> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > M'oray Ha'Aish

Matzah and Chametz

Tzav (Leviticus 6-8 )

by Rabbi Ari Kahn

If bread is associated with negative attributes, why do we eat it all year round?

The concepts of leavened and unleavened bread are familiar to us from the holiday of Passover, but we tend to focus on the physical or technical aspects that differentiate them from one another. However, Jewish tradition goes far beyond the physics of the dough itself, and seeks out the deeper symbolism of chametz and matzah.

Talmudic teachings regarding Passover associate leavened bread with the evil inclination:(1) The difference between leavened bread, chametz, and matzah, the unleavened "bread of poverty," is that bread is puffed up, indicating haughtiness or pride. And yet, this teaching leads to some unavoidable questions: If bread is associated with negative attributes, why should it ever be allowed? Why not require that we eat only unleavened bread all year round? Alternatively, we may ask, why is Passover specifically the time to prohibit leavened bread? While we can easily understand the obligation to eat matzah to commemorate our hasty departure from Egypt, we should have no difficulty imagining that this symbolic food might co-exist with leavened bread. In other words, why prohibit bread simply because we are obligated to eat matzah?

In order to address these questions, we would do well to broaden our scope to include another festival that is intrinsically linked to Passover: Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. While the Exodus from Egypt serves as the catalyst for the prohibition of bread, we are commanded to count seven weeks, and on the fiftieth day to celebrate Shavuot, thus creating an unbreakable chronological link between the two holidays. While we may say that the primary link between Passover and Shavuot lies in their agricultural aspects, the theological, historical and symbolic aspects of these festivals are no less intertwined: Specifically on Shavuot, as opposed to every other day of the year, bread is included in the service and celebratory sacrifice in the Beit Hamikdash. Seen from this perspective, the link between Passover and Shavuot creates a continuum, shedding light on the questions we have raised regarding chametz and matzah, as it leads us from the prohibition of bread to the occasion on which leavened bread is brought into the Temple service. In fact, the Torah laws that govern the sacrifices brought throughout the year in the Beit HaMikdash bring our questions into even sharper focus: As a rule, other than the Shtei haLechem, the two loaves that are an integral part of the service on Shavuot, bread was not allowed in the Temple or Temple service at all. This week's parashah contains a clear statement of this prohibition:

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 Tent of Meeting. It shall not be baked as leavened bread. I have given this to them as their portion in My fire offerings, and it is holy of holies, like the sin offering and the guilt offering... (Vayikra 6:9-10)

Other than the two loaves offered on Shavuot, there is only one other exception to the ban on leavened bread in the Temple, and it, too, is found in this week's parashah:

And 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 matzahs saturated with oil, and loaves made of a boiled mixture of flour and oil. The sacrifice shall also be presented along with loaves of leavened bread; all these shall be brought with one's thanksgiving peace offering. (Vayikra 7:11-13)

This unique combination of breads is offered in thanksgiving: When an individual feels that his or her life has been spared through Divine intervention, when a personal catastrophe is averted and a person experiences personal salvation, they may bring this offering of gratitude to celebrate the peace they have been granted. It is specifically this thanksgiving "peace offering" that includes both leavened and unleavened bread.

We have learned two apparently independent laws, one regarding the unique service on Shavuot and one regarding the thanksgiving sacrifice; when we overlay these two laws, a fascinating observation emerges: The Passover experience, encompassing the paschal sacrifice, the matzah, even the seder itself, may be akin to a "thanksgiving" offering. If this is the case, we cannot help but notice that something is missing, and the thanksgiving is not complete: The leavened bread that is an integral part of the thanksgiving offering is not included in the celebration of Passover. Quite the opposite: Leavened bread is strictly prohibited throughout the entire festival, leading us to the conclusion that despite our feelings of thanksgiving and joy, we are really not quite completely free. The national and personal freedom that Passover celebrates is somehow lacking, hence the inclusion of leavened bread is inappropriate.

What is missing from the Passover story? Why is our celebration, and our offering, less than perfect? When the Jews left Egypt, they were politically free, yet they were spiritually limited. They were wrested from the depths of depraved Egyptian society, extricated from the world of idolatry and superstition, yet no other belief system had taken the place of the idolatry they left behind.

The prohibition of bread on Passover reminds us that leaving Egypt was not enough. Physical, political freedom is simply a means to an end; we are not truly free until we are given our mandate, until we accept our mission, until we appreciate the raison d'etre for our liberation from Egypt. Only when we stood at Sinai and accepted the Torah was our liberation complete. As we celebrate Passover, we mark a time when we were still a humble nation of emancipated slaves who had not yet achieved true freedom. Only after accepting the Torah, after accepting our new marching orders, after accepting the loftiest mission given to humankind, was there place for pride.

Only on Shavuot can we celebrate and give thanks for our complete freedom and take pride in our partnership with God, a partnership designed to elevate and transform the world. On Shavuot, we complete our thanksgiving, adding the two loaves of leavened bread that were missing on Passover. This sort of celebration, in which we complete our offering of thanksgiving, is reserved for those who enjoy true freedom. Celebrating anything less is a shallow celebration of mediocrity.

For a more in-depth analysis see:


1. Talmud Bavli Brachot 17a, and commentary of Rashi.


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