Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Waking up the חמץ Chamets/Chometz!...
During the rest of the year, any time that a non-kosher item gets into kosher food, if its volume is less than 1/60th of what it goes into, and it gets thoroughly mixed in, it is thought of as vanishing completely. The principle is called "batel bashishim" בטל בשישים (batel=nullifying, shishim=sixty). By the same token, if a piece of pork fell into a stew, if you fish it out the stew is still good to eat. In both cases the law only applies if what happened was a mistake (b'di'avad בדיעבד). You can't accidentally on purpose drop a piece of pork in to add a little flavor.
One manifestation of the fact that we're stricter about chamets חמץ than about any other kosher law is that chamets is not "batel bashishim". Chamets, unlike any other tref food (e.g, milk that gets mixed with meat or pork) ruins anything it falls into, no matter how small an amount falls in, no matter if it was a mistake or not. But that rule only applies during Passover.
So what happens if chamets got into anything *before* Passover, and it "vanished" because it was less than 1/60th? When Passover comes around, can that food be eaten? The answer is debated—some say yes for chamets that was liquid and no for chamets that was solid. The idea that guides this practice is that any piece of chamets that is not dissolved "comes back and wakes up" in Hebrew, chozer v'ne'ur חוזר ונעור.
Here's a spiritual lesson one can glean from this: on Pesach we (hope to) reach a higher spiritual level, one which is more in touch with what is essential, more humble, like matsah. That's another meaning of the word chozer חוזר, which is also used as a synonym for turning/t'shuvah/repentance תשובה. But sometimes when we reach a higher spiritual level, minor character flaws, things which wouldn't be considered important in an average person's life, can suddenly become great obstacles. For instance, white lies or the kind of slight exaggeration that might happen in business dealings may seem normal and even gracious, but when you are striving for a very high level of honesty, these things might bring you down. At that level, something that might look like an "honest mistake" can still harm, because it comes from a lack of awareness and intention. This is like the chamets: when we ascend, the shmutz we carry inside us and the habits and have learned to ignore can "come back and wake up".
How can a person fight that when it happens? Perhaps by becoming more *fluid* (i.e., liquid), less fixed on a particular idea of who you are, less focused on ego—in other words, by reaching again just a bit higher. And of course, it's a never-ending cycle. As Rebbe Nachman (and many others) taught, there is no standing still on the spiritual plane. If you're not growing then you're regressing.
The problem I know from experience. The solution (pun intended) can be a bit more elusive.
In any case, I wish everyone a chance to get in touch with their inner chamets, and to transform it.
A happy, kosher, and liberating Pesach!
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006