A Lesson About Chametz
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, attracted to himself a circle of most distinguished disciples, each a great Talmudic scholar in his own right. To this distinguished group, which was divided into three groups, Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught his concepts of Chasidic philosophy.
Many of these disciples had formerly been opponents of the new teaching, but had been won over to it by the depth and profundity they found in Chasidic philosophy and the evidence of its power to refine the Jew's character.
One of these young men arrived in Liozna and soon made a name for himself as a brilliant "masmid," a person who devoted every moment of his time to the study of Torah. He spent hours immersed in meditation and contemplation and in a relatively short amount of time he achieved a remarkable mastery of the topics of Chasidic philosophy.
One evening, near the end of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, he was feeling the effects of the fast, and so, exhausted and weak, he decided to retire earlier than usual. He prepared himself by washing his hands and reciting the Shema, which is said before retiring. However, he did not get a wink of sleep that night. Instead, he fell into a reverie of mediation upon the mysteries of the Divine names which are woven into the words of the Shema. Lost in thought, he remained standing by his window until dawn filled the sky.
In those days, to have a private audience with the Rebbe was a rare event, preceded by intense preparation and introspection. When the day arrived for this particular young man to enter the Rebbe's study, he asked the Rebbe: "What do I lack?" The Rebbe replied, "You lack nothing in scholarship and fear of heaven. One thing, however, you must see to, and that is to get rid of the chametz in your character, the leavened, the puffed up nature of an inflated ego. The remedy for this is matza, a poor food which symbolizes bittel, or self- abnegation.
The Rebbe continued to speak to his young disciple in this vein, explaining a certain Jewish law with which the young man was thoroughly conversant. Now, however, the student understood not only the plain meaning, but also the inner, esoteric meaning of the halacha. The Rebbe explained, "If a kitchen utensil which is used for Passover comes into contact with chametz (leavened), the law requires that it be heated so intensely that it emits sparks or its outermost part comes off."
The young man listened well to what the Rebbe told him, and when he left the Rebbe's room he was a different person. Speaking of it to his companions, he said, "The Rebbe taught me one of the laws of Passover as it is learned in the Torah Academy in the next world. He has infused me with the strength to work on my own character and to accomplish this law in my own day to day life."