments are our chametz, all the levels of concealment (of the underlying reality that can’t ever be seen) are chametz. On Purim we learn how the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) is dressed up in all the garments of the world and that’s basically the way the world is all the year– except for the week of Pesach. The week of Pesach we want to reach the level of the Shekhinah beli levushim (without garments). This is Da’at shlemah, the pure Da’at: the pure Da’at of no chametz. We want to be there!
We want to be there for that week. We want to dedicate ourselves for a week and especially on the seder nights that not even the least bit of chametz should even be there, not even the least. Not even in the least veil should separate us from the level of hashgachah (recognizing Divine Providence). The whole week of Pesach we want to jump up beyond the level of the rest of the year. The rest of the year, to some extent, to live in the world you’re going to have chametz. We live in the world of chametz. What other world is there?
But how are you going to live in the world of chametz without getting lost in it? Because of the miracle of Pesach you are able to realize that state of “not even the least chametz.” So we need to make that leap to the place where your heart can open up and speaking comes from the hidden place in the heart, that place of just pure, pure, pure, pure, pure Shabbos energy, the pure energy of “the world that is coming,” the place where everyone will know and see that All is One and One is All. Everything is interconnected and that Intelligence that unites everything, that creates everything, that transforms everything, that enlivens everything, that revives and refreshes, that is present should be revealed and known to all of us.
I want to bless all of us with the energy of Reb Nosson that we should really, really, really feel how fortunate we are to be in the month of Nisan, the month of miracles, the month of EVERY miracle– the miracle that once was and the miracle that can be and that will be and the miracle of the first mitzvah and that we should run with a whole heart, full of love to do that which can connect us most deeply to the One that is concealed in our actions and that we should examine ourselves SO CAREFULLY on all levels and all worlds and we should be able to find our chametz and through the power of looking at it with a clear mind and with good will and good intention the removal of (seeing through) that chametz should already be effective and may we have the merit to be able to renounce all chametz, even the tiniest bit, for the period of Pesach.
May we really taste the matzah of Divine Providence, the matzah that needs no embellishment or concealment. Taste it for what it is. May we get such a taste that the rest of the year we will be able to eat chametz because even when we’re eating chametz after Pesach we’ll still have that taste of matzah.