A grandson of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l said, “When I served [my grandfather] food, he would … ask if I wanted to eat…. I often told him that I am a baal taavah and the food he ate would not be sufficient for me…. He would sigh and comment, ‘Eating is for me like fasting for you.’” (Quoted in Yated Ne’eman, 29 Adar)
I remember reading that Rabbi Shteinman’s minhag was to soak two pieces of bread in milk, one of which he would eat for breakfast and one for dinner. A Rosh Yeshiva once said that Rabbi Aharon Leib ate the same in two weeks as other people ate in one day, and that he learned more Torah in one day than other people would learn in two weeks. Very few people attain this madreiga, but nevertheless we can learn from him a great principle relevant to Pesach.
I have often wondered: what does eliminating chometz have to do with Yetzias Mitzraim?
On the level of droshe, chometz is understood to represent the Yetzer Hara, but I want to ask a basic question: what does cleaning the house have to do with liberation from Golus? In Mitzraim we had no time to bake bread, but this became an eternal principle. Can’t we leave Golus without eliminating chometz?
I believe it is correct to say that leaving Mitzraim is the most central element of Pesach. This dramatic event is basic to our history. All of Sefer Beraishis leads up to this moment. The beginning of Sefer Shemos is focused on the journey from Mitzraim to Har Sinai, and the entire remaining Chumash is concerned with what we learned at Har Sinai and its effect on the rest of Jewish and world history. Our liberation from Mitzraim is the fulcrum upon which swings the history of the world. All future events, especially the Geula Shelemah – may we see it soon in our days! – will reflect its details and implications.
The weeks before Pesach are spent on an exhaustive cleansing of our homes. The object is to remove every crumb of chometz. In Europe one would see furniture on the street as the interior of the house was turned upside down. What does this have to do with leaving Mitzraim?
A further question: why do we nullify the chometz after we have already eliminated it? Apparently, the physical cleaning of the house is not sufficient; we must also accept mentally that we do not own chometz. (See Mishna Berurah 431:2)
There is a fascinating commentary in the Rav Pam Haggadah (English translation, Feldheim Publishers) concerning the obligation to mention Yetzias Mitzraim (in the Shema) during the night as well the day. Rav Pam explains, in the name of the Shaagas Aryeh as well as Rav Eizel Charif, that these are two separate mitzvos, reflecting two types of miracle, “nes niglah” (a revealed miracle) and “nes nistar” (a hidden miracle).
Rav Pam quotes Chazal, who say that “there were two distinct parts of Yetzias Mitzraim.” At night the geulah was not yet evident, because Am Yisroel had not actually left Mitzraim. The nes was thus evident only to those with emunah. This was a nes nistar, a hidden miracle. But during the day, the Geulah was evident to all; this was the “nes niglah.” The dual nature of Yetzias Mitzraim is reflected in the way we end Krias Shemah. At night we end with the words “emes v’emunah,” because the Geula was hidden, while, during the day, we end with “emes v’yatziv,” because the Geulah was “certain” and clear to the entire world at that time. (Berachos 9a)
My friends, we have to clean the chometz from our homes because the very nature of Golus is slavery to crumbs, to leaven, to food that expands in our minds as well as our stomach, and becomes the entire focus of our existence. The nations that surround us are enslaved within the borders of chometz. Their entire knowledge is bounded by this world. All their desire is directed toward enjoying the fruits of this world. They do not comprehend that the True World has no corporeal aspect whatsoever.
In order for us to be liberated from Mitzraim and all the other idol-worshipping nations, we have to know that we are trapped by chometz. It is not enough to clear the physical chometz out of our home; we have to clear the desire for chometz out of our heart.
It is hard work! There is no substitute for all the physical and spiritual labor which preceded Yetzias Mitzraim and which will precede the Geulah Shelemah. But just the way Pesach came to our ancestors in Mitzraim so the Geulah Shelemah will come to us.
I am going to mention once again a beautiful moshul. The few drops of wine we remove from the kos when we mention the Esser Makkos at the Seder are keneged Yetzias Mitzraim. But the entire contents of the kos which remain after we have removed the drops is keneged the Geulah Shelemah! (See Be’er Miriam; Artscroll Interlinear Haggadah)
Can you imagine this! Can one comprehend the magnitude of what is about to happen soon, b’ezras Hashem! No wonder the Geulah Shelemah is taking so long! It is so massive that the entire world will be overturned just the way our homes are overturned before Pesach!
This is the physical elimination of chometz. The nullification must take place in our hearts and minds. We have to be prepared to give up our attachment to Golus. If the desire to serve Hashem fills our hearts, then we will not fear anything, and we will hasten the day on which the world will be “filled with the knowledge of G-d as the sea fills the ocean bed.” (Yeshiah 11:9)
This year in Yerushalayim!