Our April 1st service was our final Shabbat before Passover, so Rabbi Steven left us with some words of wisdom on kitchen kashering, spring cleaning, and spiritual liberation. You can listen to this sermon on the Contact Chai Podcast. And while we won’t be holding services over Passover, we would love to see you at our third annual Virtual Seder on Thursday, April 6th!

A couple days ago, I spoke to a friend about my plans for this weekend. Like many of you, they involved a lot of Passover preparation. And when I was describing the slow turnover of my kitchen and getting rid of or storing anything that contains chametz — that leavened stuff that comes from wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye, which we are going to avoid for the eight days of Passover. He said, “This sounds like a perfect time for some spring cleaning!”

It’s true! I imagine that I am not the only one in this room who uses the preparation for Passover to check the expiration dates on everything else in the kitchen. Like, spices have expiration dates, apparently?! So every year, I remember to actually take things off of my shelves and clean them and to finally part with like those purchases that I thought were a good idea. For example, a scone mix that has been sitting there forever. When I was walking down the aisles of the store thinking: “I am totally going to bake scones one day.” I have not baked the scones, it’s still there, and it’s gotta go.

So whether we are going to spend hours scrubbing our kitchens or even just do a quick pass around our living room with a vacuum, the symbolic conclusion for our search for chametz is conducted traditionally with a feather, a spoon, and a candle. And other rabbis teach that we use the small ephemeral light of the candle even if the moon is full, even if the sun is shining, even though time and technology have given us better and more efficient ways of illuminating our homes. And this insistence on tradition, I believe contains a valuable and a really important message. Just as we use this small light of the candle to find the housemates in our homes. So to use the light of our soul that small ephemeral light to find the chametz within each of us, as the Torah teaches that the soul of every person is like a candle, revealing our innermost parts. And so perhaps this is our task, these 2426 hours of Shabbat, a time when we take a break from work, including the work that physical labor of scrubbing, and cleaning and searching for chametz to turn our focus from the external preparation for Passover and look inward, probing those forgotten nooks and crannies of our hearts. So what is the chametz that we might find within ourselves?

The Alter Rebbe teaches that animates represents all the ways that we have become absorbed in our own needs and desires. Just as leavened dough fills the bowl where it has been left to proof the fact that any fan of like Great British Bake Off knows now right? You know proofing is yeah, just like the leavened dough fills the bowl what is left to prove our bloated egos can take up all the room in our hearts, leaving little space for concerns beyond ourselves matzah by contrast, is likened to selflessness, a flattening of the ego the ability to reserve space in our hearts, for other people, and for the experience of the Divine. There are many ways that this chametz might accumulate within us but like bread, or muffins or cake, none of these self absorbed tendencies are inherently bad. Caring for ourselves. Concern for ourselves is a vital and necessary part of surviving a world that is not always at its best. There are good reasons to be afraid of the dangers that exist outside of our doors, loss and heartbreak necessitate focusing on our own needs for a time. Taking a moment to celebrate our accomplishments to treat ourselves to something a little special can be a profound act of gratitude. The problem lies when self care becomes a habit of only caring about yourself. Where fear has kept us from endangering our lives and our livelihoods. It can also become the foundation for distrust for insularity and even for hate, time spent healing our own wounds can sometimes lead to the belief that our pain is more acute and more urgent and more important than that of those around us. And we have seen how indulgence when left unchecked can create a society compromised by inequality are those who have much refuse to share the abundance of this world with those who have very little so if we are to truly prepare for Passover Are we need to clean out more than our cupboards and closets. This is the moment to examine the clutter within our own hearts. We’re have habits of caution of care and of celebration of the self become leavening agents for the ego has left little room for much else. Which of these tendencies no longer serve us, leaving useless crumbs, the nooks and crannies of our soul that prevent us from becoming the very best expression of who we’re meant to be? What can we clear away so that there is space within us that allows that flickering flame to shine just a little brighter. So our parsha this Shabbat, which Lucy read so beautifully begins with a description of the priestly chores related to offering sacrifices at the Mishkan that gathering space of Israelites as they wander through the wilderness. After the evening sacrifice has been left to burn through the entire night. The priest on duty gets up early the next morning to clear away the ash that has accumulated over the previous day. He Stokes those fading embers of that age to me that eternal flame and as more would defeat it, then the morning sacrifices only then the morning sacrifices can proceed. To ensure that the aged Hamid continues to burn the priest has to clear away the residue of prior sacrifices, too much ash and the fire with suffocate, preventing the priests from accomplishing the sacred task. We no longer look after the fire that burned for our ancestors, we are responsible for tending the light of our own soul, allowing it to become the candle that illuminates those forgotten corners of our hearts, that we may identify those bloated and puffed up leavened parts of our ego that prevent us from meeting the ethical demands of our tradition. This is after all, the true aim of Passover. This holiday is not simply about remembering the past it is an expression of how we meet this present moment. Like the preset the Mishcon each of us has also been given a sacred purpose. On Wednesday we’re going to read from the Haggadah of a Diem hi you new love for OB meets rhyme we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt slaves. One could argue that we should respond this memory of enslavement by turning inward by prioritizing our own needs and desires in the world has shown time and again such little concern for our own humanity. The political theorist Michael Walter once wrote that wherever we are, wherever you are right now, it’s probably Egypt, not liberation. And looking around us at the uptick in anti semitism, at the hatred directed towards trans and gender nonconforming folks at book bands and the stifling of education in this country at a world quite literally on fire. This probably feels more true this year, than in years past. Yet we recall this history of enslavement of subjugation and violence precisely to turn our focus outward. The Torah reminds us, you know the soul of the stranger because you have also been strangers. Through ritual and food and liturgy, we reenact the moment that our people experienced that transition from slavery to freedom. We do not remember the story to become absorbed in our own self preservation. Instead, the residual pain of the past calls us toward every place where brokenness persists today. And demands that we create space within our own hearts for the people we might find there. But if we’re to have the capacity to meet the empathic call of this holiday, we need to do a little bit of spring cleaning. So let’s take a moment to forget about the to do list of Passover. It is Shabbat after all, and just take this next day to conduct an earnest search of a heart. Finding those crumbs of spiritual and emotional housemates that no longer needs to occupy space within you. Even if they had a purpose at some point in time. What fears no longer protect you? What pain? Is it time to let go of? Where have you indulged your ego just a little bit too much. May each of us find room within our hearts that we can be filled anew with the words and lessons of this season. Shabbat Shalom, and may the peace of Shabbat lead to a meaningful and joyful Passover.