Bedikat Chametz -

Cleaning out the old leaven

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What is Chametz?

Leaven is an ingredient used in bread-making that creates the holes you see in bread loaves. Leavening agents  permeate the dough by releasing gases that cause the entire batch of dough to rise.

Chametz

In Hebrew, leaven is called se'or (שְׂאוֹר) whereas a leavened product is called chametz (חָמֵץ). In ancient times, se'or was as a lump of old dough allowed to reach a high level of fermentation (sometimes called sourdough or yeast). When the piece of sourdough was kneaded together with a mixture of flour and water, it accelerated the rising process and created chametz (today yeast or baking powder function as se'or).

What's the difference between chametz and se'or? Chametz is food and is edible. You can serve and eat chametz (and often want to!). On the other hand, nobody eats se'or, which is inedible fermented grain which has the function of fermenting other dough.

What's wrong with Chametz?

During Passover - sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread - no chametz may be eaten for a full seven days - from the 15th of Nisan through the 22nd of Nisan (Exod. 12:15-18; 34:18). That means no leavened bread products of any kind may be eaten during this time. This is explicitly stated in the Torah (Exod. 12:15):

Exodus 12:15

Chametz is considered a corrupting influence, a hidden uncleanness that manipulates purer elements. Like the influence of a lump of leaven in a batch of dough, "spiritual" leaven functions as an evil impulse within us (i.e., yetzer ra: יֵצֶר רָע) that corrupts and "sours" our soul.  This "yeast in the soul" is essentially pride that manifests itself in idolatrous desires and lusts.

Notice that the prohibition of chametz is not limited to the festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread, since all of the minchah (meal) offerings banned its presence from the altar of God in the Mishkan (Tabernacle):

    No meal offering that you offer to the LORD shall be made with leaven (chametz), for no leaven (se'or) or honey may be turned into smoke as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Leviticus 2:11)

Using the metaphor of leaven, the apostle Paul writes:

    Cleanse out the old leaven (חָמֵץ) that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Messiah our Passover has been sacrificed (מָשִׁיחַ זֶבַח פִּסְחֵנוּ). Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7-8)

Searching for and Destroying Chametz

In the Jewish tradition, this "cleansing out of the old leaven" is called kashering. We search for and destroy any trace of chametz in our homes before Pesach arrives. In most Jewish homes the process of cleaning begins weeks before Pesach when the house is scoured from top to bottom to remove all traces of chametz.

Search for Chametz

Bedikat Chametz

On the night before Passover, a final "ceremonial search" for chametz is performed by candlelight by the entire family. This search is called bedikat chametz (בְּדִיקַת חָמֵץ) and there is an old custom that ten pieces of chametz are to be "hidden" in the rooms before they are searched. If you hide ten and you (or your children) find only nine, just keep searching! The ten pieces remind us of the ten plagues. A feather and a spoon are often used to sweep up the last crumbs of bread, which will then be burned with the other chametz the following morning.

Before the search is started, the following Hebrew blessing is recited:

Bedikat Chametz

Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam,
asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al bi'ur chametz.

Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
Who sanctifies us with His commandments and commanded us
regarding the removal of chametz.

Bedikat Chametz Card

The Nullification Declaration

After the search, the chametz, feather, and spoon are wrapped up and stored in a safe location to be burned the following morning in the Bi'ur Chametz (destruction of the chametz) ceremony. The following declaration is then made:

    "All chametz, leaven and leavened bread that is in my possession which I have not seen, removed or is unknown to me, shall be annulled and considered ownerless like the dust of the earth."

Burning Chametz in New York City

The Bi'ur Chametz Ceremony

The following morning, the remaining chametz is taken out of the house to be completely burned. Before burning the chametz, the nullification declaration is repeated. It is customary to use a lulav (saved from the festival of Sukkot) to light the fire that will be used to burn the chametz.

An Application for Christians

In 1 Corinthians 5:6 we read: "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" Sin has a "leavening" influence upon the soul: you simply cannot include a little sin in your life without it affecting your whole spiritual life. Hidden sin (i.e., hypocrisy) spreads like spiritual corruption throughout the body and will eventually be exposed. As Yeshua said, "Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light" (Luke 8:17).

    Cleanse out the old leaven (חָמֵץ) that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7-8)
     

Note that the Greek uses an imperative verb here (ἐκκαθάρατε): "You cleanse out (i.e., purge, as in catharsis) the old leaven so that you may become a new lump (ἵνα ἦτε νέον φύραμα), since you already are unleavened (ἵνα ἦτε νέον φύραμα) because of what Messiah has done for you." To untangle what this means, it is important to remember that all the "oughts" (i.e., commands) of the New Covenant are are directed to the truth of who you are "in the Messiah," that is, by virtue of His connection to you, and not to your former identity before you were saved. If you belong to Yeshua, you are no longer "known according to the flesh" - since that person has passed away - and now you are a "new creation" (בְּרִיָּה חֲדָשָׁה) with a new nature that is able to serve God (2 Cor 5:16-17). Another way to say this is that the imperatives of the New Covenant are always based on its declaratives; you are able to obey because of who you really are in the Messiah. It is solely out of your union with Him that you are able to please God. This is good news, since it's not up to you to do this; you need only to believe in the miracle....

The search for chametz is not unlike the soul searching we do before the fall High Holidays, when we perform chesbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) by taking inventory of our spiritual condition before the LORD. In other words, we are commanded to search and remove sources of inner impurity so that we might experience the truth that we are a "new lump" - that is, a new substance that is untainted by the sour and rotting influences of our past lives. Since Yeshua has been sacrificed as your Passover Lamb, you are indeed a new creation (בְּרִיָּה חֲדָשָׁה) and are made "unleavened" by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore we are likewise commanded put away the "old nature" - the yetzer ha'ra - and purge from your life the old influences that inwardly canker you and make you sick. Walk without hypocrisy in the truth of the love of God for your soul.
 

חָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי
בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי
וּרְאֵה אִם־דֶּרֶךְ־עצֶב בִּי
וּנְחֵנִי בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם

chok·re·ni · el · ve'da · le·va·vi
be·cha·ne·ni · ve'da · sar·a·pai
u·reh · im · de·rekh · o·tzev · bi
u'ne·che·ni · be·de·rekh · o·lam
 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart!
 Test me and know my thoughts.
 And see if there be any idolatrous way in me,
 and lead me in the way everlasting!"
(Psalm 139:23-24)

Bedikat Chametz
 


"For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness" (Prov. 18:28). May it please the LORD to give us the light of His Spirit as we undergo our own inward bedikat chametz to remove the sour and rotting influences of our past lives...  Amen.



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