The Internal Search For Chametz

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

The opening Mishna of Gemara Pesachim (2a) tell us that on the night before the first Seder, we must search for chametz by the light of a candle. Why a candle? The Gemara explains by citing two biblical passages, “At that time (of Moshiach) I (GD) will search out (the transgressions of) Yerushalayim with candles.”(Tzephania 1): and “the candle of HaShem is the soul of man” (Mishlei 20)

Clearly, these pesukim, said Rav Soloveitchik, are mandating an internal search as well as an external one. What does chametz symbolize? Let us consider the chemical process that leavening entails. When any of the five grains-barley, oat, rye, spelt, and wheat-are mixed with water, the dough will rise, creating the leavened bread [we so much enjoy]. Only human intervention-continuously kneading the grain-water mixture and placing it in the oven within 18 minutes –will yield unleavened bread, or matza.

So, the prohibition against chametz teaches us never to give in to our negative impulses. We must not say it’s our nature to be angry, greedy or callous. Rather, we can and we must overcome our own nature to achieve the desired result. But we must be constantly “kneading away at it”

The Gemara Avoda Zara (17a) relates a fascinating story about a person addicted to sex. He heard about a special prostitute in the coastal cities, so he traversed 7 rivers to meet her. At .the time of the act she said, “just as expelled wind will never return to its place, so Elazar ben Duradiya will never be accepted with Teshuva (repentance)”. Elazar was shaken by her words. He begged the Earth, sun, moon and stars to pray for him, but to no avail. Finally he said, ‘the matter depends entirely upon me’ and he wept until he gave up his soul. A voice descended from heaven declaring, “R’ Elazar ben Duradiya is welcome to eternal life’”. The Gemara is telling us about a classical case of an individual predestined to an addiction. During the act of sin, he became convinced that his lifestyle needed changing. He finally realized that he had to overcome his evil inclination by himself. Thus, he learned the lesson of searching for the internal chametz.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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