Searching the Recesses of the Heart

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
  • הדפסה

ויקרא משה לכל זקני ישראל ויאמר אלהם משכו וקחו לכם צאן למשפחתיכם ושחטו הפסח.


And Moshe summoned the Elders of Israel, and said to them: “Draw and take for yourselves a sheep for each family, and slaughter it as a (korban) Pesach” (Shemos 12:21)


Draw – your hands away from idolatry” (Shemos Rabbah 16:2)



Before beginning the search for chametz on the night of the 14th of Nissan, it is customary to take ten pieces of chametz, and scatter them throughout the house.[1]  In the course of the search for lost chametz, these ten pieces are also gathered, and burned together with any chametz that may be found.

What is the purpose of this custom?  Bedikas chametz is a search for unknown chametz.  Why then do we deliberately hide new chametz, only in order to find and destroy it?

The Poskim make note of the unusual stringencies associated with chametz, which are unparalleled by any other forbidden food.  The Radvaz, (R’ David ibn Zimra zt”l, the Torah leader of Tzefas in the sixteenth century, and author of over 10,000 responsa),  writes as follows:


מה נשתנה חמץ בפסח מכל איסורין שבתורה שהחמירה עליו תורה להצריכו בדיקה ושרוף וכלה וגם ביטול והוסיפו חכמים להצריכו בדיקה בחורין ובסדקין ולחפש אחריו ולשרש אותו מכל גבוליו ועבר עליו בבל יראה ובל ימצא ואסרוהו בכל שהוא ואינו מתבטל כלל וחומרות כאלו לא נמצאו בכל האיסורין שבתורה.


Why is the prohibition against chametz on Pesach different from all the other prohibitions in the Torah, such that the Torah requires us to search for, burn and annul it; our Sages require us to search every crack and corner to eliminate chametz from our possession; we are subject to two prohibitions against owning it - bal yira’eh and bal yimatzeh; and the tiniest trace of it will render any mixture forbidden, such that it will never become batel (as other prohibitions are batel in mixtures of sixty times their volume).  Such stringencies are not found in any other prohibition of the Torah.


After suggesting and rejecting several halachic distinctions that might be the cause of these unusual stringencies, the Radvaz finally reaches the following conclusion:


ועל כן אני סומך על מה שאמרו רז"ל במדרשות כי חמץ בפסח רמז ליצה"ר והוא שאור שבעיסה ולכן כלה גרש יגרש אותו האדם מעליו ויחפש עליו בכל מחבואות מחשבותיו ואפילו כל שהוא לא בטיל.


Therefore, I rely on the teaching of our Sages in the Midrash, that chametz on Pesach represents the yetzer hara, the proverbial “leavening of the dough.”  For this reason, we are required to search all the cracks and corners of our hearts to utterly destroy it.  Not even the slightest trace of the yetzer hara is batel.[2]


A similar parallel was drawn by the Zohar, which compares chametz to idolatry.  Both must be destroyed by fire.  Both can be nullified by expressing disregard for them.[3]

When Bnei Yisroel were first commanded to offer the Korban Pesach, this commandment was preceded by an instruction to “draw their hands” away from idolatry, turning away from the heathen practices they had known in Egypt, and embracing the service of the One true G‑d.  This process is renewed each year.  On the holy days of preparation for Pesach, the search for chametz is accompanied by a search through the innermost recesses of our hearts, to root out and destroy the negative inclinations that are akin to idolatry, such as anger, falsehood, and arrogance.[4]  Only then can we fully experience the liberation of the Pesach Seder, in which we are drawn close to Hashem’s service.

The Ramchal writes that the holidays of the Jewish calendar are not mere anniversaries, that commemorate the events of our history.  Rather, they are immensely significant points in the cycle of time, in which the miracles our forefathers experienced, and the Divine light that shone upon them, are relived each year by their descendants, generation after generation.[5]

When our forefathers were liberated from Egypt, they were decidedly lacking in merit.  So much so, that the angels complained against drowning the Egyptians in the Yam Suf and letting the Jews pass through unharmed, since they both worshipped idols.[6]  Yet, despite their faults, Hashem displayed His infinite love and mercy for His children, carrying them on wings of eagles, and bringing them to Him.  So too, the holiday of Pesach represents a unique opportunity to rise beyond our faults, and ascend “on wings of eagles,” as it were, to draw close to Hashem.

In Kiddush, we say, “תחילה למקראי קודש, זכר ליציאת מצרים”, which literally translates as, “the first calling to holiness, a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.”  Rebbe Naftoli of Ropshitz zt”l explained that the first and foremost calling, that inspires a person to ascend in holiness, is the memory of the Exodus, and the great miracles that were performed for our forefathers, despite their having been entirely unworthy.  They had reached the bottom of the darkest pit of sin and misery, having passed through the forty ninth gate of impurity, and drawn close to the fiftieth gate, after which their could be no return.  Yet in just a short time, they were uplifted to a towering peek of holiness and glory.   They were granted the holy Torah, and the Shechina dwelled among them, in the Mishkan they constructed.

These thoughts can give us great encouragement, never to despair of our lowly state and our many shortcomings.  Hashem can do miracles for us, as He did for our forefathers, and help us rise to lofty heights of Torah and yiras Shomayim.

In order to begin this process of climbing out of the darkness of iniquity, the first step is to rid our homes and our hearts of chametz.  The Arizal said, based on the Zohar,[7] that if a person is scrupulously careful to rid his home of even the smallest trace of chametz, he will be protected from sin throughout the year.  According to what we have explained above, this is well understood.  Chametz on Pesach represents the yetzer hara.  By ridding our homes of chametz, we free our hearts from the influence of the yetzer hara, and are thereby protected from sin.

Perhaps by deliberately spreading ten pieces of chametz throughout the house, we remind ourselves of a sad but true fact.  Although we blame the yetzer hara for inciting us to sin, we are largely responsible for our own faults.  With our own hands, we plant the seeds of darkness that sprout in our hearts.  When we wantonly pursue our selfish pleasures, or give free reign to our anger, we nurture the negative character traits, the “chametz” of the heart, which we must later work so hard to destroy.

Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz zt”l writes that not only is uprooting avodah zarah (and the negative traits with which it is associated) included in the mitzva of destroying chametz, it is in fact the primary focus of this mitzva.  For this reason, the possuk “חג המצות תשמור – observe the Festival of Matzos,” is found alongside the possuk, “אלהי מסכה לא תעשה לך – you shall not make metal gods for yourselves.”[8]  R’ Pinchas adds that if all Klal Yisroel would destroy their chametz with the intention of also destroying avodah zarah, they would thereby make the Golus considerably easier to bear ("וואלט אויך גרינגער גיווען דער גלות").[9]


May we merit to rid our hearts of the “chametz” of selfishness, falsehood and arrogance, and perfect ourselves with noble traits of generosity, kindness and ahavas Yisroel.  And may we soon merit to see the ultimate perfection of the world, with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, may it be soon and in our days,



[1] Rema, O.C. 432:2

[2] Teshuvos Radvaz III, 546

[3] Zohar II 40b, 182a.  See also Haggada shel Pesach: Bris HaLevi, by R’ Shlomo Elkabetz chs. 11-12.

[4] Shabbos 105b; Sanhedrin 92a; Sotah 4b

[5] Derech Hashem 4:7.  See also Kedushas Levi, Shavuos.

[6] Zohar II, 170b

[7] III, 282b

[8] Shemos 34:17-18

[9] Imrei Pinchas: Erev Pesach, p. 132