In Search of Chametz

April 19, 2016

24 min read


Passover (first day) (Exodus 12:21-51 )

I. Pesach and Matzah

While the seven day festival commemorated each year in the spring is now known as Chag haPesach (Passover),1 the Torah consistently refers to this holiday as Chag haMatzot – the holiday of matzah. The biblical name for the evening prior to this seven day holiday, the day on which the Paschal offering was brought- the day commonly referred to in modern parlance as “erev Pesach” – is, in fact, referred to in the Torah as Pesach. Each of these names, “Chag haPesach” and Chag haMatzot,” is applied to a distinct holiday, reflecting the major obligations of each of these respective days: Sacrificing the Korban Pesach, on the one hand, and eating matzah, on the other.

There is, however, one major element that is not expressed in these names; apparently, this third element is the flip side of the coin, as it were: We are commanded to eat matzah (unleavened bread), and, at the same time, chametz (leavened bread) is prohibited. And although this aspect is not given expression in the name of the holiday, the avoidance of chametz may be the real essence of the holiday, and it is this aspect which occupies our thoughts and energies in the days leading up to Passover.

In Jewish theology, the avoidance of chametz is associated with the understanding that chametz is a symbol of the evil inclination, and of sin. The earliest source for this association is a brief passage in the Talmud in which chametz (or, to be more precise, a leavening agent) is used as a metaphor for man’s weakness in the face of the evil inclination:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף יז עמוד א

וְרַבִּי אַלֶכְּסַנְדְּרִי, בָּתַר דְּמַצְלֵי, אָמַר הָכִי, רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים, גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לְפָנֶיךָ, שֶׁרְצוֹנֵנוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹנְךָ, וּמִי מְעַכֵּב? שְׂאוֹר שֶׁבָּעִסָּה וְשִׁעְבּוּד גָּלֻיּוֹת. יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ, שֶׁתַּצִילֵנוּ מִיָדָם וּמֵאַחֲרֵינוּ, וְנָשׁוּב לַעֲשׂוֹת חֻוקֵּי רְצוֹנְךָ בְּלֵבָב שָׁלֵם.

R. Alexandri, when he finished praying, would add the following: Sovereign of the Universe, it is known full well to You that our will is to do Your will. What prevents us (from doing so)? The yeast in the dough and our subjugation to foreign powers. May it be Your will to deliver us from their hand, so that we may return to performing the statutes of Your will with a perfect heart! (Talmud Bavli, Brachot 17a)

This passage has nothing to do with Passover or preparation for the holiday; rather, the identification of chametz – or se’or (yeast) is primarily a metaphor. Nonetheless, this single and singular passage has wielded a great deal of influence, and is the source of the angst experienced by many Jews as the holiday approaches.

The equation this passage creates between chametz and sin gives rise to many question, foremost of which is this: If leaven, and specifically bread, are representations of evil, why is it ever allowed? Why is bread not relegated to the same category as other forbidden foodstuffs, banished from the Jewish diet along with pork, shellfish and other proscribed foods? Why is abstaining from chametz commanded for only one week a year?

II. Chametz and Matzah

In order to understand the very particular commandment regarding Pesach, we must have a more in-depth understanding of the relationship between chametz and matzah, both in terms of the narrative of the Passover story and other areas of the Torah.

On a fundamental level, the terms chametz and matzah are seen as two sides of the same coin: They appear in tandem, and are presented by the Torah as polar opposites. When the Israelites are first given instructions regarding the holiday they will observe in the future, the Torah instructs them – in the same breath – not only to eat matzah, but to search out, destroy, and most certainly not eat leaven:

