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Losing Weight this Passover

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Boruch Leff

Passover's solution to why diets don't work.

Let's face it. We all love to eat. A recent study found that over 62% of American adults and 34% of children are overweight or obese. And this time of year everyone seems resolve to becoming even fatter.

"Well, I just have to resolve myself to gaining weight over Passover. I'll try to limit the damage this year to five pounds instead of the ten I gained last year."

God never commanded us to gain weight on Passover. And believe it or not, it is possible to avoid added Passover pounds – if we internalize the profound meaning of why we must avoid chametz, leaven, on Passover.

The Sages describe the lower, animalistic part inside of us, the yetzer hara, as the leaven in the dough. This is why the Torah ascribes such great significance to avoiding chametz on Passover and eating matzah instead. Matzah is eaten because God wants us to avoid the power of the evil inclination present in the leaven of chametz.

If chametz represents the negative attribute of arrogance, why is it kosher to eat all year round?

The Torah emphasizes that the "bread didn't have time to rise." Mystics explain that the rising of the dough represents the negative trait of arrogance --the feeling of a high and mighty spirit which permeated Egyptian culture at that time. God wanted to remove the Jewish people from the arrogant ‘chametz' culture of Egypt into a 'matzah' environment. Because its dough is not allowed to rise, matzah symbolizes the characteristic of modesty, which is a hallmark of the Jewish people.

But if chametz represents the negative attribute of arrogance, why is it kosher to eat all year round? Why do we only care about not ingesting this evil inclination for the duration of Passover?

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto answers this fundamental question:

"With the Exodus, the Jews were set aside from the nations of the world so that they would purify their bodies and prepare themselves for Torah and the service of God. To accomplish this, they were commanded to rid themselves of leaven (chametz) and to eat matzah. Bread is designed by God to be man's primary food. Leaven is a natural element of bread, making it more digestible and tasty. God wants us to partake in the physical world and to struggle with the evil inclination. This is why all year round chametz is an appropriate food for man. However, we are required to abstain from leaven during Passover so we can reduce the strength of the evil inclination and drive for physical desires. We strengthen our connection to spirituality by only eating matzah during Passover.

But it would be impossible for us to nourish himself only with matzah all year. This practice is only performed during Passover when we should be on a higher level." (The Way of God, 4:8:1)

The rest of the year God wants us to be submerged within the physical, resisting a desire for overindulgence and uplifting the physicality of the world. This is part and parcel of our purpose in this world -- to be challenged and tested and to use our free will to overcome temptation. Material things are appropriate in moderation.

Thus, on Passover we go without our regular fare of foods. Passover is the annual holiday when are we are supposed to weaken our physical desires and lusts for the rest of the year. It's the time for us to take a break from our regular eating habits and work on limiting our strong desire for food which can so easily get of hand.


The dieting industry in America is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Experts are constantly thinking up new diets and products in order to help people lose weight. But we all know from experience that the majority of diets simply don't work to help a person shed pounds for the long haul. Sure, the dieter loses weight initially, but all too often the pounds are put back on later. Why is this so?

A person can't live following a specific weight loss diet forever. You can't live without carbs forever. You will cave in at a certain point and get tired of all of Atkins' meat. And so on.

Diets don't work because they don't train us to change our overeating habits. We eat with the same heavy desires, only now it's with other foods that are supposed to help us lose weight. We ingest diet products so we can still feast on ice cream and cake, just with less calories. Our lust for food is replaced with a lust for diet food.

Losing weight for the long haul requires training oneself to eat less and consume less calories.

The only eating change which will make a person lose weight for the long haul is to simply train oneself to eat less and consume less calories. This is what doctors and nutritionists call portion control and avoiding consistent and heavy snacking. If you take in less calories than you give out, you lose weight. This is why exercise is so important -- you burn more calories than you normally would without exercise. It's a very simple method but it's truly the only method that has chance of working -- reducing one's desire for overeating.

You can eat all types of food when you live this way. You just have to make sure not to eat too much of something. Have a small piece of cake at times, just don't lose yourself and eat the whole cake. Have a spoonful of ice cream – but leave it at that. The truth is our taste buds are just as satisfied with a spoonful of ice cream as they are with a pint. If we savor the taste and eat slowly it has the same effect for our taste buds. Our stomachs can feel full on anything; we might as well make it food that is healthier and has less calories.

We have to stop using food as an emotional anesthetic, and Passover is the perfect time to start doing it. Even if we feel good and forget our problems during the short time we are eating, without real solutions, our problems return shortly after, and all we received in the end were excess calories.

This year, eat right and avoid those Passover pounds!


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