Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cleaning Up More Than Chametz

It's that time of year again. Time to get out the cleaning supplies and turn over the kitchen for Passover - the original "spring cleaning." Hopefully, you've finished most of your Passover preparations. If not, it's important not to get overwhelmed by the task at hand. In this case, the challenge is to get our vacuum cleaners into every nook and cranny around the house in order to eradicate possible crumbs of chametz. However, there's no need to worry about doing so with absolute perfection. In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tarfon puts us a bit more at ease when he states, "You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it" (Ethics of the Fathers 2:21).

In many areas of life, it's virtually impossible to do a perfect job, but that should not discourage us. The main thing is that we do a good job. God does not expect perfection from human beings. However, each one of us was given a unique set of abilities, and we are required to do as much as we can with them. Whether it's cleaning for Passover or cleaning up our character, there is a lot of work to be done, but we must maintain the proper perspective.

When trying to develop good character, it's easy to get frustrated at all the stumbling blocks which can lead to lapses in decency, but it's all part of growing as an individual. By maintaining a good attitude and giving a valiant effort, we will become better people than we could have ever imagined. Just have a little faith and the will to try. Everything else is in the hands of God.

There is a deeply meaningful concept known as Hakol Bidei Shamayim Chutz Miyirat Shamayim (Berachot 33b and Megillah 25a) - "everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven." Without getting into an extensive philosophical discussion, there is a basic understanding we can draw from this. Human beings are not capable of controlling every event in their lives, but we do have the ability to control our responses to those events. In other words, we should place more emphasis on our attitude and effort, and be less concerned with utopian results.

Reinhold Niebuhr (who just happened to be a strong supporter of Israel and an opponent of Christians trying to convert Jews) put it eloquently in a mere twenty-seven words:

"God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference."

No human being has all the answers, but God does, so beckon Him. Furthermore, try to cooperate with the inevitability of human failure on the one hand, and our capacity to overcome obstacles on the other. In the meantime, let's clean up our attitude and effort, which we do have the ability to control. Let's make this Passover as much about avoiding the chametz of bad character traits as avoiding physical chametz. Perhaps we haven't improved ourselves in the past, but now is a great time to change. After all, Passover is the holiday of redemption.

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