7 Cheshvan 5781 / Sunday, October 25, 2020 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
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Up in Smoke

The "Chida" - Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, of blessed memory, says that by getting rid of needless physical excesses, we rid ourselves of spiritual excesses...


I should be writing about the Three Weeks, but I'm still reminiscing about Pesach. Funny, though - they're connected.
A week before Pesach, I went to an evening where Rebetzin Yemima Mizrachi was talking about the upcoming holiday. Rebetzin Yemima is taking the frum, female world by storm in Israel, and she's also becoming increasingly popular in America, too, where she's flown over a few times to lecture in English.
That night, she was talking about…Pesach. What else? There was some stuff about spiritual cleaning, as well as moving the oven out; there was some stuff about shopping (there is always some stuff about shopping…); and there was a whole bunch of other amazing Torah ideas and segulas, a lot of which really transformed my Pesach this year.
This year, my husband bought me jewellery for the holiday (see my other article this week.) This year, I had a new, white, outfit for seder night. This year, I made an effort to stay up, and to stay awake, and to sing the funny songs at the end of the Haggada, and to spend five minutes trying to do some hitbodedut (personal prayer) at 00.41 precisely - halachic midnight of Pesach, and one of the best times to pray.
And it was all great. But the thing that affected my Pesach the most, actually occurred the day before. As most of us know, the night before Pesach, there is a tradition to go through the house searching for any leftover chametz.
Of course, you're not meant to find any - that would be very upsetting the night before 38 guests descend on you for supper - so some clever person came up with the idea of taking 10 'pre-wrapped' bits of left over bread, and hiding those all over the house instead.
The next day, you take this chometz out, and you burn it. As you burn it, you make a declaration that whatever chometz you have in your possession, G-d should completely nullify it. (I'm not the world's best cleaner, so thank G-d, in His mercy, for this prayer…)
Rebetzin Yemima passed on a segula from a very famous Rabbi called "The Chid'a", that at the same time you are burning the physical chometz, you should also burn the spiritual chometz - all the things that are weighing us down and making us 'heavy' in our lives.
She told a couple of stories to illustrate the point: one woman took her fat IVF file from the local hospital, full of all her failed attempts to have children for 19 years, and burned it. Within two months, she got pregnant.
Another woman was desperate to buy her own home in Eretz Yisrael, after years of renting. She took her rental agreement, and burned it. Very shortly afterwards, one miracle after another miracle occurred, and she ended up buying the very flat she'd been renting.
I was convinced.
I came home, and I told my family that we were making a 'spiritual chometz bonfire' list; I give the kids a bag of 'chometz' each - and we all got to work.
This is what I burned: a list of my bad middot (clearly, only a partial list, as the bonfire would still be going until Lag B'Omer otherwise); my UK and Canadian passports (this Pesach, I really wanted to leave exile for good…); and a very nasty email that we'd received a couple of months' earlier, from someone I used to care about a great deal.
My husband burned the document agreeing our mortgage with the bank; the chequebook from our UK bank account that has been in permanent massive overdraft for six years; a pair of socks from Marks & Spencers (long story); and a map of the London Underground system.
One of my daughters burned the cardboard box that her Ventolin inhaler came in; and an exam timetable from school, that she'd got incredibly stressed about just before Pesach. The other one wrote a long list of things she'd quite like to have, and things she'd quite like not to have, and shoved that in her 'bread burning' bag.
We were set.
We put all our physical and spiritual chometz in a cardboard box, and we tromped off to the nearest bit of waste ground. Maybe it was the plastic; maybe it was the wind; maybe it was my desire to really get all that stuff burnt to a cinder, but we dropped one match on it, and it burned for an hour.
I stood by it, doing a bit of praying and poking around (and making sure no-one would try to nick a half-burnt passport). After about half an hour, I turned the ashes over to check everything was burnt - and I found most of the horrible email still intact.
It was paper. It should have gone up in 3 seconds. It was hanging around because the 'spiritual chometz' it represented was a motherlode of horrible feelings, resentment and insults. I stood over it for a good few more minutes, and asked G-d to burn all the 'nasty stuff' out of His world.
The next morning, I woke up in a really bad mood. 'What's going on here?', I wanted to know. Didn't I just burn a whole bunch of bad middot yesterday? Why am I in such a foul mood?
(It was the jewellery my husband had bought me for the holiday, but the another story - "The Bracelet" - go read about it…)
I was a bit disappointed. I really believed that the Chida's segula would rid me of a whole bunch of problems, and here we were, 20 hours later, and nothing had changed yet.
My husband pointed out that it may take more than 24 hours for big earth-shattering miracles to kick in, but I wasn't so convinced.
Two days' later, things started to move.
One of the things that happened is that my daughter stopped using her puff. She's still a bit wheezy (it's hayfever season) - but she decided off her own bat that her puff isn't really that helpful anyway, and she prefers to try and go it alone.
The second thing that happened is that I emailed the person who had sent me the horrible email. I hadn't spoken to them for months; I hadn't even wanted to speak to them again, ever; but G-d put it in my heart to hold out an honest olive-branch, and to see what would happen.
Less than a week later, we are very close to achieving a reconciliation that I never thought could have happened in my wildest dreams (with Hashem's ongoing help.)
If my bad middot hadn't been burnt to a crisp, I would still have been far too spiteful and vindictive to even try to attempt to make peace.
I'm waiting to see how G-d is going to sort out the mortgage and the overdraft - but even the stuff that's already gone up in smoke has me convinced that the Chida's segula works.
Wow, maybe our little bonfire can be a tiny tikkun for the burning of our two Holy Temples, which we're lamenting now...
If moshiach hasn't come by Tisha B'Av, I'm burning a picture of the Dome of the Rock; Achmenidjdad; a grad missile, and a picture of me having a bad-hair day.
I can't wait.

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