Bread! (Photo/Wikimedia-3268zauber CC BY-SA 3.0)
Bread! (Photo/Wikimedia-3268zauber CC BY-SA 3.0)

Expel that yeast! (And get rid of the thorn from your own life) 

The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.


Leviticus 14:1–15:33

This week, Jews around the world start the arduous task of cleaning their homes for Passover.

But why does the Torah command us to clear out our house of all chametz (leavened bread) during Passover?

It is logical to eat matzah; this fast food has a historical connection to the Exodus, recalling our hurried escape from Egyptian slavery. But how does clearing out leavened bread from our homes relate to the Passover theme of freedom and spiritual growth?

There are two aspects to attaining spiritual growth and transformation. First, one needs to grow in kindness and holiness. But spiritual growth and real transformation also require letting go of addictions or bad habits we currently have. There must be loss for there to be greater gain. We must give up the comfort of remaining the same and that’s difficult.

Here’s a helpful analogy: Imagine you have a thorn in your arm that directly touches a nerve. When the thorn is bumped, it’s very painful and makes it difficult to move through life. You have two choices:

1. You can make sure nothing touches it.

2. You can take it out.

The effects of this choice will determine the course of the rest of your life.

Here’s why: If you choose to keep the thorn in, you have to protect yourself by making sure nothing touches it. If you walk in a crowded shopping center, you have to constantly avoid people so the thorn doesn’t get bumped. You fall in love. It’s hard to have someone near you when you’ve got a thorn touching a nerve. Your spouse will be getting on your nerves.

You see, the thorn completely runs your life. It affects all your decisions. If you don’t address the thorn itself, you can’t be a free person. You are enslaved to the thorn.

We all have such thorns in us. Maybe it is the thorn of addiction, the thorn of arrogance, the thorn of bitterness, or anger. Maybe it is the thorn of abuse, the thorn of divorce, the thorn of abandonment, the thorn of insecurity.

There are many thorns that enter our life, some by our own doing, some without a personal invitation on our part.

But most of us have a thorn we hold onto and we refuse to remove it. We fear removing the thorn will be hard and painful. And we design our whole life around it. We don’t realize that we’ve become slaves to that thorn.

What is chametz?

It is a foreign substance added to the dough, yeast, which makes it rise. It changes the dough’s natural shape and characteristics. The Talmud (Berakhot 17a) tells us this is symbolic of the foreign substances, the thorns, that enter life. The destruction of all leaven in the house symbolizes the removal of all thorns that prevent us from realizing our spiritual aspirations.

So the holiday of Pesach tells us: It’s time to wake up and leave your inner Egypt. Get rid of the thorn, the Chametz we hold on to that limits our lives. It’s time to be what God has designed us for; free to be our truest selves.

Good luck with the cleaning and have a great Passover!

Rabbi Dov Greenberg
Rabbi Dov Greenberg

Rabbi Dov Greenberg leads Stanford Chabad and lectures across the world.