Tzav-Pesach - Bread of many lessons

In Parashat Tzav, we read that the Kohen is allowed to eat only matza from the mincha offering. On Pesach, for a week, all of us are a nation of kohanim, of priests..

Rabbi Avigdor Miller ,

HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l
HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l
INN:Toras Avigdor

Part I. Bread of Priests

The Priestly Diet

In Parshas Tzav we are introduced to the special diet of the kohanim who were serving Hashem in the Beis Hamikdash. וְזֹאת תּוֹרַת הַמִּנְחָה … מַצּוֹת תֵּאָכֵל בְּמָקוֹם קָדֹשׁ … לֹא תֵאָפֶה חָמֵץ – And this is the law of the korban mincha, the meal offering … it should be eaten as matzos, as unleavened bread, in a holy place … it is forbidden to bake it into chametz” (Tzav 6: 7-10).

It’s talking here about the korban mincha that was brought from flour, and the possuk says that the kohanim have to bake their portion of the flour into matzah – no chametz allowed for the kohanim. Of course a kohen doesn’t live on matzah – he can eat chametz too. At home he can eat bread and challah to his heart’s content – until his wife says he should stop. He can even bring a sandwich with him to the Beis Hamikdash to eat for lunch, why not?

But what he eats at his job as a kohen, when he’s eating from the korban mincha, מַצּוֹת תֵּאָכֵל – it has to be matzah, לֹא תֵאָפֶה חָמֵץ – and it’s forbidden to bake a mincha chametz (ibid.) Now, why that should be so is a good question. It’s not so simple – we’ll talk about it soon – what the matzah means. But whatever it is, we see that the matzah is an especial type of food that is set aside for the Kohanei Hashem.

Their Diet For Everyone

Now, there’s one time a year when everyone from the Am Yisroel has a chiyuv to eat the same food that is set aside especially for kohanim – on Pesach matzah becomes the food of everyone. Nashim too; even though it’s a mitzvas asei she’hazman grama, a time-bound mitzvah that women are usually exempt from, the Torah explicitly included women in the mitzvah of eating matzah.

That means that on Pesach, Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants the entire Am Yisroel to imitate the priestly diet. For seven days we declare to the world, and more importantly, we declare to ourselves, that we too are kohanim – that we are the mamleches kohanim, the nation of priests.

The Nation Is Changed


At Har Sinai, before the Torah was given, Hakodosh Boruch Hu made an earth shattering declaration to the Am Yisroel, words that should ring in our ears always.
At Har Sinai, before the Torah was given, Hakodosh Boruch Hu made an earth shattering declaration to the Am Yisroel, words that should ring in our ears always. And yet, even people who are familiar with the words, they sometimes take it as a poetic expression, beautiful and noble words that maybe make a nice drasha, but that’s about it.

Let’s listen to the words of Hakodosh Boruch Hu: וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי – I’m going to give you the Torah now, and I expect you to listen to My words. It doesn’t mean merely to listen to kriyas hatorah in shul – that’s not enough. It’s not enough to hear; you have to der’her. Herren – no; der’herren! Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants us to internalize the Torah attitudes. And once you learn how to hear, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי – you must keep My covenant. It means that you’re going to have to keep that promise of na’aseh v’nishma. “And if you are willing to do that,” says Hashem; “If you’ll stand at Har Sinai and you'll say to Me, ‘Yes Hashem, we accept You forever and ever,’ then וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים – You’ll be for Me a special treasure from all the nations.

Charged With Responsibility

Now, when Hakodosh Boruch Hu said that He’s going to make us His am segulah, He wasn’t merely saying, “I’m going to give you smicha; like some sort of rabbinical certificate to hang on the wall so that you’ll be honored by the title.” It’s not just that Hashem has chosen the Am Yisroel and that He will love us forever and ever. That too, but Am Segulah means much more than that.

What is our function as Hashem’s treasured nation? So we open our ears and listen closely to the next words in that possuk – and if you listen well you’ll understand why on Pesach we imitate the kohanim and eat matzah. “In what way will you be My Am Segulah?” says Hashem. וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים – You’re going to be for Me a ‘Nation of Kohanim’ (Shemos 19:6). “From now on everything is going to be different because I’m raising you up and making from you an entirely new type of people – a ‘Nation of Priests.’” Mamleches Kohanim doesn’t mean “a nation ruled by priests” or “a nation with a priestly class.” What it means is “a nation of priests” – a nation in which every individual is a kohen. On that day Hakodosh Boruch Hu charged us with the responsibility of kohanim — the entire people, kohanim, levi’im, yisroelim, men, women and children, were to become a nation of meshorsai Hashem, servants of Hashem, just like a kohen serving in the Beis Hamikdash.

Our Purpose

Of course, there’s a difference. A kohen that’s descended from Aharon has different dinim, certain laws that he must follow at home and in the Beis Hamikdash. But nevertheless, the entire nation, in a certain sense, are kohanim. Because what is a Kohen? Someone whose life is dedicated to the service of Hashem. A kohen wasn’t given any land in Eretz Yisroel because he’s expected to do nothing except serve Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Look, a kohen can also get a job; he also has a family. He’s a plumber maybe; he has to pay the bills after all and the matnos kehuna are not always enough. But whatever he’s doing to make a living, it’s tafel to his primary function in life which is the service of Hashem.