שמות פרק יב: טו-כ

שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵ֔לוּ אַ֚ךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁ֔וֹן תַּשְׁבִּ֥יתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם כִּי׀ כָּל־אֹכֵל חָמֵ֗ץ וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִיּ֥וֹם הָרִאשֹׁן עַד־י֥וֹם הַשְּׁבִעִֽי: וּבַיּ֤וֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל־מְלָאכָה֙ לֹא־יֵעָשֶׂה בָהֶ֔ם אַ֚ךְ אֲשֶׁר יֵאָכֵל לְכָל־ נֶ֔פֶשׁ ה֥וּא לְבַדּוֹ יֵעָשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶֽם: וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֘ אֶת־הַמַּצּוֹת֒ כִּ֗י בְּעֶ֙צֶם֙ הַיּוֹם הַזֶּ֔ה הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אֶת־צִבְאוֹתֵיכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֞ם אֶת־הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם חֻקַּ֥ת עוֹלָֽם: בָּרִאשֹׁ֡ן בְּאַרְבָּעָה֩ עָשָׂ֨ר י֤וֹם לַחֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ בָּעֶ֔רֶב תֹּאכְלוּ מַצֹּת עַ֠ד יוֹם הָאֶחָ֧ד וְעֶשְׂרִ֛ים לַחֹדֶשׁ בָּעָֽרֶב: שִׁבְעַת יָמִ֔ים שְׂאֹ֕ר לֹ֥א יִמָּצֵא בְּבָתֵּיכֶם כִּי׀ כָּל־אֹכֵל מַחְמֶ֗צֶת וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מֵעֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בַּגֵּר וּבְאֶזְרַ֥ח הָאָֽרֶץ: כָּל־מַחְמֶצֶת לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ בְּכֹל֙ מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶ֔ם תֹּאכְלוּ מַצּֽוֹת:

Eat matzah for seven days. By the first day, you must have your homes cleared of all leaven, for whoever eats leaven from the first day until the seventh day will have his soul cut off from Israel. The first day shall be a sacred holiday, and the seventh day shall [also] be a sacred holiday. No work may be done on these [days], except for [work] which is needed so that everyone will be able to eat. Be careful regarding the matzot, for on this very day I will have brought your masses out of Egypt. You must carefully keep this day for all generations; it is a law for all times. From the 14th day of the first month in the evening, until the night of the 21st day of the month, you must eat [only] matzot. During [these] seven days, no leaven may be found in your homes. If someone eats anything leavened his soul shall be cut off from the community of Israel. [This is true] whether he is a proselyte or a person born into the nation. You must not eat anything leavened. In all the areas where you live, eat matzot. (Shmot 12:15-20)

In the same chapter, as the narrative describes the Jews’ departure from Egypt, these two opposites are again mentioned:

שמות פרק יב:לט

וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת־הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹת כִּי לֹא חָמֵץ כִּֽי־גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָֽכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ וְגַם־צֵדָה לֹא־עָשׂוּ לָהֶֽם:

[The Israelites] baked the dough that they had brought out of Egypt into unleavened (matzah) cakes, since it had not risen. They had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had not prepared any other provisions. (Shmot 12:39)

Once again, we are told, there is only one or the other: There was no chametz, therefore there was matzah – or, because there was matzah, there was no chametz and vice versa.

What is surprising, though, is the account of the very first “seder” held in the Israelites’ homes in Egypt on the night prior to the Exodus: They received very detailed instructions about how to prepare for this very special night, how to bring the required offering, how to eat the festive meal: The Korban Pesach was to be eaten with matzah, but there is no mention of any prohibition regarding chametz:

שמות פרק יב:ח

וְאָכְלוּ אֶת־הַבָּשָׂר בַּלּיְלָה הַזֶּה צְלִי־אֵשׁ וּמַצּוֹת עַל־מְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻֽהוּ:

Eat the [sacrificial] meat on this night, roasted over fire, with matzah and bitter herbs. (Shmot 12:8)

We might posit that leaven was disallowed only after the Jews left Egypt in haste and the dough had no time to rise; prior to the Exodus, matzah was commanded – because that is how the Passover offering is eaten – yet it was not yet necessary to prohibit chametz.

