Search by Candlelight

From: Marcell

Dear Rabbi,

Must the search for chametz before Passover be done only with a candle?  If so, why? If not, what else can be used? Thanks.

Dear Marcell,

The search for chametz is performed by the light of a single candle. A torch which has many wicks, or a large flame, may not be used because a person may not search properly out of fear that fire may spread. Also, the large flame prevents one from looking into small corners or crevices.

Similarly, candles made of fats, oil or non-kosher materials may not be used since one will be distracted from the search by the fear that the fat or the oil will drip and stain the house and his other belongings, and that the forbidden materials will drip into foods and render them non-kosher.

Rather one should use a candle made of wax, since it gives a bright light, and if it drips, it won’t cause damage or render food unfit. Customarily, thinner candles are preferred since they drip less. Also, such candles are easier to maneuver into small, tight places. That being said, even though such candles are preferred, where flame or dripping wax could cause fire or damage, a flashlight may be used.

The search for chametz in our homes and among our belongings parallels what should be a search into ourselves and the inner recesses of our beliefs and modes of behavior. Just as we remove leavened material from our possession, so we are to remove improper beliefs and practices from ourselves.

Perhaps this relates to the types of candles that should or shouldn’t be used for the search. A multiple wicked candle or large torch may represent an overzealous search which may burn a person, or alternatively prevent a person from reaching into and cleaning the subtle crevices needed for change. Candles made of messy materials represent a disorganized and haphazard search which certainly isn’t conducive to real improvement. And spiritual searching through non-kosher means renders one entirely unfit.

However, a single flame, from a thin, kosher candle represents using the light of Torah to concertedly and strategically search the deep and dark recesses of ourselves to illuminate and rectify our wrongs in order to prepare for, and catalyze, Redemption.

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