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Thursday, October 23, 2014

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Passover and ego

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Rabbi David Cadoch

Passover is at hand, and it seems Pesach is everyone’s favourite chag, at least for most families in our community.

To some of us, Passover is synonymous with major house cleaning in search of chametz.

This curious halachic requirement of searching for chametz is based on a biblical passage in Deuteronomy (16:4): “And there shall be no leaven seen with thee in all they borders seven days.” Our sages interpret this as an active mitzvah to search for any leavening on our person, in our dwellings and in our businesses.

Halachah derives from this passage that possession is forbidden, but to avoid wanton destruction of products containing leavening, a document of sale is drawn up, with a non-Jewish client, to demonstrate that we have sold our leftover chametz products for a specific price.

This is an actual sales transaction, and the key to our storage room is handed over to the buyer, where he or she has the authority to consume it. However, since we stipulate a clause to buy back the products, the new owner (the non-Jew) stands to make some profit when selling it back to the original owner.

What is it about leavening that makes it central to Passover observance? Our sages have formulated profound moral lessons from this concept. They have written anecdotes equating leavening to the symbol of false pride, known in Hebrew as ga’avah – pride of the ego.

Pride is a healthy trait when experienced in a balanced manner – it gives us a sense of value. But what is false pride in this context? Our sages make reference to a haughty pride that makes statements, verbal or non-verbal, in a manner that’s hurtful to others. This message can be read as, “I am better, smarter and richer than you.” This kind of pride is a self-possessed haughtiness that makes a person think they’re beyond reproach.

If anyone tries to reproach this kind of haughty person, they take immediate offence and begrudge the individual who dared possess the audacity to make such a remark. This is where the Torah places importance on the trait of humility, known in Hebrew as anavah.

It’s interesting to note that most of the offerings made in Jerusalem at the time of the Temple excluded leavening as an ingredient, with few exceptions, such as the show bread (in Hebrew lechem hapanim), the 12 loaves of bread that were always present on a dedicated table in the Temple as an offering to the Almighty. 

Arrogance and pride are true barriers to developing healthy relationships with society, and ultimately the Almighty.

Chag Kasher v’Samayach!

Rabbi David Cadoch is spiritual leader for Shabbat and chagim at Beth HaRambam Synagogue, Donald Berman Maimonides Hospital in Montreal.

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