And that's what the ben Yisroel is supposed to be – someone who knows that his primary function in life is the service of Hashem. Sometimes, in addition to his service to Hashem, he has some profession, some parnasah too, alright, that’s good. But fundamentally he’s a kohen! That’s how a Yisroel too is expected to think – his main job in life is the service of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

I know that these words will fall flat on your ears – you’ll tell me, “Certainly I’m an oived Hashem, certainly. But that’s only part of my life; I have a job, a family – but that’s all wrong. וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים tells you that whatever you are doing in life, you’re still a kohen Hashem.

Mamleches Kohanim! These words should ring in your ears always because that’s your business in life. Nothing can change that fundamental truth that describes your purpose in this world.

Comparing Roles

The rest of the world, all the nations of the world can make their way through the mundane days of life, fulfilling their purpose of being the mishpechos ha’adamah, nations whose purpose is this world. And we don’t begrudge them for that. We appreciate them!

But on that great day at Har Sinai when we became the Mamleches Kohanim, we were lifted way up above that. Way, way up. We’re not from the nations of the world who live for this world – now we’re the Kohanei Hashem, who spend our days standing before Hashem living for the World to Come.

You’re not in the Beis Hamikdash now – you may be living in Brooklyn, in a little house and nobody knows about you; but no matter – you’re from the Mamleches Kohanim and your avodas Hashem is no less important than the kohanei Hashem who work in the Mikdash.

Kohanim Eat Matzah

Now I don’t imagine myself capable of explaining everything that’s included in the words “Mamleches Kohanim,” but we understand now that when we eat matzah on Pesach — the food that the kohanim eat in the Beis Hamikdash — we are making a big demonstration. Just like the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash eat the korban mincha of matzah, we, the Mamleches Kohanim also sit down in our homes to eat a “korban mincha.” And even though שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִים חָמֵץ, all year around we eat chametz, but הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מַצָּה, once a year we have to remind ourselves that we are chosen for this function of וְאַתֶּם כֹּהֲנֵי הַשֵּׁם תִּקָּרֵאוּ (Yeshaya 61:6).

And therefore we eat matzah – it’s a demonstration that we are devoted to avodas Hashem; that's our job. All of us – men, women, children, kohanim, leviim, yisroelim – we sit around our table, in the mikdash me’at of our homes, and we make a public demonstration of recognizing that we understand our role in this world – we are a nation of kohanim. Every Jew is a kohen. We don't have a clergy because all of us are clergymen. Every Jew is a chosen servant of Hashem and when we eat matzah we demonstrate the principle that we are kohanim lakeil elyon, servants of the Highest One of all.

The Best Persuader

Remember that when you’re chewing the matzah! You never heard it before? You’re lucky you are reading this. Of course, we’re going to enjoy the matzah too. No harm; matzah tastes good – it's a pleasure. We’re sitting around the table and our mouths are watering – we’re just waiting for the chance to fulfill the mitzvah of putting that delicious matzah into our mouths. But don’t forget the lesson – that’s the purpose of the matzah anyhow, the lesson; only that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is a good salesman, k’viyachol. He knows how to make a good sale.

You know when is the best time to make a sale? When you sit a person down to eat, that's the time you can talk to him. In Mesichta Chulin (4b) it tells us that – it says that if you want to persuade somebody of something, words are not enough – you can do it best by means of food.

Let’s say you want to sell your product to a potential customer; so you’re going to take out a big prospectus describing the product, how good it is and everything else – so while you’re talking he's yawning; he’s already falling asleep. That’s not how you do business. If you want to make a big sale, you take him to a restaurant and give him a big lunch; and after he’s burping at the end of the meal, so that’s the best time to pop the question – “Do you want to buy my product?” And that’s when he’ll be persuaded to give you an order.

Hakodosh Boruch Hu is a salesman too – only that He’s selling Torah attitudes. And by feeding us the priestly food, the matzah, on Pesach, Hakodosh Boruch Hu is selling us the important ideal that we’re His Mamleches Kohanim. And therefore it’s a mitzvah to enjoy the matzah because the more you'll enjoy it, the more you'll absorb the lesson. That’s why it says in the hagadah: לֹא אָמַרְתִּי – When did I say you should start talking about these things that the matzah comes to teach you? בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיֵּשׁ מַצָּה וּמָרוֹר מֻנָּחִים לְפָנֶיךָ – When it’s right there in front of you.

When everything is on the table, now you can start thinking and talking. Eat, enjoy – but you have to remember that the lesson is all important – eating matzah like a horse is not going to get you anywhere. If you’re not thinking when you chew the matzah so it’s a big waste — it’s a mitzvah, but it’s a waste of a great opportunity to achieve more daas. But if you chew with idealism, if you’re thinking as you chew, then there's nothing that can beat that. Because as we are enjoying the matzah, we are also absorbing the lesson that we’re the Mamleches Kohanim.

Credit for this article goes to Toras Avigdor, an organization dedicated to disseminating the Torah hashkafa of Rav Avigdor Miller ztz"l. Subscribe for our free content by sending an email to ey@torasavigdor.org, or visit our website.

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