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Principles of the Soul #10: The Mystical Art of Passover Cleaning

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Chaim Levine

Finding and burning the chametz is akin to finding and purging the ego to let the soul shine through.

Ah Spring. Hay fever, Spring fever. The sound of lawnmowers being restarted after months of hibernation. What spring would be complete without houses full of neurotic Passover cleaners, scurrying around hardware stores looking for everything from sandpaper to gas torches.

To the uninitiated perhaps all this Passover cleaning looks a bit mundane. Hopefully by now you know better, and the questions on your mind are more like:


  • What exactly does bending down to scour out the space under the fridge have to do with purification of the soul and achieving true freedom?



  • Can we use herring for Marror?



  • Can one use a Dustbuster to pick up chametz?


Let me reassure you that before Passover there’s not much more you can do for the old inner spirit than bowling for breadcrumbs. Why you ask? This is how it works:

You may have noticed that in Judaism we approach the spiritual through our involvement in the physical. Sitting by a river meditating is nice, but real spirituality comes from making the mundane sacred.

Further, we see the physical as bridge to the spiritual because Judaism recognizes that the physical has been created as a visceral mirror for abstract spiritual concepts. Case in point: cleaning for chametz.

The Sages say that the wick of the candle is a metaphor for the body and the flame is a metaphor for the soul.

The Talmud states that actual mitzvah of cleaning out your chametz is to be done with a candle. After the chametz is found, it is then to be burned in a flame.

The Sages say that the wick of the candle is a metaphor for the body and the flame is a metaphor for the soul. Just like however you position the wick, the flame always points upwards to the heavens, so too, no matter what you do with your body, your soul always stays true to its source. Your essence always remains pure and good, no matter what you do with yourself.

(I like to call this the "weebles wobble but they don’t fall down" theory of the soul.)




Chametz -- the air that puffs up dough into bread -- is the ego. Just as chametz makes bread look bigger than it is without adding any substance, so too an ego filled with self importance is ultimately nothing but hot air.

How to we remove the ego? The answer is through the seemingly mundane act of Passover cleaning.

We take the candle and shine it in the darkest hidden cracks, exposing the chametz. When we look at ourselves through the lens of the soul we expose the chametz hiding within and recognize it as a puffed-up illusion. Once exposed, it goes up in smoke.




Passover is the season of freedom. But freedom can only come if you have released yourself from being a slave to your ego.

If your ego has you in a death-hold, if you run after success because you think only success will you be happy, if you need other people's praise and reassurance to feel okay about yourself, you are a enslaved. If you can’t control your anger, or you are trapped by your fears, then you aren’t free. Burning away the chametz of your personality frees you to the life of the soul.

There is another spiritual idea that comes from chametz that, when understood, teaches the true nature of the ego.

Chametz is nothing but puffed up matzah. But what chametz is actually made out of is nothing less than matzah itself! So too there is an idea that the ego is nothing but a corrupt twisted desire that actually has its basis in a drive coming from the soul. For example:


  • The soul wants only to give, to help humanity and fix the world. The ego’s perverted version of this noble drive is the desire for power and control, the urge to conquer the world.



  • The soul wants to connect with the Divine. The ego wants to use spirituality to serve its needs (this is the basis for idol worship).



  • The soul wants to connect with other people meaningfully. The ego corrupts this desire into a drive to manipulate and take from people.


By seeing that often the ego is nothing but a corruption of a noble desire we can easily move past it and choose to be truly free.

Here are a couple of exercises that you can try this Passover.


  1. Ask yourself: "What ego-driven behaviors are enslaving me? What would life be like if they weren't there?" Ask God for the wisdom and understanding to see them for what they are.



  2. Try so see that some of the biggest problems your ego gives you are actually a corrupt form of something beautiful from the soul. Then pursue the noble, pure expression of that ego-driven behavior.



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