Parashat Tzav

Kosher For Passover And All Year Round

The prohibition against leavened bread for most Temple grain offerings imbues the Temple with the spirit of freedom all year round.

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These lessons serve as a comfort and a beacon of hope to the oppressed and discriminated against, who may not be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but are reassured by the Exodus story of the possibility of an unexpected, speedy redemption. The eating of matzah and rejection of hametz would seem to be an attempt to identify with the experience of the Jews in their exodus from Egypt, and learn these lessons from it.

However, there seems to be more to the imagery of the matzah than just the speed of the exodus. Before the last plague, at the beginning of the month of Nissan, some two weeks before the exodus, God had already instructed Moses to tell the Jews to bake Matzot for Pesach, long before, and apparently unconnected to any rush to leave Egypt in a hurry.

Why We Eat Matzah?

There seems, therefore, to be another reason why we eat matzah and reject hametz on Pesach. The Rabbis have discussed the larger symbolism of hametz at length, and I would like to summarize some of their thinking.

Broadly speaking, leaven is seen as a symbol of surfeit, appetite, gluttony, and desire. The matzah on the other hand, is seen as not only the bread we ate because we were in a hurry to escape affliction, but also the bread of affliction itself, the bread of the destitute, which we ate as slaves in Egypt.

In this nexus of symbols, eating the matzah is a way of identifying with the poor, oppressed and downtrodden, and of rejecting the excess and luxury of the oppressor--imperial Egypt with all of its decadence and excess. A sinful, oppressive, inhuman Egypt, which enslaves and murders strangers in order to build itself magnificent monuments, is what we reject by shunning the richer leavened bread and eating simple matzah on Passover.

With this in mind, we can see the insistence on only serving matzah in the Temple, all year round, as an attempt to make the Passover revolution against imperial Egypt an ongoing one. By prohibiting the baking and eating of leaven in the Temple, the Torah is turning the revolution of Passover, in which the oppressors were punished and the oppressed were freed, into an ongoing, permanent value in Jewish life.

Just as, when we sit around the Passover Seder table, celebrating, we are commanded to eat the bread of affliction and thereby, even as we celebrate our own freedom and autonomy, identify with the downtrodden and enslaved, so too, in our Temple, which represents national strength, autonomy and independence, we are forced to reject the hametz of the rich and oppressive, and eat matzah, the bread of the oppressed and the poor. This acts as an antidote, a corrective, to the kinds of feelings which could easily be engendered around the Passover table or in the Temple; feelings of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation, of power and possession, which we must reject, or at least temper.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.