Alternatively, we may infer from this anomaly that the prohibition of chametz is associated with the holiday of Chag haMatzot – and not with the festival of Pesach. This may be borne out by an additional instance in which matzot are eaten with the sacrifice of a paschal lamb, but chametz is not prohibited: “Pesach Sheni.” As in the first Pesach celebrated in Egypt, Chag haMatzot was not celebrated by those who were unable to bring their sacrifice at the appointed time. As in Egypt, those who could not celebrate Pesach at the proper time celebrated the second, “mini” Chag haPesach, and ate their sacrificial meal with matzot, although there was no prohibition against chametz. Eating the Korban with matzah was part of the mitzvah of Pesach, but was distinct from the eating of matzah on Chag haMatzot -- which is always accompanied by the prohibition of chametz.2

III. Spring Time

We have examined the verses that instructed the Israelites regarding Pesach in Egypt. In the chapter that follows these instructions, we find an additional discussion of chametz and matzah, but in this second presentation, the Torah very subtly introduces a new factor:

שמות פרק יג:א

וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹֽר: קַדֶּשׁ־לִי כָל־בְּכוֹר פֶּטֶר כָּל־רֶחֶם בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה לִי הֽוּא: וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל־הָעָ֗ם זָכ֞וֹר אֶת־הַיּ֤וֹם הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצָאתֶ֤ם מִמִּצְרַ֙יִם֙ מִבֵּית עֲבָדִ֔ים כִּ֚י בְּחֹזֶק יָ֔ד הוֹצִ֧יא ה֛' אֶתְכֶם מִזֶּה וְלֹ֥א יֵאָכֵל חָמֵֽץ: הַיּוֹם אַתֶּם יֹצְאִים בְּחֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִֽיב: וְהָיָה כִֽי־יְבִֽיאֲךָ ה֡' אֶל־אֶרֶץ הַֽכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּ֨י וְהָאֱמֹרִ֜י וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֤ע לַאֲבֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ לָתֶת לָ֔ךְ אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ וְעָבַדְתָּ֛ אֶת־הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּאת בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַזֶּֽה: שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִים תֹּאכַל מַצֹּת וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י חַג לַהֽ': מַצּוֹת֙ יֵֽאָכֵ֔ל אֵת שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֨ה לְךָ֜ חָמֵ֗ץ וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל־גְּבֻלֶֽךָ:

God spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Sanctify to Me every first-born that initiates the womb among the Israelites. Among both man and beast, it is Mine.' Moshe said to the people: ‘Remember this day as [the time] you left Egypt, the house of slavery, when God brought you out of here with a show of force, and no leaven may be eaten. Today you are leaving [Egypt], in the month of spring. There will come a time when God will bring you to the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Yevusites that he promised your forefathers to give to you, a land flowing with milk and honey; there you will observe this ritual in this month. Eat matzot for seven days, and make the seventh day a festival to God. Matzot must be eaten for [these] seven days, and no chamtetz and no leavening agents may be seen in your possession in all your territories. (Shmot 13:1-7)

We are commanded to remember the day we left Egypt, and (therefore) not to eat chametz. Additionally, the Torah speaks of eating matzah for seven days and proscribes the possession of chametz or leavening agents. However, sandwiched between these laws is an element that had not been mentioned before: We are told of the connection between the Exodus and spring. Passover must be celebrated specifically in the first month, known as Nisan, and Nisan must fall as the spring begins in the Land of Israel. We should recall here that the responsibility for the sanctification of the new moon, the human determination of the months that comprise the Jewish cycle of festivals, was given to the Israelites as the first stage of the Exodus.3 However, until this point we could have assumed that an exclusively lunar-based calendar was sufficient. A calendar based exclusively on lunar months, like the Hijri calendar of Islam, is not season-based. Due to the disparity between the average lunar year of 354 days and the average solar year of 365 days, each year the lunar month would be eleven days “earlier” when compared to the solar year – and to the seasons. Hence, an uncorrected lunar calendar would have no “seasonal integrity:” Passover would not necessarily be in the spring; it would be just as likely to fall any other time of the year.

How important is this connection to the seasons, to the natural cycle of the year? Apparently, very important indeed: The next few times Pesach is mentioned, the element of springtime is stressed, and other festivals are added, creating a yearly cycle of three holidays, which leads us to the obvious question: Why is this important? What is the significance of the seasons for the Jewish festivals?

