Thursday, March 30, 2006

Soul Scrubbing

My right arm is officially a hundred times stronger than my left,
still burning and smelling of bleach.

The home that is Machon Alte had a day of cleaning yesterday, in honor of the approaching holiday of Pesach. Every student was given a job around the "campus."

My job? To scrub. To scrub the floor. To scrub all thirty refrigerator racks. To scrub the counters. To scrub the dishes.

As I was removing layers of grime, mold, and rotting food from the surfaces of all the items I encountered, I struggled to use my overly-exposed-to-fumes brain to tap into the meaning and purpose of all the cleaning. Learning in Tzfas has taught me enough to expect more from the seemingly mundane in this world.

The Alter Rebbe is known to have spent an enormous amount of time intensely cleaning his house. The Mitzva of checking for Chametz (after the house is already cleaned) takes about twenty minutes, but he went all through the night - carefully guiding his candle along the floor in search of crumbs.

Clearly, there is something here that goes beyond spring cleaning.

The Alter Rebbe wasn't only searching his house. He was searching his soul. He was identifying what a person's motives should be when cleaning for Pesach - checking for the crumbs and layers of dirt that could possibly be covering our soul, stopping it from shining its full light.

There are many explanations for the Pesach cleaning that we have all come to dread. But for me, the Alter Rebbe's approach stands out.

So here I am scrubbing and scrubbing. I've got my soul on my mind. And I'm talking to myself. I'm saying, "Mimi, scrub it away."

Scrub away negativity. Let your soul shine. Scrub away the suggestive powers of society. Let your soul shine. Scrub away the barriers between your brothers and sisters. Let your soul shine. Scrub away your silly insecurities. Let your soul shine. Scrub away your ego. Let your soul shine. Scrub away laziness. Let your soul shine. Scrub away meaningless distractions. Let your soul shine.

Scrub away all the layers. Reveal the light, the shine. Reveal your mission. Reveal your powers. Reveal the meaning. Reveal the light inherit in the dark. Reveal the G-dliness. Reveal redemption.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. And the whole world, too, is with me. It is Nissan, the month of redemption, and Jews of every type and affiliation are cleaning away. Soul scrubbing and world scrubbing. The world is starting to freshen and sparkle. Pesach is on its way.

I'll see you in Israel.


Saad's friend said...

I've always been to shy to comment, but I can't help myself.
Your writing is great!

FrumGirl said...

This post was great. It rings with truth. Thank you so much, you inspire me as well.

rachel said...

scrub away unconscious resistance and write back to your sister-in-law. i have to resort to berating you right here on your blog!
love ya!

ליפא שנילצער said...

is the chicken order done?

is the freezer pesachdich?

Anonymous said...

maybe she doesnt want to talk to you, sister-in-law. ever think of that?

Anonymous said...

Amazing... A tool which expanded the horizons of communication at the same time expanded the horizons for miscommunication.

That last comment could be read as humor, but could also be horribly misread...

Chassidus constantly teaches us that everything in this world is neutral, and it is our actions which decide whether they are a power for good or CH'V for the opposite.

Exercise caution and common-sense, especially when the message changes drastically with the subtle change in tone. Do the internet a favor - don't use it as a vehicle to cause harm, however unintending.

Back to the topic at hand...
*scrub, scrub, scrub*


wandering said...

Bringing spirituality into the mundane is a wonderous feat that is accomplished only by the awesome powers of chassidus. It sure makes all that pesach cleaning a lot more meaningful and encouraging...
May this be the last pesach cleaning in exile!

Nemo said...

Little clarification from the Rabbi here:

Grease, grime, shmutz, crumbs, dust, dirt, or whatever vernacular you've got for it is not forbidden to have in our homes. Halacha doesn't require that we scrub ourselves silly.

The reason why we do B'dikas Chometz is simply to insure that there be no available chometz in the house. We search in holes and crevices to be certain that there is no substantial amounts of chometz that could be mistakenly eaten, i.e. a loaf of bread or some leftover Hamantashen. Following the cleaning we nullify anything which we didn't see, and even the if we did see it, and make it as like the dust of the earth {dust not chametz}.

Also, you missed the best part and the gist of the story of the Alter Rebbe... There was only one room in his house!

rachel said...

Nemo, you seem to contradict yourself. At first, the comments you make seem to imply that the rebbe's scouring was futile because, the reality is, is that all that scrubbing is unnecessary acc. to the torah and halachah. and kal vchomer, if there's only one room in a, how is that the best part acc. to you?

Anonymous said...

hey anonymous, that's not very nice.

Ilana said...

Hey! It's wonderful you're sharing my great Oscar Wilde quote with the world. Beautiful post, as usual. Have a kosher and freilichen Pesach.

Nemo said...

Rachel- As a general approach to Judaism, there is the letter of the law, and there is above and beyond that. When it comes to particular issues of Judaism, i.e. Kashrus and particularly on Chometz, people make an effort to go above and beyond the necessity. It is not futile, it is a greater commitment. While it is not required to do away with crumbs, it is certainly advisable and preferable. You do not transgress the Aveira of owning Chometz by their presence, but if those crumbs, even the most minute amount, would make their way into the a pot of food, a person does the worst of Aveiras, one on which they are Chayav Kareis.

