The Deeper Meaning of Chametz by Zach Margulies


The prohibition against eating Chametz is one of the most important Mitzvot listed in the Torah.  It is categorized among many other Lo Taasehs, negative commandments, in the Torah which have a punishment of Kareit, being cut off from the nation and Hashem.  These include not fulfilling the mitzvah of Brit Milah, circumcising your son, and eating on Yom Kippur.

Chazal ask why the commandment against eating Chametz on Pesach is considered such an important prohibition.  Why should one who transgresses this commandment receive the punishment of Kareit?  A suggested answer is that there is a double meaning in the prohibition of Chametz.  It hints to Am Yisrael the importance of refusing our evil inclination, the Yeitzer HaRa.  Chazal (Berachot 17a) say the Yeitzer HaRa is comparable to the “Seor SheBaIsah,” the leavening or yeast in the bread.  Bread can be compared to a haughty human being, who gives into the Yeitzer HaRa.  This is because he is full of himself just like bread is thick.  On the other hand, Matzah can be compared to the modest man, who is flat, and does not boast.  This is what we must strive to be like on Pesach.

Another question is raised on this idea.  Why is the importance of refraining from our inclination to be haughty stressed on the holiday of Pesach?  One possible explanation is that it is because we should not give a glorious lamb for the Korban Pesach; however, there is a deeper explanation.  When Bnei Yisrael left Egypt they were leaving into total freedom, without any code of law.  Therefore, the prohibition of Chametz and the refusal of the Yeitzer HaRa, more so here than regarding any other holiday, need to be stressed.  Why on Shavuot are we commanded to give a Korban with Chametz, the Shetei HaLechem?  The reason is because Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah.  Once we have a set of laws, we are not concerned as much that one will not be able to control the Yeitzer HaRa.  Additionally, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of Matzah without using Matzah made out of grains than can turn into Chametz (Pesachim 35a).  Why would this make sense; wouldn’t one want to use grains that could not rise, so one wouldn’t be able to violate the commandment against eating Chametz?  This symbolizes that we must stress not to succumb to the Yeitzer HaRa when we are free and alone, highly vulnerable to the Yeitzer HaRa, just as the grains can become Chametz.  Hashem is trying to test us on Pesach, as it is said that one who does not eat Chametz on Pesach will be helped in his efforts to not yield to the Yeitzer HaRa the rest of the year.

The Netziv (Shemot 13:3) explains Chametz symbolizes human creativity.  We need to avoid this on Pesach because we were alone in the desert without laws, and we must remember Hashem is in charge of everything.  That is where Matzah comes into play.  Matzah tells us to forget about our human creativity and remember that Hashem is in charge.

We can learn an important lesson from this.  During the month of Nissan, Bnei Yisrael were going through a time without rules and could do whatever they wanted, and did not realize Hashem’s power.  Now that we are around the corner from summer vacation, we need to make sure we continue going in the right direction, and not let the “Seor SheBaIsah” take control of us.  Despite our freedom, we need to always remember Hashem is in charge and not get too caught up with ourselves.  If we really internalize this message and stay away from Gaavah, haughtiness, and our drives to sin, we can hopefully bring about the ultimate redemption, BeMeheira BeYameinu.

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