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Why Search for “Chametz” with a Candle?

Why Search for “Chametz” with a Candle?

Wouldn’t a flashlight do the same in the search for leavened foods?

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Dear Rabbi,

I learned that when searching for chametz on the night before Passover, a single candle should be used instead of a torch, because: 1) a candle produces a good light, and 2) since it is safer, one will search better.

What about the modern “torch,” the flashlight? Is it permitted to use a flashlight in our search for chametz?

Answer:

Before Passover we search our homes for any leavened grains, known as chametz. The removal of chametz from our homes commemorates the Jews’ liberation from Egypt and the oppression of Pharaoh. The Biblical story goes that when the Jews fled from Egypt they did not have enough time to let their dough rise, so they wound up with a thin, cracker-like bread that was unleavened. We call this matzah, and it is the only kind of “bread” that we eat on Passover.

After we have thoroughly searched and cleaned our homes in the weeks before Passover, we do a final search on the night before the holiday begins. We begin with a blessing, and then use several traditional tools to aid our search, all of which are burnt the next morning with the chametz:

  1. An easily burnable wooden spoon.
  2. A feather to act as a disposable broom.
  3. A candle to light the way during the search. It is best to use the least messy beeswax.

The Talmud gives the reason for using a candle and not a torch:

Our sages taught that one should not search with the light of the sun, nor with the light of the moon, nor with the light of a torch. The search should be conducted only with the light of a candle. Why? Because the light of a candle is good for searching.

While there is no scriptural proof, there are some allusions to this, as the verses say in regards to Passover (Exodus 12:19), “For seven days, leavening shall not be found in your houses…”

How do you find something? Through searching, as the verse says (Genesis 44:12), “He searched… and the goblet was found.”

And how does one search? We learn how from the verses (Zephaniah 1:12), “I will search Jerusalem with candles…” and (Proverbs 20:27), “The soul of man is a candle of G‑d, which searches out all the innermost parts.”1

Later on, the Talmud gives several reasons why a torch is not good for searching:

  1. With a torch you cannot see in small holes and cracks.
  2. You can hold a candle up in front of you. A torch’s light is so great that you cannot hold the torch up close to you and look beyond it.

Given these reasons, if you are simply concerned that the job gets done, a flashlight will do, serving the same function as a candle. In fact, there are those who say that you can go ahead and use one in your search, while there are who say that you should not.2

Soul Searching

However, the tradition of using a candle when searching for chametz goes back many, many generations and therefore to many it is the preferable way. I would like to suggest another good reason to keep this tradition of old.

On Passover we celebrate not only the historic Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, but also our personal exoduses from our inner “Egypts.” Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, one of the great Hassidic masters, explains that personal redemption happens when we go out of our limitations, our perceptions. He explains that the Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, also denotes boundaries and fences. These fences are our inclinations that withhold us from doing what is right, what is spiritually best for us.3

He explains that the concept of refraining from leavened foods represents a much deeper goal: to rid ourselves of haughtiness, which is symbolized by the bloating or “rising of the bread.” On Passover we eat unleavened bread, matzah, which represents humility and making space for others, and especially for G‑d, in our lives.4

The search for chametz is not just the search for unleavened bread; it is also an internal search. It is about looking deep inside and seeing what needs to be removed—haughtiness, hatred, disrespect and all of the other internal waste. The physical search is much easier to accomplish; however, that time also needs to be utilized to do a spiritual search.5

The physical flickering of the candle reminds us to look deeper into our souls, which, as brought in the Talmudic proof above, are likened to “the candle of G‑d.”

So while a flashlight might be necessary for some hard-to-reach areas of your home, the candle is still the best way to get to the hard-to-reach areas within.

See Why the Spoon and Feather? and Why Hide Pieces of Bread Before the Search for Chametz?

Footnotes
1.

Paraphrased from the Talmud, Pesachim 8a.

2.

See Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Braun, Shaarei Metzuyanim Behalachah, vol. 3, 111:4; Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, Yabia Omer, vol. 4, O.C. 40); Enclopedia Talmudit, vol. 18. p. 188-9.

3.

Torah Ohr, Yitro.

4.

Likutei Torah, Tzav. See at length the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, Torat Menachem, Igrot Melech, vol. 2, p. 254ff.

5.

See the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Sefer Hasichot 5736-5740, p. 265, and the Rebbe, Sefer Hasichot 5749, vol. 1, p. 247.

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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