Ereb Pesah is an especially significant day on the Jewish calendar. We read in the Book of Shemot (17) how G-d declared a war against the wicked nation of Amalek, declaring “Ki Yad Al Kes K-ah.” The Hachamim teach that the word “Yad,” which has the numerical value of 14, alludes to the 14th of Nissan, Ereb Pesah. In this verse, G-d proclaims that the final destruction of Amalek will occur on the 14th of Nissan, and on this day a great celebration will be held to mark this victory. And thus this is a day of enormous spiritual potential, when we are given the ability to triumph over evil.
The first Mishna in Masechet Pesahim states, “Or Le’arba’a Asar Bodekin Et Ha’hametz Le’or Ha’ner” – we search for Hametz by candlelight on the night of the 14th of Adar. The simple meaning, of course, is that we perform the Misva of Bedikat Hametz on this night, scouring our homes in search of Hametz so we can eliminate it before the holiday. Additionally, however, the Mishna refers to the spiritual process of ridding ourselves of our internal “Hametz,” the Yeser Ha’ra (evil inclination), which causes us to sin. The primary “search” on the 14th of Nissan must be an internal one, searching through ourselves to root out our negative qualities and sinful tendencies.
A famous Pasuk in Tehillim teaches, “Sur Me’ra Va’aseh Tob” – “Turn away from evil and perform goodness.” We must first desist from evil before we can proceed to pursue goodness. And thus before we observe the great Misvot of Pesah, we must eliminate the “evil” within us, symbolized by the Hametz.
This Pasuk may also be read in a different light. Sometimes, the process of “Sur Me’ra,” eliminating the evil from within ourselves, can cause us depression. As we contemplate our negative qualities and many deficiencies that need to be corrected, we can easily become despondent and upset. When this happens, instead of going into Pesah in a state of joy, as we should, we begin the holiday in a state of depression. The Pasuk therefore instructs that while we engage in the process of “Sur Me’ra,” of searching for and eliminating the “Hametz” from our beings, we must “Aseh Tob” – involve ourselves in “goodness” that will bring joy instead of sorrow. As our Sages teach, “Me’at Min Ha’or Doheh Harbeh Min Ha’hoshech” – “A little bit of light drives away a large amount of darkness.” And so rather than perform Teshuba in a manner of negativity and anguish, we should instead “Aseh Tob,” shine the light of Torah, which is referred to as “Tob,” as in the verse, “Kil Lekah Tob Natati Lachem” (“for I have given you good teaching”). The best way to undergo the process of Teshuba, to ensure that it brings joy instead of sorrow, is to commit oneself to Torah learning, to spending his free time involved in study. This is the “light” that will drive away the “darkness” of depression.
This, then, is the Mishna’s intent when it teaches that we search for the Hametz “by the light of the candle.” This means that we must work to eliminate the “Hametz” through the “light” of the Torah, as in the Pasuk, “Ki Ner Misva Ve’Torah Or” (“For a good deed is a candle and Torah is light”). By recommitting ourselves to learning, we ensure that the “Hametz” is automatically eliminated. It is through the flame of Torah that we succeed in eliminating our negative qualities without falling into depression. (This might explain why the Torah refers to the first day of Pesah as “Shabbat,” when it introduces the command of counting the Omer – “U’sfartem Lachem Mi’moharat Ha’Shabbat.” The word “Shabbat” here refers to the fact that on Pesah we fulfill the command of “Tashbitu Se’or Mi’batechem” – eliminating Hametz from our homes, referring to the both the actual Hametz and the spiritual “Hametz” within our souls.)
And thus when we light the fire to burn the Hametz, we should also have in mind that we seek to burn and eradicate the Yeser Ha’ra within us, all our weaknesses and negative tendencies. It is also recorded that the Sadikim would have in mind that all their problems should be burned along with the Hametz. They would write their problems on a piece of paper and then throw the paper into the fire with the Hametz. Additionally, it is customary to burn the Lulab from the previous Sukkot and the leftover wicks from the previous Hanukah along with the Hametz.
We hope and pray that our efforts to eradicate our internal “Hametz” will be successful, and by the time Pesah begins we will be clean of our evil inclination and prepared to proceed to the stage of “Aseh Tob” with joy and festivity at the Seder.