Among the many unofficial customs on Rosh HaShanah, eating honey cake as a dessert has become relatively traditional. Full of sweet honey-filled flavor, the cake is a symbol for sweet new year. However, both of the two main ingredients in this innocuous cake are prohibited for offering on the Mizbei’ach, as the Torah writes, “Kol HaMinchah Asher Takrivu LaHashem Lo Tei’aseh Chameitz; Ki Chol Se’or VeChol Devash Lo Taktiru Mimenu Isheh LaHashem.” “Every meal offering may not become leavened, for you shall not burn any leavened bread or honey as a fire-offering to Hashem.” (VaYikra 2:11).
The Rambam, in his philosophical work Moreh Nevuchim, explains that leavened bread and honey were foods used heavily in pagan practices, and in order to differentiate Jews with pagans, using them for a Minchah is forbidden. At first, the Rambam’s approach seems very enticing; however, with further analysis it does not seem to hold merit. Firstly, his answer empties the prohibition of religious meaning; he merely contrasts it with dead, ancient practices. Furthermore, in the Pesukim before this one, the word Matzah appears to be a Milah Manchah, or a central word, occurring numerous times. By contrasting Chameitz with Matzah the Torah seems to be hinting towards the prohibition of eating Chameitz on Pesach and the corresponding Mitzvah to eat Matzah. In such a deep, philosophical book as Moreh Nevuchim, Rambam surely would not settle for an explanation so simple.
Perhaps the Rambam is hinting at a deeper idea. By differentiating Bnei Yisrael from the other nations via Korbanot, the Rambam is showing that the essence of Korbanot makes Bnei Yisrael different than the nations. Korbanot is the paradigm of a Chok, a law that intentionally does not present any visible rhyme nor reason. Likewise, the Isur of eating Chameitz on Pesach is also a Chok. And yet, the Jewish people go to great lengths to not violate this prohibition. Therefore, the Rambam uses these unique scenarios to extol the virtues of the Jewish people against the other nations: that Bnei Yisrael follow Chukim wholeheartedly.
This explanation shows the great importance of Chukim. While on the surface they appear quite outlandish, they contain a much deeper level of significance within them. Though they are not meant to be understood, these laws must be followed if we, as Am Yisrael, mean to stay true servants of Hashem, and keep the unique, eternal covenant that we have with Him.