Chametz and Idolatry

Should mortals, like yeast bacteria do to dough, tamper with the world?

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Moshe Kempinski,

Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski
צילום: PR

In the Torah portion of Tzav we read the following;


And Aaron and his sons shall eat whatever is left over from it. It shall be eaten as unleavened bread in a holy place; they shall eat it in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting. . It shall not be baked leavened.As their portion, I have given it to them from My fire offerings. It is a holy of holies,” Leviticus 6:9-10


Hashem calls the Matzah a “holy of holies”. Why would that be?


Regarding the prohibition of chametz (leaven) on Passover we are told;


During these seven days no leaven may be found in your homes. If someone eats anything of chametz, his soul shall be cut off from the community of Israel.(Exodus 12:20)


On the one hand the Matza symbolizes the haste with which our redemption transpired. “And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, .... (Exodus 12:39).


Yet we are also told that "If someone eats anything of chametz, his soul shall be cut off from the community of Israel"( ibid 12:20).


This seems to indicate that the prohibition of the chametz and the use of the unleavened bread (Matzah) are much more than simple reminders of past events


Traditionally we have understood that the chametz symbolizes certain undesirable traits found in mankind. The leavened bread we avoid on Passover is nothing more than puffed up Matza. The yeast, representing ego and arrogance, is simply the agent that causes the dough to rise, giving the impression that more is there,than really is. The Matza on the other hand represents mankind and life at its purest.


Yet there are yet even deeper levels.


The Rambam explains that the prohibition of offering the chametz on the altar with the grain offering is based on the fact that the use of yeast and honey was similar to the idolatrous practice of sacrificing leavened bread and all sorts of sweet food smeared with honey (Guide to the Perplexed 3:46). That connection to idolatry is amplified by a teaching of the Zohar that declares “whoever eats Chametz on Passover it is as if he prayed to an idol"


To understand all this we need to consider one fact. Yeast and honey are external foreign agents added to the simple dough. The flour and the water are seemingly "enhanced" by the procedure of adding these items. The Netziv teaches that both these items tend to reinforce the dangerous misconception that mortals need to tamper with the simple truths of G-d's world .They do so because the want to believe that they are making that truth more “relevant and evident” . That “need to tamper" then becomes the source of idolatry.


G-d clearly wants our involvement in this world and with His ultimate plan "Hashem G-d took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend the garden' (Genesis 2:15) . We clearly see how great Stirrings from Above  (called Itrauta de le'ela) are usually preceded by Stirrings from Below ( Itrauta DeleTata)".


On the seventh day of Passover the Israelites stood at the edge of the Reed Sea. When the Egyptians were behind them and the desert was closing in on both sides, they cried out in fear. “And Moshe said unto the people: Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of HaShem, …. HaShem will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Exodus14:13-14)


Yet Hashem wanted and expected more from them:


And Hashem said unto Moshe: Why are you crying out to Me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.” ( ibid 14:15)


The spiritual ingredient which heralded the miracle and tore the sea apart was the fact that the people simply “went forward".

That involvement carried a risk. That risk is arrogance. There are times that we need to be reminded that after everything is said and done, “Ain Od Milvado-There is nothing but Him”. Hashem is the source and reason for all. So there are times when we need to make a clear and decisive declaration that all of our strivings are sourced in the “Stirrings from Above”. Passover is such a time, as is the offering on the altar.


The priest at the altar bringing the grain offering had to make that simple truth very clear. Therefore the use of an external agent like yeast and honey would defile the simple flour and water, Hashem calls the “Holy of Holies". The chametz ( leaven) represented man's inflated sense of self, filled with a drive and need to intervene and enhance simple beauty. Matzah, on the other hand, is called by the Zohar the "bread of Faith”,Faith in G-d's all encompassing oneness. Only after the corrective experience of eating Matzanh and contemplating its lessons, will we be ready to bring the gift representing the partnership between the G-d and man with the bread offering of Shavuot. This is a lesson that we will need to contemplate and absorb as we enter into the spiritual gateway in time called Pesach ( Passover).


It is also a lesson that will have to be learned by all the leadership of this world, including those visiting this land just before Pesach. We all have much “leaven” to remove from our souls.


( le-refuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved)