"On the eve of the fourteenth, we search for chametz [leavened bread] by the light of a candle." (Pesachim 1:1)


This quote from the Mishnah refers to the search for chametz conducted on the eve of the fourteenth of Nisan. Here, it is interpreted allegorically to refer to the day before a boy's fourteenth year begins, i.e. the day before his thirteenth birthday, when he becomes bar-mitzvah.

For on the first day of the [boy's] fourteenth year, [his Good Inclination] enters [his body fully], in the merit of the Torah he learned in his youth - which is called "light", as in the verse, "…and the Torah is light" (Proverbs 6:23) - and in the merit of the commandments he was trained to perform as part of his education, which are called "a candle", as in the [same] verse, "For the commandment is a candle…."

The divine soul and the Good Inclination enter the individual's consciousness gradually...

The divine soul and the Good Inclination enter the individual's consciousness gradually, as the parents educate their child in its youth to accept the "yoke of the kingdom of heaven", i.e. to fulfill G‑d's commandments, study His Torah, and adopt the Torah's values. Ideally, by the time a child has reached the age of maturity, he or she has been fully inculcated into the Torah's lifestyle and is ready to accept his or her obligations. The divine soul and Good Inclination can then fully manifest themselves in his or her active consciousness.

In the merit of both of these, "we search for chametz", which is the Evil Inclination, and expel it and subdue it, and his [divine] soul and Good Inclination enter [his body fully].

Now, every person possesses [spiritual] leaven [in Hebrew, "se'or"], which comes from the seminal drop of his father. This is alluded to by the verse, "Behold, I was conceived in sin"(Psalms 51:7); [in which King David meant to say:] "My father Jesse had only his own pleasure in mind [when he conceived me]." (See Shaar HaGilgulim, introduction #38; Yalkut HaMachiri to Psalms 118:28)

Leaven, the agent that causes dough to rise, is a metaphor for the Evil Inclination, the source of ego and haughtiness in a person. (Berachot 17a )

...intentions the parents have when conceiving a child determine the nature of the child's spiritual "garment"...

Although Judaism does not believe in Original Sin, we are taught that the intentions the parents have when conceiving a child determine the nature of the child's spiritual "garment," through which he or she experiences life.1 The more selfish the parents' intentions, the more spiritual work the child must do in order to refine his or her spiritual perceptions.

Since King David aspired to the highest levels of divine consciousness, he regarded even the slight amount of selfish orientation his righteous father presumably entertained while conceiving him, as an obstacle in his spiritual development that he had to overcome.

Chametz, [in contrast,] comes from the mother's seed, and is therefore called "machmetzet" ["fermenting agent"], in the feminine.

The Torah commands us to remove all "leaven" and "fermenting agent" from our possession before Passover.(Ex. 12:15-20) Rashi understands these two terms to be synonymous: leaven is also referred to as "fermenting agent" in order to indicate that even though it is inedible, it is still prohibited to possess it, just as it is prohibited to possess chametz.

We eat matzah, in order to expel the chametz, for seven days….

All this is expelled, and we eat matzah, which signifies the Good Inclination. We eat matzah, in order to expel the chametz, for seven days, corresponding to the seven years that are left before the person turns 20. At that age, he is judged by the heavenly court.

For certain sins, a person can be tried and punished by an "earthly," i.e. rabbinic, court. For such sins, a person becomes liable for punishment at the age of maturity - 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy.

For other sins, a person cannot be tried and punished by an earthly court but only by the heavenly court. For such sins, he or she becomes liable for punishment only at the age of 20. (See Bamidbar Rabbah 18:4; Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 3)

For during these seven years, a person must be extremely on guard against his Evil Inclination, inasmuch as he had become used to [being ruled by] it until he became thirteen years and one day old. He is therefore [during these seven years] like a sick person who is being healed of his infirmity, who, during the first few days, has to eat only light foods that will not harm him. We are therefore commanded to eat [only] matzah for the seven days of Passover.

[This is what] Rabbi Shimon [bar Yochai] responded to his son, Rabbi Elazar, who asked him if chametz embodies the Evil Inclination and matzah the Good Inclination why we are not prohibited from eating chametz the whole year; the response was that in the days [of Passover], we were like sick people who came out of Egypt, and therefore had to eat [only] matzah. Afterwards, when we were healed and healthy, eating chametz would not harm us. (See Zohar II:40a)

So, too, the young man must be very watchful against the Evil Inclination until he reaches the age of 20.

[This article is a continuation of "The Exodus from Immaturity", describing the Exodus from Egypt allegorically, as the spiritual dimensions of birth.]

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei Torah; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.