Wet Matzah

PRINT

It is rare to find a substance so utterly and uncompromisingly rejected by the Torah. There are other foods whose consumption is forbidden; but this the Torah forbids us to eat, derive benefit from in any way (e.g. sell, feed to one’s animals, or use as kindling), or even keep in our possession. Usually, a forbidden substance becomes ‘‘nullified” if it mixes with a much greater quantity of permissible substances;[1] but of this, the Torah forbids the slightest trace—even if it blends with something a million times its volume, the entire lot becomes unfit for consumption.

We are speaking, of course, of chametz, or leaven, on Passover. In the weeks before the festival, the Jewish home is the scene of an all-out, take-no-prisoners, war of extermination. Floorboards are scraped, furniture dismantled, countertops boiled. On the night before the festival we conduct a solemn search for any survivors and consign them to the flames on the next morning. The enemy: the minutest bread crumb, beer stain or pasta residue—anything in which grain and water have come together and fermented, rendering the product chametz and utterly intolerable for eight days a year.

On the spiritual level, leaven, whose primary feature is that it rises and inflates itself, embodies pride. This explains our uncompromising rejection of chametz. Other negative traits might be tolerable, or even useful, in small, greatly diluted doses. Depression, for example, has been declared ‘‘a grave sin,”[2] for man is commanded to ‘‘serve G-d with joy”;[3] but a small dash of melancholy, counterbalanced by a hundredfold helping of joy, may serve a positive function, reflecting a necessary concern over one’s shortcomings and the commitment to rectify them. The same applies to anger, stubbornness, chutzpa, and a host of other character traits: as a rule, they are undesirable, yet in the proper context and in the right proportions, each has its positive applications. Arrogance and pride, however, are of such spiritual toxicity (the Talmud states that G-d says of the arrogant one, ‘‘I and he cannot dwell in the same world”[4]) that we must forgo any attempt to exploit them, and must totally eradicate them from every crevice of our hearts.[5]

The 49-Day Difference

And yet, despite the severity of the prohibition of chametz, it is only forbidden for eight days and several hours a year,[6] while other, less ‘‘toxic” elements are forbidden year-round. In other words, there is a state of being, which Passover represents, in which arrogance and pride are objectionable in any context and quantity. After ‘‘Passover,” however, chametz becomes permissible and even desirable.

This duality is also expressed in the laws governing the offerings brought to G-d in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple). In the Beit Hamikdash, it was ‘‘Passover” all year round: all grain offerings had to be unleavened, in keeping with the divine command that ‘‘no leaven… may be brought as a fire-offering to G-d.”[7] This, too, reflects G-d’s utter abhorrence of arrogance and pride. Nevertheless, on the festival of Shavuot, two loaves of bread, specifically commanded to be ‘‘baked leavened,”[8] were offered in the Beit Hamikdash.

Thus, Passover and Shavuot represent two polar points in the desirability of pride. On Passover, chametz is wholly and utterly forbidden, while on Shavuot it is not only permitted but is a mitzvah, commanded and desired by G-d.

Passover marks our birth as a people, when G-d extracted a clan of slaves from the “forty-nine gates of depravity” of pagan Egypt and set them on the journey toward Sinai, where He took Israel as His eternal bride on Shavuot. Connecting Passover and Shavuot is the forty-nine day sefirat haomer (‘‘counting of the omer”), during which we are commanded to conduct a daily count of the days that have passed from the day of the Exodus.

The kabbalists explain that the human character consists of seven basic attributes (attraction, rejection, synthesis, competitiveness, devotion, communicativity, and receptiveness[9]), reflecting the seven divine attributes (midot elyonot or sefirot) that G-d invested in His creation of reality.[10] Each of these seven contains elements of them all, making for a total of forty-nine traits in the human heart.[11] Thus, we speak of the utterly corrupt society of Egypt as a moral nadir of “forty-nine gates of depravity.” These are paralleled by “forty-nine gates of understanding”—the ladder and process by which one achieves the refinement and perfection of all elements in one’s character.