שמות פרק כג:יד-יז

שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִ֔ים תָּחֹ֥ג לִי בַּשָּׁנָֽה: אֶת־חַג הַמַּצּוֹת֘ תִּשְׁמֹר֒ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים֩ תֹּאכַ֨ל מַצּ֜וֹת כַּֽאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִ֗ךָ לְמוֹעֵד֙ חֹדֶשׁ הָֽאָבִ֔יב כִּי־בוֹ יָצָאתָ מִמִּצְרָיִם וְלֹא־יֵרָא֥וּ פָנַי רֵיקָֽם: וְחַ֤ג הַקָּצִיר֙ בִּכּוּרֵי מַעֲשֶׂ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּזְרַע בַּשָּׂדֶה וְחַ֤ג הָֽאָסִף֙ בְּצֵאת הַשָּׁנָ֔ה בְּאָסְפְּךָ֥ אֶֽת־מַעֲשֶׂיךָ מִן־הַשָּׂדֶֽה: שָׁלֹ֥שׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה֙ כָּל־זְכוּרְךָ֔ אֶל־פְּנֵי הָאָדֹ֥ן׀ הֽ':

Offer a sacrifice to Me three times each year. Keep the Festival of Matzot; eat matzot for seven days, as I commanded you, during the prescribed time in the month of spring, because this is when you left Egypt, and do not appear before Me empty-handed. [Also keep] the Reaping Festival, [through] the first fruits of your produce that you planted in the field, and the Harvest Festival at the end of the year, when you gather your produce from the field. Three times each year, every male among you must appear before God, Master [of the Universe]. (Shmot 23:14-17)

שמות פרק לד:יח-כו

אֶת־חַג הַמַּצּוֹת֘ תִּשְׁמֹר֒ שִׁבְעַ֨ת יָמִ֜ים תֹּאכַ֤ל מַצּוֹת֙ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִ֔ךָ לְמוֹעֵד חֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב כִּ֚י בְּחֹדֶשׁ הָֽאָבִ֔יב יָצָאתָ מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:... וְחַ֤ג שָׁבֻעֹת֙ תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ֔ בִּכּוּרֵי קְצִיר חִטִּים וְחַג֙ הָֽאָסִ֔יף תְּקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָֽה: שָׁלֹ֥שׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה֙ כָּל־זְכוּרְךָ֔ אֶת־פְּנֵ֛י הָֽאָדֹ֥ן׀ ה' אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: כִּֽי־אוֹרִ֤ישׁ גּוֹיִם֙ מִפָּנֶ֔יךָ וְהִרְחַבְתִּי אֶת־גְּבֻלֶךָ וְלֹא־יַחְמֹ֥ד אִישׁ֙ אֶֽת־אַרְצְךָ֔ בַּעֲלֹֽתְךָ֗ לֵרָאוֹת֙ אֶת־ פְּנֵי֙ ה' אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ שָׁלֹ֥שׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָֽה: לֹֽא־תִשְׁחַ֥ט עַל־חָמֵץ דַּם־זִבְחִי וְלֹא־יָלִין לַבֹּ֔קֶר זֶבַח חַ֥ג הַפָּֽסַח: רֵאשִׁ֗ית בִּכּוּרֵי֙ אַדְמָתְךָ֔ תָּבִ֕יא בֵּית ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא־תְבַשֵּׁ֥ל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵ֥ב אִמּֽוֹ:

Keep the Festival of Matzahs. Eat matzot for seven days as I commanded, in the designated time in the month of spring, because it was in the month of spring that you left Egypt. The first-born initiating every womb is Mine. Among all your livestock, you must separate out the males of the first-born cattle and sheep. The first-born of a donkey must be redeemed with a sheep, and if it is not redeemed, you must decapitate it. You must [also] redeem every first-born among your sons. Do not appear before Me empty-handed. You may work during the six weekdays, but on Shabbat, you must stop working, ceasing from all plowing and reaping. Keep the Festival of Shavuot through the first fruits of your wheat harvest. Also keep the Harvest Festival soon after the year changes. Three times each year, all your males shall thus present themselves before God the Master, Lord of Israel. When I expel the other nations before you and extend your boundaries, no one will be envious of your land when you go to be seen in God's presence three times each year. Do not slaughter the Passover sacrifice with leaven in your possession. Do not allow the Passover sacrifice to remain overnight until morning. Bring the first fruits of your Land to the Temple of God your Lord. Do not [eat] meat cooked in milk [even that of] its own mother.

