The Mishnah describes how we conclude the search for leaven on the eve of Passover eve:
With the last light of the fourteenth of the month, we search out the leaven by the light of a lamp. Any place where we do not bring leaven does not require searching…
We need not worry that a weasel has dragged something leavened from one house to another or from one place to another. For if this were so, it could have been from one courtyard to another or from one town to the next and the matter would have no end.
The ancient text brings to light and addresses a very real worry: It is possible to become obsessed with the Torah’s commandment to remove all leaven from your homes (Exodus 12:15).
Here, on the eve of Passover eve, the ancient text describes a ritual that redeems us from endless search, or else the matter would have no end. We would be endlessly enslaved to the commandment. Going forth from the obligation/ y’tziah mi-y’dei chova sets the stage for going forth from Egypt/ y’tziah mi-Mitzrayim.
As daylight gives way to lamplight, the final search for leaven is not a scrupulous hunt in the bright sun of clear distinction. In the end, it is the shadow that reveals, in our day, a few pieces of bread strategically hidden so as to be found. More for the soul than for the search, this is an act of both obedience and freedom. We have done the best that we can; there must be an end in order to make a beginning.
We declare closed the search for leaven, but the “yeasty” symbol of a candlelight quest continues to rise into new meaning.
The poet, Yehuda Amichai, watched his father light his lamp from the Mishnah’s flame and search his way into parable:
Last evening I gave you a parable
of my father who on the eve of Passover eve
would cut bread with precision
into exact cubes and put
them on the window sill so that he would be able
to find them with his heavy eyes
by the light of a candle dancing mitzvah dances
so that his blessing for burning the leaven not be
This is how we live:
directors of our selves
with perfect faith, almost,
so as not to be
The evening search is contrived—but not beyond belief. By candlelight we, along with the poet, learn from practice and parable the well rehearsed act of nullifying the leaven while leaving the drama intact. Such is the nature of perfect faith, almost.