Therein lies the significance of the forty-nine day count and climb from Passover to Shavuot. On the first day of Passover, we were physically removed from the evil of Egypt; yet we still had to remove the ‘‘Egypt” from within us, to cleanse our hearts and minds of the residue of four generations of pagan environment and practice.[12] Each day of the sefirah involved the internal exodus from another of Egypt’s ‘‘gates of depravity” and the entry into another of the ‘‘gates of understanding.” After forty-nine days, we attained the internal purity required to receive the divine election and communication of Shavuot.

Hence the difference between Passover and Shavuot regarding chametz. One who is still burdened with negative drives and emotions (though he has already abandoned the negative behavior they engender[13]) lacks the ability to sublimate the most potent and corruptible of the heart’s traits—pride. So immediately following the Exodus, chametz is banned. It is only upon attaining the full refinement of all forty-nine compartments of the heart on Shavuot that the offering of leaven to G-d becomes a mitzvah, appropriate and desirable. On this level, pride is no longer the self-inflationary chametz of the ‘‘Passover” personality, but the selfless pride of one who has cleansed his heart of every last vestige of self-interest and has dedicated it exclusively to the service of his Creator.[14] This is a pride not in what one is or has achieved, but an expression of the majesty of He Whom he serves and Whose reality he conveys in his every thought, word and deed.

The Eighth Day Soak

This also explains an interesting law regarding Acharon Shel Pesach, the eighth and final day of Passover.

One example of the extremes to which we go to avoid every trace and prospect of chametz on Passover is the practice, by many communities, of refraining from eating matzah shruyah (“soaked matzah”) on the festival. Matzah is made of water and flour that have been speedily and thoroughly blended and baked, to avoid any chance of leavening. Once baked, the flour in the matzah will not leaven; matzah (or ‘‘matzah meal” made by grinding matzah to a fine ‘‘flour”) may now conceivably be mixed with water and other liquids in the preparation of food for the festival. However, there remains an extremely slight chance that some of the flour might have failed to mix completely with the water at the time of the matzah’s original baking, leaving a few particles of raw flour at risk of leavening should they come in contact with water. For this reason, many halachic authorities, including Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, rule that it is best to avoid the use of matzah shruyah on Passover.[15] This ruling has been accepted by many segments of the Jewish community, to the extent that there are those who are careful not to even place matzah on the table during mealtimes unless it is securely covered, lest a drop of liquid meet with a crumb of matzah. This is one of the many examples of the unparalleled lengths to which we go in the avoidance of chametz on Passover.

On the other hand, Rabbi Schneur Zalman permits the use of matzah shruyah on the eighth day of Passover. Furthermore, his successors, the rebbes of Chabad, made a point of wetting matzah at every course of the meals of Acharon Shel Pesach.

The eighth day of Passover is a rabbinic institution, as opposed to the first seven days, which are biblically ordained. Nevertheless, the observance of the rabbinical “added days” to the festivals are just as binding for the Jew as their biblical sisters; in fact, Torah law is even more stringent regarding certain aspects of their observance, for the very reason of forewarning any inclination to treat them lightly.[16] Indeed, with the exception of the eating of matzah shruyah, we are no less diligent in our rejection of leaven on Passover’s final day. Why, then, this exception?

Tasting The Future

As explained above, the forty-nine day sefirah count represents the process of refining the seven basic attributes of the heart as each comprises elements of all seven, making for a total of forty-nine traits. This is why the Torah speaks of the sefirah count as consisting of weeks (‘‘Seven weeks you shall count for yourselves… and you shall make a Festival of Weeks (Chag Shavuot) for G-d…”[17]). In our daily count, we, too, emphasize its weeks: on the twenty-fifth day, for example, we say, ‘‘Today is twenty-five days, which are three weeks and four days of the omer [count].” Indeed, the very name Shavuot means “weeks.” For also the internal ‘‘count” consists of seven ‘‘weeks,” being the refinement of the seven attributes of the heart that are each a unit of seven.

