Bo: Matza

January 21, 2010

In our parsha, we are given the mitzva to eliminate chametz from our homes during Pesach, and to eat matza during this time. Many different messages have been attached to this commandment; let us examine one such lesson.

The difference between matza and bread is that the matza is not permitted to rise. It is logical that it should thus symbolize haste and incompleteness. While the Torah never explicitly states that this is the reason for the mitzva, there are prominent hints. The mitzva to eliminate chametz and eat matza comes only a few verses after the commandment for the Jews of that generation to eat the Pesach sacrifice in haste (Shemot 12:11). Later in that chapter, the Torah tells us that the bread we brought with us to the desert was matza for the simple reason that there was no time to prepare leavened bread (Shemot 12:39).

The Torah sternly warns us to be on guard against having any chametz in our homes during Pesach. Apparently as we remember our redemption from Egypt it is critically important to remember that this redemption was in great haste. What difference would it make if someone thought that the exodus was conducted in a leisurely fashion?

One possible explanation is that we need to keep in mind that as we left Egypt, we were not completely ready for redemption, and indeed our redemption was incomplete. Only when we received the Torah did we complete our redemption; only then did we reach completion as a nation.

In previous columns we have discussed other commandments that seem to carry this identical message. For instance, last year’s column on Vaera presented the Maharal’s explanation why we may not interrupt between the third and fourth cups of wine. The third cup commemorates the redemption and the fourth commemorates Israel being taken to HaShem as His special nation. By creating continuity between these two cups we emphasize that our national freedom lacks meaning without our special role as a holy people, which is realized through Torah.

In the column on Emor in 5760, we discerned the same lesson in the counting of the omer which connects the barley offering of Pesach with the shtei halechem loaves brought at Shavuot. The requirement to count emphasizes that our service at Pesach is still incomplete. The reason we discussed in that column is that at Pesach only the barley is ripe and we have to wait until Shavuot for the shtei halechem made of wheat, but an equally salient difference is that the shtei halechem are chametz, unlike other public offerings which are matza.

Events of recent generations demonstrate that a genuine danger exists that Jewish freedom and independence can be appreciated and celebrated in isolation from our role as a holy people and from the yoke of Torah.

The prohibition on chametz is the most prominent commandment celebrating the Redemption. By making the central commemoration of the Exodus something which transparently symbolizes incompleteness, the halakha teaches us that our recollection of our freedom should always include the consciousness that this freedom is incomplete without Torah.

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.