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Clearing “Chametz” from Our Souls #721

04/08/2022 06:50:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Shabbat HaGadol
Clearing "Chametz" from Our Souls

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been feeling a bit flat.

In the words of the poet, “It’s been a long, cold lonely winter.”

We’ve weathered another Covid variant. Events in Ukraine have dragged us back into a World War II mindset.

Lies and bent truths continue to permeate public opinion. We can’t even agree on how to combat a basic health crisis like Covid

A few months ago, I purchased from a third party service tickets to the New York Mets home owner. When it was rescheduled to the afternoon of Passover, I tried calling to exchange my tickets. I was placed on hold for three hours with an assurance that "your call is important to us."

I’m almost always a positive person, but these days. I’m feeling physically overloaded and spiritually “meh.” I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’m alone.

Judaism has a remedy for this.

We call it Passover, which like all things Jewish, is not a simple endeavor. Indeed, Pesach presents us with a challenge almost as profound as the one we face around the High Holidays.

Will we get caught up in the physical weeds of the season — planning our meals and family gatherings — or will we get down to the spiritual meaning of the season?

Until about 100 years ago, this Shabbat was unique within Jewish tradition.

It was one of two times a year that the synagogue’s rabbi addressed the congregation. Rabbis were seen as teachers, not inclined to deliver weekly sermons.

But between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — and then again before Passover — the rabbis would share a long, “clarifying” sermon. Therefore, we call this Sabbath, Shabbat HaGadol — “the Great Shabbat.”

It was a time to help focus the community on why we celebrate Pesach in the first place.

Yes — it is important to commemorate the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. And yes, we are reminded that the Israelites did not have enough time to let their bread rise — so we eat Matzah.

Yes — we are also commanded to rid our homes of bread related items known as chametz. But is there more?

Rabbi Yehudah Prero once wrote that while ridding our homes of physical chametz is important, the yeast we should be more concerned about is the chametz that bloats our soul.

That yeast tends to grow within us during winter, and this has only been accentuated during the pandemic.

Soon after pandemic stay-at-home restrictions were initiated in the spring of 2020, scientists at the University of California in San Francisco analyzed data and found that, on average, people took about 27 percent less steps a day, or about 1,432 fewer steps.

Cardiologist Geoff Tison recently noted that while physical activity levels are now gradually increasing, they have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. "Folks are creatures of habit and it's been almost two years,” he recently stated. “I think it is possible that people are just less used to being active.”

Psychologists note that the more idle time we submit to, the more spiritual stagnation we experience.

We tend to become more stubborn and pessimistic. We are less patient and more confrontive. Gossip increases. Negative habits are embraced.

It is that spiritual yeast, which our ancient rabbis warned us about on this, the Shabbat preceding Passover.

Rabbi Prero noted: "Just as we need to remove every speck of chametz from our household, so too we need to remove every speck of spiritual chametz from our beings."

Indeed, Pesach, aside from being a festival of rituals, is also serve a time to engage in introspection. 

Matzah should be eaten not just to recall the Jews' hasty exodus from Egypt, but also to remind us that it is healthy from time to time to "flatten our souls."

Matzah is referred to in the Haggadah as, the bread of Anyah — closely related to the word, Ani  meaning poor. This year in particular, the reference inspires us to consider how during the pandemic, we have become more spirituality impoverished.

“Poor bread” also reminds us that there are those among us who are enslaved.

We are distressed by those in Ukraine and around the world who face starvation, disease, and homelessness. We consider victims of human trafficking, those who suffer from the disease of addiction, and those affected by racism and violence.

And that is why perhaps the rabbis took to the podium this time of the year — to remind everyone that while physical preparations are important, this period also provides the opportunity to replace the yeast in our lives with seeds of hope.

Yes, the world may appear a bit more dismal this time of year, but Passover reminds us that the cycle of life is also connected to renewal.

We are reminded of this on Shabbat HaGadol — the Great Shabbat — to focus on those little crumbs gathered within us.

And in so doing, we re-engage with life and its amazing capacity for bright light and meaning to ourselves and the world. Let us consider what steps we can take.

During the days before Pesach, we exhale yeast and inhale life’s possibilities. 

The Haggadah can serve as a guide as we add inspiring readings. Rather than give in to doubt and pessimism, we can inspire our children and grandchildren with faith and hopefulness.

I will not make it to Mets home opener this year. I will be in Toronto, spending the first night of Passover with my parents. God bless them now, 97 and 96 respectively.

How lucky I am. How lucky we all are.

Within a world that seems to be a bit darker this time of year, Passover reminds us of what truly matters in our lives: family, friends, and the precious gift of life.

This is the week to begin that transition.

It begins by letting go of the negativity we have accumulated, and replace the chametz of our souls with seeds of hope for the future.

And that is what Pesach is all about.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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