Some people have noticed the disheveled state of my office. They've heard me say, "Oh, it's alright, I work better in clutter." (Not true). Or they've heard me say, "I can find a book better on my desk than on my shelf." (Not really). Or I've said, "It's almost Pesach. I have to clean my office for Pesach. I'll just wait the few extra weeks until then." (Avoidance).
Pesach might provide the opportunity for a thorough "spring cleaning" of my office, but the truth is that my office is, in the words of Parashat Metzora, downright "unclean." While we could engage in lengthy discourse about whether the Hebrew word tum'ah actually translates (as it does in many Biblical translations) as "unclean," "ritually impure," or "unholy," the fact of the matter is that my office has reached the stage where I need to do something about it and I need to take action!
Perhaps it is only fitting that we read in this week's Torah portion about "defiling mold" (something considered "unclean," "ritually impure," and/or "unholy") and how it affects the places in which we live and work. Torah instructs us:
When you enter the land of Canaan which I am giving to you as your possession, and I put
a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the
priest, I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house. The priest is to
order the house to be emptied before he goes in to examine the mold so that nothing in
the house will be pronounced unclean. After this, the priest is to go in and inspect the
house. He is to examine the mold on the walls, and if it has greenish or reddish
depressions that appear to be deeper than the surface of the wall, the priest shall go out
the doorway of the house and close it up for seven days. On the seventh day the priest
shall return to inspect the house (Leviticus 14:35-39).
A distinct connection can be made between this portion and our upcoming celebration of Pesach. With Pesach rapidly approaching, and with the metaphor yielded by this week's parashah, I've been left wondering. What if it's more than just my office that needs cleaning?
In the lead-up to the High Holy Days, our tradition gives us one full month, the month of Elul, to engage in spiritual preparation before we stand before God on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are taught to undergo a critical accounting of our soul known in Hebrew as cheshbon ha-nefesh. The process is not as closely named as we approach Pesach, but somehow, removing our chametz, removing the "leavening from our cupboards" is not just a physical task, but is also a spiritual one - a holy one. More than bread and yeasty items in our cabinets that needs to be removed from our possession for a period of time, maybe, considering the words of Parashat Metzora this week, we need to also look at the mold, the reddish and greenish depressions in our souls, expose the problems that we wrestle with, and use Pesach as an opportunity to begin confronting them. That's far more challenging than re-shelving books in an office or scrubbing down a countertop.
Pesach invites us to ask questions of ourselves, even as our children ask questions of our history on Seder night. What is the stuff that lies beneath the surface that we want to get rid of? What do we need to take a step back from and look at more closely, perhaps even from a distance, to reevaluate and reconsider? What aspects of ourselves would we like to confront that we never really engage in changing because they appear too difficult (like effecting healing within a relationship)? How might we work to nullify the chametz in ourselves - the yeasty fluff, the excess leavening that we carry around that manifests itself as loftiness, arrogance, impatience, entitlement, and sometimes self-importance?
Each of us, even rabbis (and ancient priests in Israel), has aspects to our personalities that are less than palatable. We could raise our hands in the air and cry, "Chaval!" (shame! too bad!) or we could see Pesach as an opportunity to move in a different direction. Pesach, in all of its beauty and majesty is not just an opportunity to clean our offices and our homes, but a chance to truly clear the fluff from our souls too.