When we note the reference to harvest, plowing and reaping, the answer to our question becomes obvious: The three yearly festivals have an inherent agricultural aspect. In order for these holidays to be meaningful they must be connected not only to particular calendric months but to the seasons of the Land of Israel. The holiday of the first fruits and the holiday of the harvest must be in celebrated in their respective seasons, just as Passover must be in the spring. And yet, the identity and contours of Passover as an agricultural holiday remain far more elusive than those of the other two festivals – that is, until we read the following passage in the book of Vayikra:

ויקרא פרק כג: ד-כ

אֵ֚לֶּה מוֹעֲדֵי ה֔' מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָם בְּמוֹעֲדָֽם: בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁ֗וֹן בְּאַרְבָּעָ֥ה עָשָׂ֛ר לַחֹדֶשׁ בֵּין הָעַרְבָּיִם פֶּסַח לַהֽ': וּבַחֲמִשָּׁ֨ה עָשָׂ֥ר יוֹם֙ לַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּ֔ה חַ֥ג הַמַּצּוֹת לַה' שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִים מַצּ֥וֹת תֹּאכֵֽלוּ: בַּיּוֹם֙ הָֽרִאשׁ֔וֹן מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹ֥א תַעֲשֽׂוּ: וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֥ם אִשֶּׁ֛ה לַה' שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּיּ֤וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹ֥א תַעֲשֽׂוּ:

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם כִּֽי־תָבֹאוּ אֶל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֲנִי֙ נֹתֵן לָכֶ֔ם וּקְצַרְתֶּם אֶת־ קְצִירָהּ וַהֲבֵאתֶ֥ם אֶת־עֹ֛מֶר רֵאשִׁ֥ית קְצִירְכֶם אֶל־הַכֹּהֵֽן: ... וְלֶחֶם֩ וְקָלִ֨י וְכַרְמֶ֜ל לֹא תֹֽאכְל֗וּ עַד־עֶ֙צֶם֙ הַיּוֹם הַזֶּ֔ה עַ֚ד הֲבִיאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־קָרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶ֔ם בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶֽם: וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיּוֹם֙ הֲבִיאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּתוֹת תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה: עַד מִֽמָּחֳרַ֤ת הַשַּׁבָּת֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔ת תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֛ם מִנְחָ֥ה חֲדָשָׁה לַהֽ': מִמּוֹשְׁבֹ֨תֵיכֶ֜ם תָּבִיאּוּ׀ לֶחֶם תְּנוּפָ֗ה שְׁ֚תַּיִם שְׁנֵי עֶשְׂרֹנִ֔ים סֹלֶת תִּהְיֶ֔ינָה חָמֵץ תֵּאָפֶינָה בִּכּוּרִים לַֽהֽ': וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם עַל־הַלֶּ֗חֶם שִׁבְעַ֨ת כְּבָשִׂ֤ים תְּמִימִם֙ בְּנֵי שָׁנָ֔ה וּפַ֧ר בֶּן־בָּקָ֛ר אֶחָד וְאֵילִם שְׁנָיִם יִהְי֤וּ עֹלָה֙ לַֽה֔' וּמִנְחָתָם֙ וְנִסְכֵּיהֶ֔ם אִשֵּׁ֥ה רֵֽיחַ־נִיחֹחַ לַהֽ': וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֛ם שְׂעִיר־עִזִּ֥ים אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת וּשְׁנֵ֧י כְבָשִׂ֛ים בְּנֵ֥י שָׁנָה לְזֶ֥בַח שְׁלָמִֽים: וְהֵנִיף הַכֹּהֵן׀ אֹתָ֡ם עַל֩ לֶ֨חֶם הַבִּכֻּרִ֤ים תְּנוּפָה֙ לִפְנֵי ה֔' עַל־שְׁנֵי כְּבָשִׂים קֹ֛דֶשׁ יִהְי֥וּ לַה' לַכֹּהֵֽן:...

