Between Matzah and Chametz

Chametz – Haughtiness Toward Heaven

The prohibition against Chametz (leaven) on Passover is a particularly stringent one. The Torah not only prohibited the eating of Chametz but also added a prohibition against its possession. The Sages proceeded to add a prohibition against mixtures containing even the smallest amount of Chametz. In other words, our break with Chametz on Passover is of an absolute nature. The reason for this is that Chametz represents evil. According to the Zohar, Chametz stands for the evil inclination. Other sources explain that Chametz alludes to pride; Chametz causes the dough to rise, a trait which gives the impression of audacity and swelling of the physical, like the boasting of a haughty person. Matzah, on the other hand, maintains its original size, as created by the Almighty.

Yet, this explanation presents some difficulty, because throughout the year Chametz is not seen to be evil, and there is no prohibition against eating it. To the contrary, the Sages praise he who knows how to make pleasant cakes from Chametz (cf. Tanchuma Tazriah 5). This is the reason that God bestowed man with intelligence and practical talent; He wanted man to involve himself in the development of the world. God intentionally created the world in a deficient manner, so that man, by means of technological and scientific advancements, is able to attach himself to God’s acts and take part in the perfection of the world.

It is possible to resolve this seeming contradiction by distinguishing between two types of pride. The first type of pride resides in a person who makes a practice of praising himself, believing himself to be smarter, stronger, or more successful than he actually is. Any intelligent person understands that this sort of pride damages first and foremost the proud person himself because it causes his judgment to become completely warped. It follows that this sort of individual is then unable to plan his ways, and his life becomes filled with mistakes and disappointments. Obviously this sort of pride is undesirable all year long.

But the second type of pride – the type represented by the Chametz on Passover – is that pride displayed by man toward his own Creator. Every Jew must recognize the fact that God created the world and that the sources of all things are dependent upon Him alone. And though God gave man the ability to improve and develop the world, man can only improve the “branches;” the sources, or “roots” are completely untouchable to man, for they are an entirely Divine creation. The Almighty created the world, chose the Jewish people to be His prized possession, and gave them the Torah. Man has no say as far as any of these foundations are concerned. Therefore, when man stands before his Creator, he must adorn himself in great humility and make all effort not to mix trivial human calculations with the foundations of creation.

The Passover festival, especially Seder Night, was intended to implant in us the foundations of faith: that there is a Creator, and that He oversees His creation, and that He chose the Jewish people to be the ones to cause His name to be revealed in the world. God reveals the foundations of faith in creation through completely miraculous event. This is necessary in order to make it clear that such principles are of a Divine, not human, nature. It is for this reason that the Exodus involved miracles and wonders – in order to publicize the fact that Israel’s chosen status was divinely determined. Similarly, the Torah was given through revealed miracles and in a generation that led a supernatural existence for forty years in the wilderness – in order to make it known that what we are dealing with here is a completely Divine matter. In other words, the foundations of faith were received by us rather than invented, and whoever tires to attribute a human element to the foundations of faith is guilty of idolatry. Therefore, on Passover, the festival which is meant to implant in us faith in God, we have been commanded to be very careful about even the slightest amount of Chametz, for it represents the human side of us which must be set aside when dealing with the foundations and fundamentals of faith. During the rest of the year, though, because we deal only with the branches which derive their origin from these fundamental concepts and which need to be developed and refined, Chametz is desirable.

The Significance of Matzah

Matzah is the opposite of Chametz. It comes to teach us to be humble before God, for although God has given us the ability to act and to improve the world, we are unable to affect the essential basic nature of things. Therefore, on Passover, when we are dealing with the most fundamental foundations, we do not mix even the smallest amount of Chametz in our food, but instead eat Matzah. Matzah remains thin, and does not undergo any leavening process.

Via the humble recognition of God, as expressed by the matzah, we absorb faith in God who oversees the creation and who has chosen the Jews. The most essential foundation of the Jewish faith was revealed through the Exodus. And although there were plenty of people who believed in God before the miraculous Exodus, this could amount to no more than an individual bonding with the Divine. True faith in God had not yet revealed itself in the world in a complete and all-encompassing manner; only with the Exodus from Egypt, when a complete nation had been formed which encompassed all elements of society – intellectuals and working people, men and women, old and young – could faith reveal itself in a complete and all-embracing fashion.

Matzah comes to remind us of faith. Hence, in the Zohar, matzah is referred to as “Mikhlah D’Mehemnutah” – the Bread of Faith (Part Two, 183:2). It has further been said that by eating matzah with the proper intention on Seder Night a Jew merits attaining a state of faith, while by eating matzah on all seven days of Passover, one merits having such faith implanted and etched in his heart (Pri Tzaddik, Maamarei Pesach, 9). And because the matzah alludes to faith, it is obvious that its entire baking process needs to be carried out with exceptional care (as we will later see in the Laws of Matzah). The reason for this is that faith is the source of all, and all is dependent upon faith. Even the slightest flaw in faith will eventually have a devastating effect upon the world.

In light of this, it becomes possible to understand why Israel became a nation while slaves in Egypt. All the other nations in the world are born and grow to maturity in a natural, organic manner, from the bottom up, from family to tribe, from tribe to nation. In the process of developing they build a culture based upon the life conditions of the people, the climate and contour of their land, and the character of their confrontations with their neighbors. From out of such a culture a kind of fabricated faith is born, which is by its very nature idolatrous.

But the Jewish people became a nation while serving as slaves, with no culture; disgraced and defamed as they were, establishing an independent          culture was impossible. They faced an Egyptian culture which, in addition to being foreign to them, was most likely hated by them, for      it  abused them. Hence, the Jewish people were like a clean sheet of paper lacking any established opinion, and were therefore able to act as loyal           recipients of the true Divinely revealed faith, and to receive the Torah from Heaven without mixing human creations into its foundations. The matzah,       being thin and meager like the Children of Israel at that time, alludes to this idea.

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