Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Candle, Feather, and Spoon

By Dovid Sears

Every year on the night before Passover, we search our homes for bread or leavened products (chametz). The Gemara (Pesachim 7b) instructs us to use a candle to light up all the dark nooks and crannies, and it is customary to use a feather to sweep up the crumbs and a wooden spoon to serve as a miniature dustpan. Today, many of us use a flashlight, just to play it safe. But we still should use the candle, feather, and spoon, at least while reciting the blessing and beginning the search. The question is: what’s so special about these particular objects?

Beside their utilitarian value, perhaps these ancient “search and destroy” instruments have a deeper significance. According the Kabbalah, there are four levels of earthly existence: domem (the realm of the “silent”), tzomei’ach (vegetation), chai (living creatures), and medaber (“speaking beings,” or humans). The candle (for sure if it is made from paraffin) represents the “silent” realm; the wooden spoon represents vegetation; the feather represents the animal kingdom; and the person making the search represents humanity. However, this correspondence in turn begs another question: why should all four levels be involved in the search for chametz and its destruction?

The key to unlock this mystery may be found in the writings of Rebbe Nachman, particlarly in Likutey Moharan I, 52. By working on nullifying our negative traits through secluded meditation (hisbodedus), says Rebbe Nachman, we can come to experience the essential and true reality—the “imperative existent,” which is G-dliness. Elsewhere (Likutey Moharan I, 4), basing himself on the classic Kabbalistic work, Mishnas Chassidim, Rebbe Nachman explains that these negative traits are fourfold, corresponding to the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Specifically, the fire within human nature gives rise to anger, air produces damaging speech, water breeds evil desires, and earth can pull us down into lethargy and depression.

Perhaps we may add that these four elements in turn correspond to the four levels represented by the objects used in the search for chametz. And chametz represents the root of those negative tendencies, which is self-importance.

In Likutey Moharan I, 52, Rebbe Nachman also states that the universe was created as the necessary context for the Divine service of the Jewish people and humanity; by attaining the realization of G-dliness (da’as), we ennoble all levels of Creation. Thus, the objects used for the search represent our negative traits and their nullification; what is more, they serve as vehicles for the aliyas ha-olamos, the spiritual “ascent of all worlds.” Our efforts in self-transformation benefit the entire system of Creation.

Our Sages state: “If you save a life, you save a world” (Sanhedrin 37a). The search for chametz, which symbolically represents the purification of character traits, teaches that this also applies to saving a spiritual life—even if that spiritual life is one’s own. For the entire universe is elevated by one who reaches the ultimate goal.

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