For the week ending 28 March 2015 / 8 Nisan 5775


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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Hiding to Find

From: Brian

Dear Rabbi,

It seems to me that the reason we search for bread is to remove it from the house. So I’m a bit perplexed as to why we intentionally hide pieces of bread around the house before the search. Any insights?

Dear Brian,

The purpose of the search is certainly to find and remove chametz from the house before Pesach.

However, since nearly most, if not all, of the chametz has already been removed from around the house before the actual search, it is customary to hide pieces of bread in places where chametz is usually found in order to add importance and relevance to the search, as well as to create an incentive to search properly and thoroughly.

It’s a good idea to use only small pieces, and write down where each has been hidden in case they are not all found during the search.

On a more symbolic level, the search for chametz is a warning against the evil inclination. It teaches us to seek for it in hidden places in order to get rid of it and thereby become liberated from its grasps, as the Jews were liberated from the clutches of Egypt.

According to this understanding, the reason we put down pieces of bread while searching for the chametz is to indicate that even if a person has cleansed himself from sin to the best of his ability, he should not boast, “I am purged of sin”, since if he were to continue his search he would surely find more “spiritual chametz” of iniquity and pride.

“There is no person so righteous in this world that does only good and never sins.” One who deludingly prides himself that he has corrected all his faults can be certain that he’s only just begun to uncover his hidden spiritual chametz.

Passover Immersion

From: Nate

Dear Rabbi,

I am familiar with the custom to immerse in a mikveh for Shabbat, and also for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. But is there such a custom for Pesach?

Dear Nate,

The requirement to immerse in a mikveh (ritual bath) in preparation for the festivals is actually stronger than that for Shabbat.

The Sages thus taught (Rosh Hashanah 16), “A person is required to purify himself for the pilgrimage festivals”.

The reason for this special requirement of immersion for the festivals is that during the pilgrim festivals, every Jew had to go up to Jerusalem to appear before G-d in the Holy Temple and partake of the sacrifices. This mitzvah could only take place if a person was in a state of ritual purity.

Even nowadays when we do not bring sacrifices, the Sages still required immersion before the festivals so that we should imagine and desire that the Temple be rebuilt and feel ourselves prepared to fulfill the mitzvah in purity. In fact, doing so is viewed as part of catalyzing the process. When G-d sees our desire and anticipation to fulfill His will as in the Torah, He will hasten the redemption and the rebuilding of His Glorious Abode.

Immersion in preparation for Pesach is particularly apropos. Just as vessels are boiled, purged and purified in the mikveh for use on this holiday of redemption, so too a person prepares himself for redemption on Pesach by perspiring in performance of the mitzvot, purging himself of sin and shedding tears through teshuva and then immersing himself in the purifying waters of the mikveh.

Seder White

From: Harry

Dear Rabbi,

What is the reason for wearing the white kittel at the Seder table on Pesach night? Since we wear our festive best during the prayers, what’s the reason for changing into this relatively simple garment for the Seder?

Dear Harry,

Although it is a mitzvah to adorn oneself on this night with costly garments to demonstrate our liberty, according to the Ashkenazic custom, at the meal it is customary for adult males to wear the simple white robe-like garment called a kittel in Yiddish.

One of the reasons for this is that since the dead are buried in white shrouds, wearing this robe reminds one of his mortality and curtails any excessive pride that might result from one’s newly-gained “liberty”. We find a similar idea regarding eating the hard-boiled egg at the Seder, which is a symbol of mourning and thus a warning against forbidden pride.

Alternatively, these symbols of mourning are related to the fact that Tisha b’Av, the day of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, always occurs on the same day of the week as Pesach.

However, other commentators explain the custom of wearing the kittel in a different light. They maintain that there is nothing finer than a plain white garment, for it was thus that the Kohen Gadol, or High Priest, entered the innermost sanctuary on the holiest of days for the most elevated of services – the offering of incense before the holy Ark of the Covenant. On this night, each head of family who celebrates the sacred Seder is like the Kohen Gadol performing the service of G-d in the Holy of Holies!

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