The story of the Alter Rebbe does not exemplify the Halachik approach. He wasn't even just doing an additional Hiddur. The story goes that he returned from studying under the tutelage of the Maggid of Mezrich for something like three years. He returned right before Pesach and he was therefore obligated to do Bedikas Chometz because that is a requirement, even if one is sure of cleanliness. He, being the Alter Rebbe, and being fresh out of Mezrich, applied all the the spiritual lessons of his Rebbe, to this important Mitzva of searching. He cherished it so much, and got so "carried away" with it, that it took him an entire night to do the search- and he only had a one room house!

Anonymous said...

I think some of the things you've said about the mitzvah of bedikas chametz and the issur of bal yiraeh and bal yimatzay (having chametz in your possession on pesach) are a little over simplified. Firstly, the entire issue of what bedikah accomplishes, halachically speaking, is the subject of a major machlokes in the rishonim. Rashi, on the first daf of pesachim clearly states that bedikah is done in order to ensure that one not violate the issur of having chametz on pesach. Tosfos contests Rashis position by stating that the gemara clearly says that doing bitul is sufficient and also, as the gemara on daf 6b states, even if one does bedikah he must do bitul. The gemara questions this halacha and asks why is it that one must do bitul even he has done bedikah. The gemara first suggests that it is because of the crumbs that one cannot locate through bedikah. The gemara, however, rejects this possibility insisting that crumbs are not significant. Tosfos states clearly that the intention of the gemara is not to say that crumbs are not a problem of the prohibition of chametz. Really they are! However, they are batul by themselves. Leaving the rest of the complicated issues surrounding bedikah and biur and bitul (you can check out the first Ran in pesachim where he intends to explain the entire area in detail), my only point is that you characterized the issue as follows: "You do not transgress the Aveira of owning Chometz by their presence". It is true that the crumbs being there is not intrinsically a problem, but that is only because, as Tosfos says, "they are batul by themselves (automatically). But the truth is that, according to Tosfos at least, and even according to Rashi, as explained by the Ran, one can do bitul on all the chametz in his house, even significant quantities and not violate the issur of having chametz. It is true that one of the reasons suggested by the rishonim for bedikah is so that one not come to eat the chametz, however, as the Ran states the Torah relies on chazakos and thats why, for instance, we only need to check the places that we usually bring chametz into and even if one finds chametz later on pesach its not as if you violate lemafreah because one you do bedikah, the house has a halachic shem of "chametz free". Therefore, I think it is wrong to view chametz as some substance that has an evil character and therefore must be gotten rid of. The torah, as the Ran says, relies on halachic princples and chazakos and the actual existence of chametz in ones reshus on pesach after having done bedikah will not make it that lemafreah he violated the issur of chametz. I'm sure you are well aware of the famous chazal that says that if anyone decides that he wants to sit in the sukkah even though he is patur on account of the rain is called a "shoteh". There may be a spiritual lesson in the basic idea of chametz, but the halachic details and formulations have their own orbit - one cannot apply "spiritual" reasoning to justify getting "carried away" with bedikas chametz. To summarize
1) crumbs are a problem. However, they are null by themselves
2) the ran says that once you do a bedikah there is a chazakah and the entire torah is based on chazakos. the physical reality of chametz will not necessarily present a problem of the issur of chametz.
3) not every instance of going beyond the letter of the law is a hiddur. sometimes its complete futility.

Nemo said...

Shkoyach, Reb Noach!

Good to see that we have Talmidei Chachomim out there. However, please note that it's a little hard to follow your Pilpul there. I'm not disputing you, it's just that it's a bit more relevant to see Shulchan Oruch on these issues.

1. You're right that crumbs are a problem, my mistake. "Dirt" however is not.

2. We do bedika so that there should not be Chometz Matzui. Therefore, we safely go by the Chazaka that our Bedika removed all available Chametz. And, as if that isn't good enough, we add on the Bitul Chametz to insure that all is "gone". However, if you find a bagel on Pesach it is certainly problematic and you have the obligation to be rid of it immediately, regardless of the Chazakah.

3. Are you suggesting that the Alter Rebbe was a fool?

Anonymous said...

*stereotypical Talmudic-thumb-twist*

Keep it under control, people - let's not lose the mood here.

Besides, I think if you just reread the comments, you'll see that everyone is agreeing here.


Mimi said...

It's, "Endless Light and Cobblestone" - not, "Light and Cobblestone and Endless Halachic Discourses."

Thanks to all for the insight and ecouragement.

Anonymous said...

Your writing shines.



Pimplesoflife said...

hey mimi i heard ur coming on the manis friedman program.. i am too i read ur stuff its really cool ... anyway looking foward to meeting u... esther..

Mimi said...

Esther - e-mail me!

Pimplesoflife said...

hey mimi! alright i emailed u!... ttys good shabos