In preparation for the Passover holiday and its prohibition against leaven bread (Hebrew: “hametz”), Jews spend weeks punctiliously purging their homes of every last crumb of the offending food. Pantries are cleaned, ovens scrubbed, the dark, mysterious regions in between couch cushions scoured – all in a sort of spiritually charged ritual Spring-cleaning. The culmination of the process is the final search (“bedikah”) performed by candlelight, in silence, on the night before Passover.
Writing for Tablet, Judith Shulevits offers a charming theological take on the ritual and the Talmudic discussion surrounding it, interpreting it as a performative metaphor for spiritual self-examination. Some highlights:
A theology emerges. What is man? He who is capable of searching inside himself. What does he search for? Some dark or foreign matter that he has put there himself. With what does he search? The light of God, which is also in himself.
Focusing on the curious insistence that the search be done specifically by candle-light:
Why a candle rather than a torch or the sun? This time the rabbis bother to answer. Sunlight, the rabbis said, leaves portions of your house in shadow. Torches can blind you. The smallest light is the most reliable. “One can bring the light of a candle into the holes and cracks [of one's house], but one cannot bring the light of a torch into holes and cracks,” said Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak.
But as Shulevits says of the Talmudic rabbis, her writing is less a philosophical argument than “the meandering of a mad metaphysical poet,” and so it’s best read in full, which you can do here.