Packing peanuts. That filler material stuck in the box to prevent breakage. You would think it has nothing to do with Pesach, right?
A few years ago, a friend showed me a halachic guide that discussed a kind of packing peanut that was wheat- or corn-starch based. The guide recommended getting rid of them for Pesach. Our first observation is that there are grounds to be lenient and the issue is complex and interesting. (Obviously, if this problem is relevant to you, you should ask your own rabbi.)
However, we have this tendency when it comes to chameitz to be more stringent than usual. This is based on the Ar”i za”l, who says that while halakhah only requires we eliminate pieces of chameitz that can possibly combine to be bigger than a kezayis, we should eliminate from our homes every taint of chameitz.
Chameitz, the Ar”i explains, is representative of the yeitzer hara, and therefore “Anyone who removes all chameitz from their house is assured of having a year without sin.”
So while it’s laudable to go after every speck of chameitz, my friend had to ask: Why are we spending day after day cleaning up dust, and absolutely none preparing for Pesach by removing our spiritual chameitz?
Good question, I thought. But what is “spiritual chameitz“? How do I get rid of something until I know what it is?
Let’s start with the converse. We know that chameitz isn’t matzah. There is plenty of Torah about the meaning of matzah. Perhaps if we look at that and take the opposite, we can get an idea of what chameitz means.
In historical order, the first time we find matzos in the Pesach story is during their servitude. Magid begins with the Aramaic words “Ha lachma anya — this is the poor bread which our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim.” In Hebrew, “lechem oni“, bread of poverty. Matzah as an experience of poverty and humility.
We are also given a second translation of “lechem oni“. Not only is “oni” a reference to poverty, but it can also be taken to mean “answer”. Matzah is also “she’onim alav devarim harbei — about which we answer many things” (Pesachim 36a). This is the matzah of which the Torah says “… וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ חָמֵץ וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל גְּבֻלֶךָ. וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר… — and you shall not have chameitz, and you shall not find any leaven in all your borders. And you shall tell your children on that day, saying…” (Shemos 13:7-8)
Third, the Pesach offering must be eaten “on matzos and maror”. Matzah was eaten the night of the exodus, immediately before Par’oh expellled us from his country. Simply because Hashem said it is a “choq olam — a decree, forever” (Shemos 12:17). Matzah as obedience to Hashem.
Last, there is the matzah of the exodus itself. When “וַיִּשָּׂא הָעָם אֶת בְּצֵקוֹ טֶרֶם יֶחְמָץ — the nation carried the dough because it could not leaven” (ibid v. 34). We left with zerizus, haste to do what right.
So we find that matzah speaks to four things: humility, acting thoughtfully, commitment, and zerizus.
The four find parallel in the four cups of wine, giving these messages to the structure of our seder.
The first cup is filled before Qadeish. After qiddush, allowing us to drink that wine, it addresses Urchatz, Karpas and Yachatz — washing in preparation for dipping a vegetable in salt water, the dipping itself, and breaking the middle matzah in two. When we break that matzah, we say “Ha lachma anya — this is the bread of poverty that we ate in Mitzrayim”. (Most Haggados place this within Maggid, but I think making it the explanation of why we’re breaking the matzah in Yachatz fits better. None of which impacts the point of this post.) All of which refer to humility, to life as a slave in Egypt.
After “Ha lachma anya” we fill the second cup for Maggid, and leave that cup out until it is drunk at the end of Maggid — telling the story of the Exodus. This is “answering over it many things”. Learning and teaching.
The third cup is poured before Motzi, and is out while we eat the matzah, the maror, and the meal. We reenact the eating of the Pesach offering (in two different ways, the majority opinion and Hillel’s), fulfilling all the physical mitzvos of the evening still available to us. This is the step of commitment and obedience.
The last cup is before us as we sing Hashem’s praises. It’s a cup purely of redemption, of leaving Egypt — both the historical and our current Egypts — with alacrity. “ישועת ה´ כהרף עין — the salvation of G-d is like the blink of an eye.” (Idiom from Pesiqta Zutrasa, Esther 4:17, popularized by the Abarbanel’s repeated use)
Getting back to our original question, if matzah reminds us of humility, acting thoughtfully, commitment, and zerizus, what is it we need to rid ourselves of before Pesach? Egotism. mindless routine, lack of commitment, procrastination.
In this light, the Ar”i’s statement is more easily comprehensible. If we eliminate these character flaws, we’d have far less motivation to sin. Following the common customs the Ar”i’s words inspired gives us time in various parts of every room, time we could spend replaying scenes from the past year and how we interacted with our family. If we are to go beyond the letter of halakhah and remove every possible speck of chameitz, it would be appropriate to do so with thoughts of eliminating our motivators for sin.
This is a — if not the — key feature of preparing for Pesach. And if we can do so, we can merit to not only celebrate the great Shabbos of Shabbos haGadol, but also the Great Shabbos of “life of the world to come” (traditional Shabbos Zemirah).