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Cleansing The Soul For Pesah

By Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater | Issue Date: March 2000

Elohai N’shamah Sh’natata Bi T’horah Hi
“Oh God, the soul which you have placed inside of me is pure.”

-Morning Liturgy

Each morning, as we awake from another night’s sleep, we have the opportunity to thank God for the soul within us and to acknowledge that this soul is pure. What does it mean to be pure? How can we be so sure that our soul is pure? The liturgy is direct and assertive, leaving no room for doubt. It is from this directness, this moment of declaration, that I would like to address the process of cleaning our homes for Pesah. By seeing the kashering of the home as an opportunity to ” kasher the soul,” we can transform the cleaning into spiritual cleansing, a washing to help us to say the words of the morning liturgy with greater kavannah, greater intention and depth of meaning.

The Torah commands us not to eat hametz, anything with leaven, during Pesah (Exodus. 12:15-20). We are to dispose of all items containing hametz before the festival begins and must sell all the items that will remain in our physical possession, allowing us to be wholly free of possessing anything with hametz. Then we are to thoroughly clean our homes, scrubbing, washing and eventually covering any area which might have come into contact with hametz. We pour boiling hot water over the counter areas; we use dishes that have either been kashered for Pesah or are only used on Pesah; we buy foods that are unleavened and kosher for Pesah. But how can we use the kavannah of cleaning the house to help us understand how we can cleanse our souls.

What are the things we need to strip away from the surface of our beings to help elevate the deeper roots of our soul? In essence, what is the hametz of our soul? As we blast into the 21st century, the world which we inhabit is moving at a rapid, ravenous pace of greater technology and, as always, placing money at the heart of all things. To stop and smell a flower is seen by many as cute, or even worse, a complete waste of time.

The meaning behind the mystery, as Heschel calls it, is lost to the rat race. God lurks within each one of us, waiting to be discovered. The hametz , which needs to be burned before Pesah begins, is precisely that which prohibits us from seeing God in the world and stopping to give thanks. Our souls are pure, yet we spend a good deal of our time poisoning them with the greed of our bodies. Pesah is about freedom, liberation and eventually revelation. Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel said, “Authentic freedom is the exalted spirit to which a person and a people as a whole are elevated so that one is faithful to one’s inner self, to the image of God that is within each one of us.” This is what is meant by the words of Elohai N’shamah: the purity which is felt upon waking and realizing that we are alive another day, is the true essence of our being. By stripping away the hametz cluttering our soul, we can return to that place of freedom which lies at the root of every human being.

I want to offer some ways to engage in this process of spiritual cleansing. When we arrive at Rosh Hodesh Nisan (this year, April 6), the beginning of the month during which Pesah falls, choose one or two pieces of hametz in your life that you wish to discard. Don’t choose too many because that will only lead to frustration. Perhaps it will be giving yourself time for some daily prayer; the hametz being the rush of the day and the excuses which always block the way. Perhaps it will be not engaging in lashon ha’rah, unnecessary or hurtful speech. For each person the hametz will be different, but the end goal remains the same: cleansing the soul and preparing for the road to freedom.

Each morning, when you arise, say the words of the Elohai N’shamah. Sit in a quiet place for a few moments, and focus on the hametz you are discarding and what needs to be done for this to happen. See yourself making it happen. Then, in the 14 days from Rosh Hodesh to Pesah, cleanse your soul with intention, effort and hard work. This will not be easy, just as cleaning your entire house is not easy. However, when the first bite of matzah is in your mouth at the first seder, your soul will be just as ready for freedom as your house is. And this is the deeper meaning of the Exodus. This Pesah, help your soul to be pure, your heart to be joyous – this will make your house even cleaner.

Hag Sameah.