It’s that time of year again. Where you’re stuck eating that stale saltine cracker for a week while your non-Jewish friends say, “Matzah? I love that stuff!” Yes, everyone’s favorite unleavened holiday is fast approaching. But why do we eat matzah over Pesach?
Because when the Jews were leaving Egypt in haste,
they didn’t have time to let the bread rise.
Well… that was an easy blog post.
Okay… so it turns out that’s kinda not true.
What? No! They told me so in Hebrew school!
Yeah it makes for a nice story. But it’s a little more complicated. Let’s look at the Torah, parshas Bo. The plague of darkness has just happened and God is telling Moses about the next plague, the death of the first born. God then gives Moses the first commandment in the Torah, the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. So we know it’s the FIRST DAY OF THE MONTH. (Shemos 12:1)
Then He continues to give Moses the commandments of the Pesach offering (you know, slaughter the lamb, blood over the door). “…the fourteenth day of this month, [all of Yisrael] shall slaughter it–“(ibid 12:6) As in 14 days from now. And then…
“This day shall be for you a [day of] remembrance… It is an eternal statue that you must celebrate it. You must eat matzos for seven days…” (ibid 12:14-15)
God has just told Moses that in 2 weeks they will leave Egypt and that they will be eating matzah for 7 days. They had plenty of time to let the bread rise. In fact, the Jews were eating matzah long before the exodus. They ate it the entire time they were slaves in Egypt! So it has nothing to do with the fact the Jews left Egypt in haste.
So matzah is the bread of our affliction and we ate it during our slavery? Wouldn’t the moments after leaving Egypt be the perfect time to eat bread?
Great questions, other me! If Pesach is all about Freedom, eating matzah on Pesach is kinda like paying taxes to England on July 4th (credit to Rabbi Denbo.) There’s obviously something deeper going on. Let’s look at the difference between matzah and bread. Their ingredients are essentially the same. Flour and water.
But bread has yeast!
Both doughs have natural yeasts. Adding yeast just helps the leavening process to occur faster and fuller. It’s even possible to make bread without adding yeasts. What makes the yeast do it’s thing is time.
As I established in my freedom post, Judaism doesn’t consider freedom to be sitting on a beach in the Bahamas drinking a Corona. Freedom is about being able to accomplish what you want to accomplish. There are going to be restrictions when you are on that path because there are only so many hours in a day and you have to make choices. But that’s okay. Restrictions are different from distraction.
What Pesach is about is sitting down, deciding your priorities in life, understanding what you need to do to accomplish those priorities, and ultimately recognizing the things that hold us back. It is those things that we are still slaves to. Wasting time, ego, procrastination, lack of unity, grudges from years past, etc. Pesach gives you the opportunity to take those things and declare, I want to be free of X.
When you see someone who is really accomplishing, they are busy. Very busy. Taking meetings, answering emails, spending time with family, helping those who need it. They aren’t wasting time. They aren’t sitting idle.
I said the difference between bread and matzah is time. “In order to make bread, the dough is left to sit and rise until it gets all puffed up. By Jewish law, the matzoh is not allowed to sit at any point during the process. From the moment the making of the dough begins until it is baked, the entire process can not be more than 18 minutes.” (I put it in quotes because the Rav himself Rabbi Denbo corrected me. How cool is that?)
It’s the perfect symbol for not wasting time. So on Pesach we eat the bread of our slavery, because it was when we were slaves that we were driven. We didn’t get to waste time. We were accomplishing so much! But because of the miracles of God in Egypt, we can tap into that drive once again. Only now, use it in a way we choose. Imagine having unwavering focus paired with an overflowing ambition to achieve what you want to achieve.
That’d be true freedom.
Bingo. So this year, when you are getting ready to eat the matzah, think about that thing you want to be free from once and for all. That thing that has been holding you back. Then take a big, dry, crunch bite… of freedom!
And FYI, this post is all from Rabbi Denbo. As is most everything on this blog.
This is a wonderful post (except flour is spelled like this and not flower!). Now I’m going to read your freedom one.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you! And please point out typos! I make tons of them. The sneak right by me.
Do you know when, as in what year, decade, or century, did the 18 minute concept become part of the tradition….before Babylon, in Babylon, after the destruction of the temple???
According to my research, the concept of 18 minutes is listed in the Talmud which gets compiled around 500 CE. However the Talmud covers the Oral tradition which we regard as going back to Mt. Sinai. And thought it isn’t explicitly stated, I would guess Moses got details of what constitutes chometz when God gives him the command before they leave Egypt.
I heard that from a strict Halachic standpoint, if a raw dough is consistently rolled all day and is not let to sit idle for 18 minutes (nonstop rolling), it will not ferment and will thus not become Chametz. The “18-minute process” that we practice today, that is that the time from when flour meets water until it is placed into the oven and baked does not exceed 18 minutes, is only a 260-year old stringency that was instituted in Eastern Europe (see Responsa of Baal Hatanya in Shulchan Aruch Harav 6). They introduced the stringency as an added measure of precaution to haste the process, so that even if the dough was left unattended it would not become chametz.
I can’t speak to that level of halachic specificity. But as you point out, the dough must be consistently rolled all day and not left for idle. Whether that is your approach or the 18-minute rule, either way you’re achieving the metaphor of yourself not being idle.
Thanks for the feedback!
In my English translation of Exodus 12:34
the word dough translates the word
בָּצֵק batseq, baw-tsake´; as dough.
Ex. 12:34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders.
By its very nature dough is flour plus some liquid(s). It seems unlikely to me that as we were in the active process of leaving Egypt, we could continuously have rolled the dough. I am completely willing to believe that G-d performed a miracle so as not to let the dough ferment but without divine intervention I don’t see how fermentation was prevented.
I really am trying to understand so any help you can give, I will truly appreciate.