Passover is coming, and one popular greeting we use at this time is, “Have a happy and kosher Pesach.” Now, most of us are used to the idea that we are not supposed to eat bread or regular baked goods during the eight days of Passover. But isn’t it up to the individual? I mean, if someone decides that the rules of Passover are not for him or her, then what business is it of anyone’s that this person has a “happy and kosher Pesach?”
But the greeting goes beyond what we eat. It reflects a mystical bridge between the mundane world we see around us and the overreaching goal of Judaism: to “repair the world.” Some see this “Tikkun Olam” only in the worldly sense of social action. However, I would like to suggest to you that there is another level being referred to here when we wish each other a “happy and kosher Pesach.” And that has to do with the origins of Tikkun Olam.
Tikkun Olam started as a Kabbalistic concept. According to the mystics, when the world was created, G-d’s presence filled it completely. But since there was no space for anything else, G-d deliberately contracted (a process known in Hebrew as tzimtzum) to make room for us in it. When G-d did that, the outer shell of the world cracked, and holy sparks fell out. In mystical terms, our job as Jews is to put the sparks back into the world and repair the cracks.
The way we do that is by fulfilling mitzvot: Every time we help someone in need or keep Shabbat we put a spark back in the world and aid in its healing.
Human beings have two sides to their natures: the yetzer ha-tov (the “good” inclination; concern for others) and the yetzer hara (the “evil” or “aggressive” inclination; self-centeredness). Judaism maintains that we need both in order to do G-d’s will—that without the yetzer hara people would neither build buildings, create societies nor have children. We must balance concern for our desires with our concern for others. This balance is what makes us truly human; not animals and not angels.
The mystics hold that hametz represents our yetzer hara. When hametz ferments, when yeast rises, it corrupts the nature of the pure flour and water. It also symbolizes a puffiness of self, an inflated personality that prevents the individual from rising spiritually and moving closer to holiness. So for the week plus of Passover, we try to live without it. The effect is to rejuvenate us, to let us start over. It’s the spiritual equivalent of our ancestors making a new sourdough base every spring.
Frankly, what we do to hametz, you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. We search it out, burn it, nullify it, and sell whatever may be left over. It is interesting to note that a meditation found in some prayer books states: “Our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, just as I have removed all hametz from my home and from my ownership, so may it be your will that I merit the removal of the evil inclination from my heart.”
In Conservative synagogues across the country, congregants frequently say that we need a little more spirituality. Well, removing hametz from our lives for a week, with the awareness of what it can mean, is a good start. It’s a way of conceptualizing, as well as limiting, our yetzer hara, and a step towards Tikkun Olam.
And with that—Have a happy and kosher Passover.
RABBI JOEL BERMAN is a contributing writer to JLIFE magazine and senior rabbi at Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim.