Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Gift of Matzoh

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

A couple of nights before Pesach, I had a dream. In the dream, I came up with a new understanding of the posuk, “V’acharei chein yeitzu b’rechush gadol,” in which Hashem foretold to our forefather Avrohom the future course of Jewish history. After being enslaved for many years, the Jewish people would be freed and would depart their host country with a great treasure.

The common understanding is that this promise of “a great treasure” was fulfilled with the vast quantity of belongings the Jews received from the Mitzriyim prior to being sent out.

In my dream, a new p’shat struck me. The rechush gadol the Jews received was the matzoh which baked on their backs as they left b’chipazon. Matzoh is not simply a physical food; it possesses ruchniyusdike qualities and, as such, is a gift to Bnei Yisroel. Only we have the ability to take flour and water and transform them into a cheftzah shel mitzvah.

Awakening with thoughts of this new p’shat, I was intrigued by the idea and stored it in the back of my mind. Over Yom Yov, I searched about in seforim for something that could substantiate that idea. It wasn’t until the seventh day of Pesach that I found what I was looking for.

I am privileged to own the Netziv of Volozhin’s personal copy of the sefer Shir Hashirim with the pirush “Rina Shel Torah,” which he wrote. The sefer is interspersed with his own handwritten comments, a true treasure to behold. Every year, when we lain Shir Hashirim on Pesach, I take it out and am immensely rewarded by reading the penetrating words of the Netziv.

In the introduction to his commentary, he explains the posuk, “Sheishes yomim tochal matzos uv’yom hashvi’i atzeres l’Hashem Elokechah lo sa’aseh melacha - You shall eat matzos for six days and on the seventh you shall rest for Hashem and you shall not do any work” (Devorim 16:8).

The Netziv explains that on the first day of Pesach, the obligation to eat matzoh is to remember that we left Mitzrayim in such haste that the bread the fleeing Jews took along for the journey had no time to rise. The obligation related to the consumption of matzoh the first six days of Pesach recalls the eating of the korban mincha by the kohanim. The korbanos mincha were only brought of matzoh breads and were never made of chometz. That was to teach the Jewish people that in order to draw closer to G-d and achieve a higher level of holiness, they must reduce their involvement in the pursuits of Olam Hazeh.

On Pesach, we sustain ourselves with matzoh, unleavened bread, for six days, for that same higher purpose: on Pesach, a Jew attempts to rise spiritually and become closer to Hashem.

Therefore, on the seventh and final day of the holiday, Jews are commanded to refrain from work and to inculcate within themselves the message of the six days of eating matzoh.

Not partaking of chometz is supposed to affect us in a fundamental way. It is supposed to change our outlook on life and remind us of our purpose here. Eating matzoh for seven days is not something we do to fill ourselves physically; the change in diet is meant to bring about a spiritual change in our souls.

When I read those words, it occurred to me that this message supports the idea that the matzoh is a rechush gadol. Matzoh is a gift from Hashem that enables us to elevate our rote observance of mitzvos to a higher dimension of avodas Hashem. Partaking of the matzoh for a week is meant to reduce our taavos and drive for physical gratification. If we heed its message, it is truly a gift, a rechush gadol, which has the power to uplift and purify us and draw us closer to our Creator.

Later, I found a similar idea in the words of the Ramchal in Derech Hashem (4:8). He says that as long as the Jews were enslaved in Mitzrayim and living amongst the pagan population, their bodies were darkened by the poison of impurity which overwhelmed them. When they were finally delivered from that society - goy mikerev goy - their bodies underwent a purification process so that they would be able to accept the Torah and mitzvos.

This is the reason why they were commanded to refrain from consuming chometz and to eat matzoh. The bread which we eat all year round is prepared with yeast and rises. Easier to digest and tastier, it is the natural food for man. It feeds man’s Yeitzer Hara and more base inclinations.

Klal Yisroel was commanded to refrain from eating chometz for a week in order to minimize the power of the Yeitzer Hara and their inclination towards the physical, as well as to strengthen their attachment to the spiritual.

It is impossible for people to live on this diet all year round, and it is not Hashem’s intent. But if they we maintain this diet for the duration of Pesach while incorporating the lessons of matzoh, it will energize us spiritually for the remainder of the year.

Rav Aryeh Leib Schapiro of Yerushalayim writes in his seferChazon L’Moed,” published this year, that the Ramchal ties this in with the famous dictum of the Rambam in Hilchos De’os (2:1) that a person seeking to rectify his conduct should go to the opposite extreme than his natural inclination, and he will then end up in the middle, where Hashem wants us to be.

The Rambam continues (3:1) that one should not reason that since kinah, taavah and kavod - jealousy, evil desires and the craving for honor - lead to man’s demise from this world, one should adopt the extremes of self-denial, refusing to eat meat or drink wine, marry, live in a nice house or wear nice clothes. Pagan priests lived this way. According to the Rambam, it is forbidden to follow this path; one who does is called a sinner.

The Netziv’s and Ramchal’s understanding of Pesach is in accord with the words of the Rambam. While it is undesirable for people to live this way all year round, if one takes a temporary turn to the extreme, it will help him return to the middle, where we all belong.

The Yom Tov of Pesach is designed to be that respite from the pressures that govern our day-to-day lives. It is meant to give us a break from the rat race which envelops us all year round. Pesach is one week of the year that frees us from the Yeitzer Hara and the pursuits that drive us throughout the year, which lead to dead ends, disappointment and depression.

Matzoh is indeed a rechush gadol, a treasure of the Jewish people. Matzoh weakens our evil inclinations and strengthens our inherent goodness. Matzoh has the ability to raise us above our preoccupation with the mundane.

Pesach is not a holiday of gorging and self-aggrandizement. Pesach is not meant to be a time when we sit around all day stuffing ourselves with food. On the contrary, Pesach is the time given to us to refrain to a certain degree from such pursuits and to absorb the lesson of the lowly matzoh.

Following a week of such elevated behavior, we continue along that pattern as we count to Shavuos, when we mark the acceptance of the Torah as the ultimate gift from G-d to man. It is only after the week of matzoh and seven weeks of Sefirah that we can achieve the highest possible levels of spiritual accomplishment.

We all no doubt enjoyed and benefited from the Yom Tov of Pesach. Letting go of those special days is so difficult. Making Havdalah has to be the hardest bracha we made all week, as we proclaim an end to the holy and commence the mundane and temporal.

But if we properly observed the mitzvos of Pesach, and we take the words of the Netziv to heart and review the lessons the matzoh can teach us, we need not bid the Yom Tov goodbye. If we observed the Yom Tov as we were meant to, its influence and inspiration will long remain with us, giving us the strength to rise above whatever challenges we face throughout the rest of the year.


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