These are God's festivals that you must celebrate as sacred holidays at their appropriate times: The afternoon of the 14th day of the first month is God’s Pesach. And on the 15th of that month, it is God's Chag haMatzot, for seven days matzah will be eaten. The first day shall be a sacred holiday to you, when you may not do any creative work. You shall then bring sacrifices to God for seven days. The seventh day is a sacred holiday when you may not do any creative work.

God spoke to Moshe, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you come to the land that I am going to give you, and you reap its harvest, you must bring an omer of your first reaping to the kohen… Until the day that you bring this sacrifice to your God, you may not eat bread, roasted grain or fresh grain. This shall be an eternal law for all generations, no matter where you live.

You shall then count seven complete weeks after the day following the holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering, until the day after the seventh week, for [a total of] 50 days. [On that 50th day] you will present new grain as a meal offering to God. From the land upon which you live, you shall bring two loaves of bread as a wave offering. They shall be made of two-tenths [of an ephah] of wheat meal, and shall be baked as leavened bread. They are the first-harvest offering to God. Together with this bread, you shall sacrifice seven unblemished yearling sheep, one young bull, and two rams. These, along with their meal offerings and libations, shall be a burnt offering to God, a fire offering as an appeasing fragrance to God. You shall also prepare one goat as a sin offering, and two yearling sheep as peace sacrifices. The kohen shall make the motions prescribed for a wave offering before God with the bread of the first-harvest offering and the two sheep. They belong to the kohen because they are sacred to God. (Vayikra 23:4-20)

Predictably, both Pesach and Chag haMaztot are mentioned; then, a new law is introduced – a law that revolves around bread. The new crop of grain is prohibited until the second day of Chag haMatzot. “Until the day that you bring this sacrifice to your God, you may not eat bread, roasted grain or fresh grain… From the land upon which you live, you shall bring two loaves of bread as a wave offering. They shall be made of two-tenths [of an ephah] of wheat meal, and shall be baked as leavened bread. They are the first-harvest offering to God.”

We may not enjoy the new crop until the omer offering is brought, on the day following the first day of the festival (now known as the first day of Hol HaMoed). Once the crop is “redeemed” in this way, the days and weeks are counted, leading up to the Shavuot holiday. Chag HaMatzot is thus intrinsically connected to Shavuot, the festival on which leavened bread is part of the Temple service. In a mere fifty days, something that had been completely banned, something that is associated with the evil inclination, is transformed into a central part of the service in the Beit HaMikdash!

IV. Chametz in the Beit Hamikdash?

The leavened bread offered on Shavuot seems even more anomalous when seen in the context of the normal grain offering, known as a korban mincha or gift offering. The korban mincha is comprised exclusively of unleavened ingredients; care must be taken that the offering is never tainted with chametz:

ויקרא פרק ב: יא

כָּל־הַמִּנְחָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר תַּקְרִ֙יבוּ֙ לַה֔' לֹ֥א תֵעָשֶׂה חָמֵץ כִּ֤י כָל־שְׂאֹר֙ וְכָל־דְּבַ֔שׁ לֹֽא־תַקְטִ֧ירוּ מִמֶּ֛נּוּ אִשֶּׁה לַֽהֽ':

Do not make any meal offering that is sacrificed to God out of leavened dough, because no leaven or honey may be sacrificed as a fire offering to God. (Vayikra 2:11)

ויקרא פרק ו: ז-יא

וְזֹ֥את תּוֹרַת הַמִּנְחָה הַקְרֵ֨ב אֹתָ֤הּ בְּנֵֽי־אַהֲרֹן֙ לִפְנֵי ה֔' אֶל־פְּנֵי הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ: וְהֵרִ֨ים מִמֶּ֜נּוּ בְּקֻמְצ֗וֹ מִסֹּ֤לֶת הַמִּנְחָה֙ וּמִשַּׁמְנָ֔הּ וְאֵת֙ כָּל־הַלְּבֹנָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר עַל־הַמִּנְחָה וְהִקְטִיר הַמִּזְבֵּ֗חַ רֵ֧יחַ נִיחֹ֛חַ אַזְכָּרָתָהּ לַהֽ': וְהַנּוֹתֶרֶת מִמֶּ֔נָּה יֹאכְלוּ אַהֲרֹן וּבָנָיו מַצּ֤וֹת תֵּֽאָכֵל֙ בְּמָקוֹם קָדֹ֔שׁ בַּחֲצַ֥ר אֹֽהֶל־מוֹעֵד יֹאכְלֽוּהָ: לֹ֤א תֵאָפֶה֙ חָמֵ֔ץ חֶלְקָ֛ם נָתַ֥תִּי אֹתָהּ מֵאִשָּׁי קֹ֤דֶשׁ קָֽדָשִׁים֙ הִ֔וא כַּחַטָּאת וְכָאָשָֽׁם: כָּל־זָכָ֞ר בִּבְנֵ֤י אַהֲרֹן֙ יֹֽאכֲלֶ֔נָּה חָק־עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶ֔ם מֵאִשֵּׁי ה' כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־יִגַּ֥ע בָּהֶם יִקְדָּֽשׁ:

