M ost of us are now in the throes of Pesach cleaning and Pesach preparation. Armed with ammonia, sponges, pails, and other cleaning gear, we set out to scrub, scrape, and eliminate the dreaded enemy — chometz. We clean and kasher our kitchens, use special Pesachdig pots and pans, and are very particular about the foods we purchase, to ensure that not even the slightest trace of chometz enters our mouths.

As we know, everything in the physical world has a parallel in the spiritual world.

It’s well known that chometz is a metaphor for the enemy within us, our yetzer hara. Our tenacious efforts to get rid of chometz is a metaphor for our never-ending struggle with our yetzer hara. By examining the shiur of chometz that is forbidden to eat on Pesach, we can learn a lot about the shiur of spiritual chometz that we must work hard to avoid throughout the year.

Conquer It All

The famed maggid Rav Yaakov Galinsky related a story of the time when, as a bochur in Novardok, he was given the mission of traveling to another city to obtain bread for the yeshivah.

Unfortunately, there was no bread available. As he passed through the town square on his return to the yeshivah, he saw that all the townspeople had congregated around a radio and were listening to an address by the president of Poland. Hitler had threatened to invade the city of Danzig. The president of Poland was explaining to his countrymen the rationale behind his decision to fight, rather than surrender.

“Hitler claims he wants to conquer Danzig and is asking us to surrender peacefully. If I thought that Hitler would take Danzig and then leave us alone, I would certainly give it to him. I despise war as much as you all do.”

“But I know the chancellor of Germany,” the president continued. “He will never be satisfied with Danzig. That is just a ploy, to make an inroad into our country. Hitler won’t be satisfied until he conquers all of Poland — every inch of it. We are going to have to fight eventually, so we might as well fight now for Danzig.”

After hearing these words, Rav Yaakov Galinsky returned to the yeshivah and approached the rosh yeshivah.

“Unfortunately, I was not successful in obtaining bread, but did I hear a mussar shmuess from the president of Poland!”

Rav Galinsky recounted the speech and said he realized that the president was describing not only the strategy of the chancellor of Germany, but the strategy of the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara tries to convince us to surrender something small to him. We may think: Why make a big deal over a seemingly insignificant issue? What’s the harm of giving in on something small? We need to recognize, however, that the small compromise is just the beginning. Like Hitler, the yetzer hara will never be satisfied until it takes over completely and is in total control of us.

Even the Small Things

The Torah tells us of the battle between Sichon Melech ha’Emori and the king of Moav, in which Sichon captured the city of Cheshbon and then proceeded to capture the entire country of Moav.

Chazal teach us the importance of making a cheshbon hanefesh by explaining a pasuk (Bamidbar 21:27) on the war: “Al kein yomru hamoshlim bo’u Cheshbon — Therefore the rulers will say: Come to Cheshbon.” That is, we who rule over ourselves must make a cheshbon hanefesh.

Rav Ruderman ztz”l explained that the king of Moav surrendered the city of Cheshbon willingly, thinking that doing so would appease Sichon. But this act actually opened the door for Sichon to capture the entire country. That’s why Chazal use this pasuk to teach us about the importance of making a cheshbon hanefesh, to teach us not to surrender to the yetzer hara in the “little things,” since that will open the door and allow the yetzer hara to enter.

On Pesach, chometz is assur b’mashehu; we are forbidden to eat even a minute amount. Normally, if a treif ingredient falls into a kosher mixture, the food can be eaten if the treif ingredient constitutes less than one-sixtieth of the entire mixture. If even the smallest amount of chometz falls into a Pesachdig soup, however, it renders the entire soup forbidden.

Similarly, aveiros are assur b’mashehu. The yetzer hara tries valiantly to make us veer from the ways of the Torah — just a mashehu, just a little bit. However, that mashehu has the potential to make the whole person “treif.”

A Big Deal

It’s so easy to veer just a little from our standards of kashrus or shemiras Shabbos or tzniyus or kedushah. What’s the big deal anyway if I compromise just a little bit? What’s so wrong about being a little more lax in areas I had been more careful about? I can still be a frum Jew…. So many others do it….

When we start entertaining these thoughts, perhaps we can remember the “mussar shmuess” that Rabbi Galinsky heard from the president of Poland. Perhaps we can remind ourselves that the principle of chometz assur b’mashehu applies not only to the chometz in the pot of soup, but also to the insidious chometz of the yetzer hara that is in our hearts.

The yetzer hara tries to convince us that a “small aveirah” is insignificant. At the same time, it also tries to convince us that a “small mitzvah” is insignificant. Inasmuch as we women are involved much of our day with “small mitzvos,” it wants us to believe that what we are doing is insignificant — and therefore that we are insignificant.

In fact, there is no such thing as a small mitzvah. Every mitzvah is a vehicle for bringing us closer to Hashem. Each meal we prepare for our family, each car pool that we drive, each diaper we change, is another mitzvah bringing us closer to Hashem. Each battle that we win by controlling our anger, our impatience, or our negativity is in fact a major victory. Each time we are helpful, warm, or caring — despite our exhaustion — we have taken a step toward greatness.

Moshe Rabbeinu was chosen as the leader of Klal Yisrael because of his seemingly insignificant acts of kindness toward his sheep. Yehoshua was chosen as the leader of Klal Yisrael because of his seemingly insignificant acts of arranging the seats in the beis medrash. Yocheved and Miriam were given the names Shifrah and Puah because of their seemingly insignificant acts of beautifying babies and cooing to them.

As we spend our days — and nights! — cleaning for Pesach, let’s try to keep in mind that cleaning the chometz from our homes is a metaphor for cleaning the chometz from our hearts. And it’s not just a metaphor: Cleaning the chometz from our homes is cleaning the chometz from our hearts, since we are performing a mitzvah and doing Hashem’s will.

Let’s keep reminding ourselves that every cupboard we clean is a mitzvah. Every shopping trip is a mitzvah. Every food item we prepare is a mitzvah. The early mornings and late nights we devote to cleaning, shopping, cooking and baking, despite overwhelming exhaustion, are all significant ways in which we can fight the battle against the yetzer hara — and win.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 584. Rebbetzin Suri Gibber has been involved in chinuch habanos for decades, first as general studies principal in Bais Yaakov High School of Miami, and, for the past 15 years, as principal of Bais Yaakov High School of the Twin Cities. She gives adult education classes as well.