By Rabbi Toba Spitzer
Passover is ultimately about freedom and new beginnings. The exodus from Egypt is a birth story – the birth of the Israelite people, and of a new kind of society, covenanted in love and justice. Passover is also a spring holiday, celebrating the first harvest and the new birth of the flocks. So part of the practice of clearing out hametz is linked to this sense of beginning, of new possibilities – clearing out the old, to make room for the new.
In many Hasidic interpretations, hametz is understood as internal obstacles and negativity, and we take this week of Passover to clear out as much of this as we can. So another possible focus is some kind of intentional “clearing out” of those internal tendencies – selfishness; greed; excessive pride; negativity towards self or others – that are getting in the way of our own liberation.
Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches:
“I’ve been experiencing “Matzah” as the essence that we must return to, must re-discover in order to grow in purity and awareness toward our liberation. The “hametz” is the sourness, often unconscious, the residue from suffering, disappointment. When hametz is left to its own, it causes inflation which is the process whereby layers of false-self build up to protect the essential core. The trouble is that through this process we also lose access to that essence. Before Pesach the challenge it seems to me is to release those layers of false self and then to discern the sourness that gave rise to that layering, then to re-experience the essence which is the unique spark at your core…”
For our sit, we’ll do an internal “bedikat hametz,” checking for internal hametz. When this is done traditionally, it’s playful – done with a candle and a feather. A gentle process, knowing full well that we’re going to find something – and appreciating it when we do find it, just like it’s fun to find the hametz that’s been stashed around the house for the evening inspection.
BEGIN SIT – settle in to seat, into physical sensation, breath.
Begin to notice the small the bits of “hametz” in our experience – that which keeps us from being present in this moment. It might be desire – wanting something to be happening outside of this actual moment of experience.
Or it might be aversion – pushing away some part of our experience that is unpleasant, that we wish wasn’t happening.
There might be judgment that arises – judgment of self, judgment of others.
There might be distraction – the mind seeking something more interesting than paying attention to what is.
Whatever arises, whatever obstacle you find to just being present – imagine you have a feather, and you gently, playfully, whisk it away. And then come back to the present moment of experience.
A desire arises – whisk!
Aversion arises – whisk!
Judgment arises – whisk!
And we do this with compassion, with an openness of heart. With each flick of the feather, a space opens up; there is a small movement towards freedom.
CLOSING: Noting the types of hametz that tend to arise, and setting a kavvanah, an intention, for this Pesach, to let go and release it. Not forcing, just setting an intention. The prohibition during Pesach is on owning any hametz – so let go of ownership. Understand that these inner obstacles are not you, do not belong to you, and you don’t belong to them.