Nowadays, everybody's cleaning house.
Every conversation somehow inevitably leads to that all-pervasive subject: Passover cleaning. One friend is almost finished, another one's just begun. There are those who scrub their ceilings, and the ones who are super laid-back about their cleaning obligations. I, for one, am outside the loop. This year, unlike other years, I am spending Passover with family, away from my home, which effectively eliminates my need to scrub every speck of leavened bread from my abode.
And yet I'm trying to clean house in a very unconventional way -- a cleaning that doesn't involve any brooms, mops, or Windex. It's an inner house cleaning with the goal of experiencing a new freedom during Passover this year: freedom from the bondage of self.
We are taught that the force that causes us to sin -- the yetzer hara, the evil inclination -- is compared to yeast, or leaven. Just as yeast causes dough to rise, the yetzer hara inflates our ego, enabling us to wriggle out of our obligations to God and indulge, instead, in self-serving actions.
Passover is the time of year when we embark upon a no-holds-barred rampage to eradicate leaven. After using every possible anti-chametz implement in the arsenal, including blow-torches, toothbrushes, scouring pads, and Dustbusters, we then conduct a thorough, candle-lit check of every corner of our homes. Our Sages teach us that while this process commemorates our Exodus from Egypt, it also contains deep symbolism: As we rid ourselves of leavened bread, we should also strive to rid ourselves of the "leaven" -- the stubborn pockets of resistance which lead us down our own, selfish paths, away from God. We undergo a complete self-analysis and "hold a candle" to the shadowy crevices of our inner selves.
It is this spiritual cleansing that ensures real freedom, for how can one be "free" when he is enslaved to his own self, bound to the whims of his own desires? The freedom which Passover offers transcends the physical freedom that the Jews experienced when they left Egypt. It is a freedom to live as a soul.
As a child, I enjoyed people-watching. I remember seeing a dog on a leash, bounding energetically, practically dragging his owner along with him. "Look Mommy! That dog is walking his man!" That is bondage to self: the ego is "walking" the soul. There is no way to get in touch with God unless we can somehow break the leash, sedate the ego, or empower the soul so it can get ahead.
The fundamental question we ask ourselves, as we "clean house" and free ourselves of our own egos, is: What is keeping me enslaved to my own desires, and is holding me back from God? The answer we uncover as we subject our inner selves to the searching candle-light takes many shapes and forms, specific to every unique person. For some, it may be an obsession with materialism; for others, it may be stubborn character defects, such as anger, jealousy, or the need to control; still others may find that fierce intellectual struggles are what keeps them hostage to their own selves.
Once we have identified what is holding us back from the bondage of self, the next step is to take active steps towards breaking free. These steps may include making appropriate resolutions, introducing greater spirituality into one's life, and praying for guidance and willingness. As long as we continue to ask ourselves where we are now, and simultaneously visualize where we would like to be, we are on the right course.
Passover is a particularly auspicious time to reach above where we're currently holding, and jump to a higher level of spiritual connection. When the Jews left Egypt, they were immersed in the pagan Egyptian culture -- beaten, demoralized, and in pretty rugged spiritual condition. Yet they had a strong desire to be freed from their physical and spiritual bondage, and God granted them this desire in a dazzling set of miracles. God brought them from the lowest level of servitude to the highest level of spiritual experience: receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We, too, are granted special spiritual abilities during the Passover season -- we need only reach out and grab the opportunity.
I know that if I can only hammer away at habit and ego, I will find within myself the long-buried spark of God's will versus my own. The cleaning for Passover allegory presents itself again -- the determined cleaner spares no effort in ridding the house of every last crumb, and employs every tactic to accomplish that mission. In our spiritual "house cleaning," we can keep those same objectives in mind, although the task of refining ourselves is a life-long one, not just an annual "spring cleaning."
It may be easier to scrub a floor than scrub one's soul, but the payoff promises to be something absolutely divine!