The Concealed Candle

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09 Sep 2016

The Gemara instructs us that on the night of the fourteenth of Nissan we are to search for chametz throughout the house by the light of a candle. We are also told that in each generation every one of us is obligated to consider himself as if he himself left Mitzrayim. How are we to accomplish this, and how does using a candle help us in our tasks?

The first thing we must realize is that the Mishnah uses only Mitzrayim, Egypt, and not Eretz Mitzrayim, the Land of Egypt, to signify what enslaved us. That word, Mitzrayim, signifies narrow straits, challenges and troubles that may afflict us wherever and whenever we are. So when we consider ourselves free, we must consider ourselves as having been redeemed from situations that confine and enslave us, and this is indeed what Pesach is all about. However, there is much that keeps us enslaved that has nothing to do with building bricks for a tyrant, and this is where a candle can indeed be instrumental and instructional.

If we realize that our enslavement in Egypt was twofold, both physical and spiritual, as Rabbi Reiss points out in the essay Karvoh el Nafshi Ge’alah, we will more readily relate to our personal enslavement that is intertwined with our communal enslavement. Although in Egypt we were already immersed in the forty-ninth level of impurity, we still managed to cry out to Hashem, a cry emanating from our enslaved souls, even if we didn’t realize it. It was this cry, a wordless prayer, that sparked the redemptive process, and it is prayer that can help us escape from any spiritual enslavement we find ourselves in today, for Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz writes in Tiv haggadah that we daily face enslavement to the yetzer horo who continuously tries new tricks to enslave us and whom we can only escape with Hashem’s help, just as we could escape Mitzrayim only with Hashem’s help.

Rabbi Rabinowitz continues and teaches us that in retrospect we understand that our horrific enslavement served a purpose, for it made us a compassionate people, a nation whose treatment of the weak and downtrodden would serve as a light unto the nations. Similarly we must come to realize that our personal challenges and troubles also serve a purpose, and Hashem is providing us an opportunity for growth through these situations, as difficult as they are in the present. The Seder should serve as a vehicle for reaching out to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ask Him to help us understand what we are meant to learn from the challenges He is putting us through.

The Torah writes that Hashem saw and He knew. Rabbi Reiss in Pa’amei Moed raises the question: What did Hashem see and what did He know? The Targum Yonatan notes, that Hashem saw our suffering, and knew that within the deep recesses of our hearts we were doing teshuva albeit we were unaware of it. That’s why it took us a full forty-nine days from our exodus until we reached Mount Sinai to be ready to accept the Torah, one day for each level of impurity to which we had sunk. We can therefore see that there are parallels between the Seder of Pesach and Yom Kippur when we are also immersed in the teshuva process and when the men don their white kittel. When we are using the candle to search for chametz before Pesach, we should also symbolically be searching within ourselves to remove the impurities within ourselves.

With this thought in mind, let us try to understand the true nature of servitude and freedom. Using Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda’s Chovot HaLevavot as his starting point, Rabbi Moshe Schwab discusses the concept of freedom and the essence of man. If we were redeemed from the servitude of Egypt into freedom, how are we to explain our submission and acceptance of the yoke of heaven and servitude to Hashem at Sinai? What exactly is freedom?

One must first understand that man is a composite of two elements, the physical body and the spiritual soul. The spiritual soul was forced to come down from its abode under the Heavenly throne and enter the body of man. However, it always yearns to return and free itself from its physical trappings. The body, on the other hand, is always enslaved. If it does not accept the control of the soul, it will remain enslaved to the power of the physical, to the lure of the ego, to physical pleasure, all of which is transitory, and he will never be able to remove those chains. The soul too, will then be enslaved to the physical. Our soul, however, always sees God and wants to serve Him. The moment the body recognizes its true purpose and also desires to serve Hashem, it sets the soul free. The moment man becomes a servant of God and can elevate the physical to a spiritual level, the soul understands its purpose in being sent to earth, in exile from its Heavenly abode. The soul then can lead man to a higher spiritual standard, just as the Jews are meant to lead mankind to a higher moral standard.

