Passover Cleaning – Toothpicks, Forests and more

You are a toothpick. No, seriously. Let me explain….Chevruta in a Tree This week’s parsha is Tsav, meaning ‘command’. It details all of the different types of sacrifices to be brought to the temple and what Aharon, the Cohen, and his sons are meant to do with them. When someone transgresses a commandment or sins in a particular way, they bring an offering to the temple to atone for that sin. While I read through this week’s parsha and its detailed account of what is to be done with each type of offering, I think, “Wow! There is always a way back! No matter how far I’ve gone off or down or away from my highest self, there is a way back.” And there is not only one way back at that! Each specific folly requires a specific repentance, which is awesome to me because it means that each thing we do isn’t lumped into some category of ‘bad’ vs. ‘good’. Every little move we make matters in a real way. This can be a scary thought. But it can also be liberating. And wouldn’t you know it, but this relates so beautifully to a piece of Passover Torah that I feel deeply connected to… Passover is just around the corner and that means a lot of bleach! The Torah commands us to get rid of all of our chometz (on a physical level this means grain products and the like and on a deeper level this means spiritual blockages that keep us from connecting to the deepest, truest aspects of ourselves). So while I’m physically scrubbing off that caked on oatmeal from my side table, I’m also spiritually evaluating, and trying to let go of, any caked on external, negative influences that keep me from being the best version of myself. Sometimes, in order to de-chomtez-fy to the utmost degree, I have to get into a specific nook or cranny where that one little crumb is staring at me in the face and taunting me to try and remove it. But, alas, my fingers, once seen as delicate and crafty now seem like big crab claws unfit for anything. And this is when I turn to…the toothpick. There is a scene from the cartoon movie Fern Gully (remember watching that in elementary school?!) where the camera pans over a devastated forest. Rows of stumps appear on the screen and as the camera pans to the end of the razed forest, we see a truck driving away with the words on it, “so and so toothpick company” (I don’t remember the name of the company, okay…it was a long time ago!). I studied astronomy, among many other things, in college and learned that all of the elements that make up the entire universe can also be found in us, here on earth. This is also a deep kabbalistic principle that the entire universe is contained in one person and that one person is a microcosm of the entire universe. That whole huge universe and here we are, seemingly insignificant and small. And that entire huge forest was used to make toothpicks; seemingly insignificant and small. Hold that thought. Now, what do we say to each other on Passover? Not the normal Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday) but “Chag KASHER v’Sameach” (happy and KOSHER holiday). We wish our fellow Jew to have a happy and totally kosher, meaning completely chometz-free (physically and spiritually) holiday. And How can one be completely chometz-free? Only by the use of the….toothpick. That little crumb, staring me in the face, can only be removed with the help of a toothpick. And I think about myself, as a seemingly small and insignificant detail in the grand scheme of the immensity of the universe just like the toothpick compared to a forest. And I think, I am that toothpick. You are that toothpick. We are all toothpicks. There is a lot of crummy stuff in this world (pun intended) and We are here to get it out. We each have our piece of brokenness that we came here to fix, and that we are specifically suited to remove. We might be small, and we might feel that sometimes. But you should know, that if you were anything other than exactly how you were made, you might not be able to do exactly what you were made for. You’re perfect. Each of us, individually, is capabale of accessing spiritual potential and impacting the world in a positive way. Our sages say that when a person sins he contaminates the holy temple BUT when he repents, he REBUILDS a totally new and shiny holy temple. It is as if he recreates a temple within himself. And this is Passover, the time in which we can access that great power of cleaning out all of our literal and metaphorical closets and rebuild our internal sanctuaries. This is a time of decay. Bleach is singeing off the hairs of our nostrils. Spiritually we are being forced to repair and care. It’s hard. But it is also this decay that fuels our ultimate, higher potential to be actualized. May we all be blessed to have the strength to seek out our chometz, the clarity to recognize the tools that we have to get it out, and upon doing so, may we be blessed to rebuild our own temples and recognize that there is always better – to hope for it, yearn for it, and strive for it and to be successful in all that we endeavor in in this world. Shabbat Shalom and…Chag Kasher v’Sameach! Karyn Bernstein

Meir Paltiel
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Originally from Syracuse, NY, Meir received his BA in American History and Political Science from Tulane University and his MS in Resource Management from SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry. He arrived in Israel in 1992, served in the Nahal Infantry Unit before moving to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. On Kibbutz, Meir was Assistant Manager of the... Read More