This is the law of the gift offering: [One of] Aharon's descendants shall offer it before God, [near the place where one ascends] to the Altar. With his three middle fingers he shall lift up some of the wheat meal and oil of the offering, and all the frankincense on the offering. He shall burn [this] on the altar as an appeasing fragrance – it is the memorial portion to God. Aharon and his descendants shall then eat the rest of [the offering]. It must be eaten as unleavened bread in a holy place. They must therefore eat it in the enclosure of the Communion Tent. It shall not be baked as leavened bread. I have given this to them as their portion of My fire offerings, and it is holy of holies, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. Every male among Aharon's descendants may eat it. It is an eternal law for all generations [that it be taken] from God's fire offerings. Any [food] coming in contact with it shall become holy. (Vayikra 6:7-11)

There is, however, another type of offering that includes leavened bread, and this other offering may shed light on the matzah/chametz conundrum: The korban todah, the thanksgiving offering, contains both chametz and matzah:

ויקרא פרק ז: יא-טז

וְזֹ֥את תּוֹרַת זֶבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַקְרִיב לַהֽ': אִם עַל־תּוֹדָה֘ יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ֒ וְהִקְרִיב׀ עַל־זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָ֗ה חַלּ֤וֹת מַצּוֹת֙ בְּלוּלֹת בַּשֶּׁ֔מֶן וּרְקִיקֵ֥י מַצּוֹת מְשֻׁחִים בַּשָּׁמֶן וְסֹלֶת מֻרְבֶּ֔כֶת חַלֹּת בְּלוּלֹ֥ת בַּשָּֽׁמֶן: עַל־חַלֹּת֙ לֶחֶם חָמֵ֔ץ יַקְרִיב קָרְבָּנוֹ עַל־זֶבַח תּוֹדַ֥ת שְׁלָמָֽיו: וְהִקְרִ֨יב מִמֶּ֤נּוּ אֶחָד֙ מִכָּל־קָרְבָּ֔ן תְּרוּמָה לַה' לַכֹּהֵ֗ן הַזֹּרֵ֛ק אֶת־דַּ֥ם הַשְּׁלָמִים ל֥וֹ יִהְיֶֽה: וּבְשַׂ֗ר זֶ֚בַח תּוֹדַת שְׁלָמָ֔יו בְּי֥וֹם קָרְבָּנוֹ יֵאָכֵל לֹֽא־יַנִּ֥יחַ מִמֶּנּוּ עַד־בֹּֽקֶר:

This is the law of the peace offering that is sacrificed to God. If it is offered as a thanksgiving offering, then it must be presented along with unleavened loaves mixed with oil, flat matzot saturated with oil, and loaves made of boiled flour mixed with oil. The sacrifice shall [also] be presented along with loaves of leavened bread. [All these] shall be presented with one's thanksgiving peace offering. He shall present some of each [of the above four bread] offerings as an elevated gift to God. This shall belong to the kohen who sprinkles the blood of the peace offering. The flesh of the thanksgiving peace offering must be eaten on the day it is offered. None of it may be left over until morning. [However,] if one's sacrifice offering is meant [merely] to fulfill a general vow or a specific pledge, he shall eat it on the same day that he offers his sacrifice, but what is left over may also be eaten on the next day. (Vayikra 7:11-16)

Despite the fact that it contains leavened bread, the korban todah resembles the Korban Pesach in ways that are not shared by other peace offerings: While all other peace offerings may be eaten for two days, both the korban todah and the Korban Pesach may only be eaten on the same night4 they were brought to the kohen. (In the Beit HaMikdash – as opposed to all other areas of Jewish life – the day begins in the morning, and not on the eve of the previous night; therefore, these two unique offerings must be consumed on the same day they are offered).