Along these lines, Rabbi Avraham Schorr presents a unique interpretation to Chad Gadya – One Kid, the song with which we conclude our Seder. In HaLekach V’Halibuv, Rabbi Schorr cites the idea that the entire song represents each soul’s struggle to extricate itself from the body that confines it and tries to lead it astray. A kid is by nature submissive to its “father” as the soul is automatically submissive to its Father, especially the soul of the Jew Whose Father bought it with two symbolic coins, the two covenants of circumcision and Shabbat. But the independent cat, like a baby, is completely egocentric, and does not recognize a master. The dog, symbolizing the yetzer hara, joins the cat in trying to pull the soul away from its Master. Nevertheless, whatever happens, the kid always yearns to return to be submissive to its Master, as reflected in the repeating refrain of “One kid, one kid.” As the child matures, the stick enters the picture, and he gets a sense of morality, consequences, and Mussar, but this is followed by the fire of the passionate adolescent. While the life giving water of Torah can subdue the fire, the haughtiness accompanying adulthood will vie for recognition. As we grow and understand our limitations, we slaughter that haughtiness of the yetzer hara and submit again to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. But even the Angel of Death cannot destroy the yetzer hara completely. Only the Almighty in all His glory can effect a total repair of this world and the annihilation of the Yetzer hara.

This struggle of the soul is symbolized best through the image of a candle, writes Rabbi Mindel in My Prayer, for a candle flutters and strives to move continually upward, to detach itself from the wick which keeps it anchored below. Indeed, the verse states that the soul is a candle of God.

An interesting custom seems to embody this concept. Along with practical reasons, some families have an especially long candle on their Seder table, called the Mah Nishtana Licht, to symbolize this yearning of the soul. A more universally accepted custom, although also nowhere cited in the Gemara, is the custom of having a special cup designated as the Cup of Eliyahu as an integral part of the Seder. Here too we may start with practical reasons, that we prepare an extra cup for any unforeseen guest who may arrive as a result of our invitation at the beginning of the Seder (Ho lachma anya), or perhaps as a depository for wine not consumed as part of the wine of each of the four cups, so that the wines of consecutive mitzvot are not intermingled, or perhaps as a welcome for Eliyahu as we anticipate his arrival to herald the coming of Moshiach, writes Rabbi Gedaliah Oberlander in Minhag Avoteinu Beyadeinu.

Let us now go back to discussing the dual nature of Man and the model of the Prophet Eliyahu, as the Malbim explains it. When Adam was first created, before the sin, body and soul were not fused, and Adam could shed his body and rise heavenward at will. This ability was lost after the sin. However, when Eliyahu rose to heaven, he regained this ability, and only his soul rose to heaven, while his body was cast off in Eden. Eliyahu, however, does return to earth from time to time. When we see him, he has donned his physical body, but usually we do not see him, especially at the two events his presence is always welcomed: at every circumcision and at every Seder. As Eliyahu bears witness to the covenant of the blood of circumcision, so does he also bear witness to the second blood, the blood of the Pascal Sacrifice. So we open the door to greet him, and some call out, “Baruch Haba” as they do at the bris. But Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk teaches us that Eliyahu does not really enter through the door, but rather through our open hearts and souls.

HaLekach V’haLibuv writes that Eliyahu can bring out the inherent holiness in each of us. As we celebrate our Seders, take that symbolic flame and reach upward, open the door of your heart that will open the gates of heaven and use the wine as the medium for the growth of our inner core, our neshama. Just as the inner core of the grape, the wine, is greater than its outer covering and receives a greater blessing than the grapes from which it is extracted, so too are our neshamot greater than the physical bodies that contain them. This is the greater lesson of Eliyahu who could shed his physicality and rise to heaven, and this is one reason some have the custom of distributing the wine from his cup to all the Seder participants. By all participating in drinking from a single cup, we share in the unity of our nation in spite of the differences in our individual lives, and we will thus hasten the arrival of Eliyahu heralding the arrival of Moshiach, writes Rabbi Twerski.

The candle, then, is necessary not only in searching for chametz, but also for searching the recesses of our hearts for that which keeps us from aspiring upwards, for seeing the flame of God within us and for understanding our dual nature, as Eliyahu HaNavi understood it. As we open the door for Eliyahu, the candle reaches higher with the additional ruach, the spirit and the breeze. The Heavenly gates are open. Let our prayers and the yearning of our souls enter.

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