BURN THE CHAMETZ!
"Any meal-offering that you offer to Hashem shall
not be prepared leavened, for you shall not cause to go up in smoke from any leavening or
fruit-honey as a fire offering to Hashem...they may not go up upon the Altar for a
satisfying aroma." (Vayikra: 2, 11-12; Artscroll translation)
Furthermore, the Chinuch continues, leavening "puffs itself up;" it is, therefore, a symbol of gahveh, haughtiness and self-aggrandizement--a habit of heart termed an "abomination" by King Solomon in Proverbs, and excoriated in many rabbinic statements. The Altar cannot tolerate anything that hints of gahveh.
The Sefer HaChinuch is consistent here with his general approach to the mitzvos associated with the Tabernacle and the Temple: they are meant to "prepare the hearts for His service" (see mitzvah 95) by conveying, through symbolic actions, important truths related to our avodas Hashem. In this, he follows the path of many other commentators as well. Chametz symbolizes both laziness and haughtiness--atzlus and gahveh--and, therefore, is prohibited from coming upon the Altar.
The prohibition educates and trains us in the acquisition of proper character traits. (Note: This approach is obviously not meant by the Chinuch--or other commentators--, to negate the mystical aspects of the mitzvos, the effects that all mitzvos achieve in the spiritual realm. It is simply not the focus of his analysis, which, he tells us, was intended to engage the minds of the youth of his time by showing them that "the words of Torah have reasons and purposes." Madonna notwithstanding, Kabbalah has never been the beginning of one's Jewish education!)
Now, the Sefer HaChinuch is not coming out of nowhere with his nifty symbolic understanding of chametz. He is firmly grounded in the words of our Sages, who link chometz to the yetzer hara in general...and to the traits of gahveh and atzlus in particular. As you may have guessed, Pesach now becomes very relevant to this discussion.
"And you shall observe the matzos, for on this very day I brought out your hosts from the land of Egypt," the Torah writes in Parshas Bo, one of the places the Torah commands us to eat matzah on Pesach (Shemos: 12, 17). Rashi cites the famous Midrash that tells us not to read the word as matzos, but as mitzvos (formed from the very same letters). "Just as one may not allow matzah to become leavened, so one may not 'cause leavening' with regard to a mitzvah; rather, if it comes to your hand, perform it immediately." Just as you can't delay when the water is put into the dough (if you want matzos), you can't delay when the opportunity to do a commandment presents itself (if you want mitzvos).
Rabbi Chayim Friedlander, zt'l, in a beautiful essay dealing with the symbolism of chametz and matzah (Sifsei Chaim: II, pp. 345-352), explains that our Sages are not uprooting the plain meaning of the verse, which is telling us to prevent the Pesach matzos from becoming chametz. However, they are delving with their drash to the deepest essence of the mitzvah of matzah,
Matzah is meant to teach the lesson of zerizus--the
central importance of alacrity, of enthusiastic diligence, in the service of Hashem!
Rav Friedlander goes on to explain that matzah is also the food of humility nonpareil: flour and water, plain and simple. Leavened bread, on the other hand, is like gahveh: just as the dough naturally swells without anything added to its contents, so a person elevates himself without any true basis for doing so in his essence. Gahveh and chametz--both are mere air! Yet, the one is an "abomination" in the eyes of Hashem, and the other...on Pesach, anyway, is pretty much the same.
You may have wondered why it is that the Torah is so strict about the smallest amount of chametz: on the night of the 14th of Nisan, we will search every crook and cranny of our homes for the stray pretzel (I found one two years ago behind my desk) or crumbled cookie, and whatever we find, we will burn the next morning, utterly destroying it from the world. We will also nullify, with a verbal declaration, any chametz we may or may not be aware we own. Talk about obsessive behavior!
But when we understand, and meditate on, the symbolic meaning of chametz, the whole Pesach-cleaning "ritual" and removal of chametz become a glorious metaphor for the searching out and destruction of the yetzer ha'ra in ourselves. Every last bit of that yetzer ha'ra must be removed if we are to attain the inner freedom which is the essence of Pesach, if we are to be worthy of the lofty spiritual level symbolized by the matzah. Spring cleaning for our souls.
This is exactly what our Sages wanted us to be thinking about as we scrub, dust, sweep and then search around our houses in the coming days: the symbolic meaning of chametz and matzah. As Rav Friedlander writes, the days before Pesach must be "sanctified to thinking deeply into the matter of zehirus [caution--i.e., great care not to let the yetzer ha'ra, and especially gahveh, corrupt our souls] and zerizus, until a person acquires in these days yiras shamayim (awe of G-d) no less than in the days of Elul [leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur]."
May Hashem help us take advantage of the tremendous
opportunity for spiritual growth in these hectic days. Happy cleaning!
Edelstein is Director
of the Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP). Phone: 912-355-0157;
Please be in touch
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