The korban todah includes a great quantity of both leavened bread and matzah; all of this bread, together with the offering itself, must be consumed in relative haste. The Netz”iv (R’ Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin), explained that the korban todah was designed to maximize the number of people invited to take part in the thanksgiving feast: Generally, this sort of offering is brought as an expression of an individual’s gratitude to God for some joyous event. This person generally has a story to tell, and this story should be shared with as many people as possible so that they, too, can share in the joy and thanksgiving.5

According to the Chatam Sofer (R’ Moshe Sofer), this may explain the strange question posed at the outset of the Pesach seder: “Why on all nights do we eat chametz and matzah, while on this night – only matzah?” In fact, on most nights we do not necessarily consume both “chametz and matzah.” The Chatam Sofer explains that there is one night when we do, in fact, eat both: When the korban todah is eaten. The parallel between the korban todah and the Korban Pesach may have been far more obvious to those who had participated in both offerings than it is to us; hence, when the Beit HaMikdash still functioned, the question was a very fair one: Why is this particular “thanksgiving” offering accompanied by matzah alone, if all other thanksgiving offerings are eaten with a combination of chametz and matzah?6

This understanding of the nature of the korban todah thanksgiving offering, coupled with our appreciation of the agricultural aspects of the holiday, leads to a profound insight: The Korban Pesach, with its prohibition of chametz – is only a partial thanksgiving offering; it contains only one of the bread components of a normal thanksgiving offering. As noted by Ramban, the counting of the days (Sefirat haOmer) between Pesach with Shavuot7 connects these holidays, and, in a way, makes them one. In this sense, Shavuot is the completion of Passover, forming an eight-day festival comparable to Sukkot, with the Sefirat HaOmer period serving as a sort of Hol HaMoed between the two festivals. The leavened bread that is part of the Shavuot celebration is the missing bread from the thanksgiving offering of Pesach: It makes the korban todah complete,8 turning the Korban Pesach into a complete korban todah.

V. Two Destinations

We now understand that Chag haPesach has many facets; it is an agricultural festival, bound inextricably to the season of the new grain, as well as a celebration of an historical event, the Exodus, and a national/political reaffirmation of Jewish peoplehood. And yet, the overlap between these facets is neither coincidental, accidental nor incidental: The agricultural aspect of the holiday is an expression of the historical/geographical aspect: Merely leaving Egypt was never enough. A simple change of address, or even our emancipation from slavery was never the goal. The Jewish People were tasked with a mission that had not yet been completed as we marched out of Egypt. We had a very specific destination charted; in fact, we had two destinations: On the one hand, the culmination of the Exodus is achieved only when we arrived in the Land of Israel. On the other hand, leaving Egypt necessarily takes us to Mount Sinai, to receive the Torah. Both of these elements were communicated by God to Moshe at their very first “meeting” at the Burning Bush – when the plan was laid out:

שמות פרק ג: ח-יב

וָאֵרֵ֞ד לְהַצִּילוֹ׀ מִיַּד מִצְרַ֗יִם וּֽלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ֘ מִן־הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא֒ אֶל־אֶ֤רֶץ טוֹבָה֙ וּרְחָבָ֔ה אֶל־אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ אֶל־מְק֤וֹם הַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ וְהַחִתִּ֔י וְהָֽאֱמֹרִי֙ וְהַפְּרִזִּ֔י וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִֽי: … וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ כִּֽי־אֶֽהְיֶה עִמָּ֔ךְ וְזֶה־לְּךָ הָא֔וֹת כִּ֥י אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ בְּהוֹצִֽיאֲךָ֤ אֶת־הָעָם֙ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם תַּֽעַבְדוּן֙ אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל הָהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה:

I have come down to rescue them from the grip of Egypt's power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Yevusites… 'Because I will be with you,' replied [G

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