The eighth day of Passover is the seventh day of the sefirah count and the final day of its first week. Thus, on this day we achieve a ‘‘taste” of the perfection of Shavuot, having refined elements of all seven basic traits as they are reflected in the various nuances of the first trait, ‘‘attraction.” In other words, each week of the sefirah is a microcosmic sefirah-count of its own, consisting of seven “days” or sub-traits; having concluded a full week of character refinement, the eighth of Passover is a mini-Shavuot, and thus shares its leaven-tolerant quality. While outright chametz is still strictly forbidden, we mark this milestone on the road to perfection with the positive use of a chametz-vulnerable element, employing wetted matzah to enhance our festival meal.

This corresponds to another feature of the eighth day of Passover—its identification with Moshiach. The haftarah (reading from the prophets) for this day (Isaiah 10:32-12:6) describes the coming of Moshiach and the harmonious perfection of a time when “the world shall be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea.” Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov instituted a special meal, “the feast of Moshiach,” on the afternoon of Acharon Shel Pesach, as a time that is profoundly suited to “taste” and experience the divinely perfect world we are creating with our positive efforts—a world in which “the spirit of impurity shall cease from the earth”[18] and everything, including the pride so abhorrent to G-d today, shall be sublimated as a wholly positive and altruistic force.[19]

Therein lies the lesson of the eighth of Passover: even if perfection seems a far-off goal, you possess the ability to create a ‘‘taste” of perfection in the here and now. Start with a single trait of your personality, with a small corner of your community. If you wholly devote yourself to it, you will find in it elements of your entire self, of the entire universe.

Your creation of this micro-model of messianic perfection will serve as the catalyst for its realization on a holistic, and ultimately universal, level.

Based on the Rebbe’s talks on the eighth day of Passover in the years 5727 (1967) and 5737 (1977)[20]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

 


[1] Certain forbidden substances are nullified if they constitute a minority of the mixture; others if they are less than one sixtieth, less than one hundredth part or less than one part in two hundred. It should be noted that it is forbidden to intentionally nullify a prohibited substance.

[2] From a saying by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (Keter Shem Tov, section 169).

[3] Psalms 100:2.; see Tanya, chapter 26.

[4] Talmud, Erachin 15b.

[5] See Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishnah, Ethics of the Fathers 4:4.

[6] From mid-morning of the day before Passover, until nightfall of the eighth day (seventh day in the Land of Israel). However, the most stringent aspects of the prohibition of chametz (such as the law that ‘‘the slightest trace is forbidden”) apply only from nightfall on Passover eve (see footnote 12 below).

[7] Leviticus 2:11.

[8] Leviticus 23:17.

[9] In Hebrew, chessed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod and malchut. Each of these attributes is multi-faceted and multi-nuanced, and there is no one English word that can be said to capture its essence; thus, each has several translations in contemporary English literature on kabbalah and chassidism, depending on the context and the author’s preference. Chessed, for example, rendered here as ‘‘attraction,” is often (and no less accurately) translated as ‘‘giving,” ‘‘benevolence” or ‘‘love”; gevurah (‘‘rejection”) as ‘‘power” or ‘‘restraint”; tiferet (‘‘synthesis”) as ‘‘beauty,” ‘‘harmony,” ‘‘charisma,” or ‘‘truth”; and so on. For a comprehensive discussion of these seven attributes as they exist in the human character, see Ten Keys For Understanding Human Nature by Mattis Kantor (Zichron Press, N.Y., 1994) whose translation of choice (with minor alterations) we have used here.

[10] There are, in fact, ten sefirot, and ten corresponding attributes in the soul of man. The first three (chochmah, binah and da’at) are ‘‘intellectual” faculties and beyond the scope of the sefirah count, which involves the refinement of the character and emotions.

[11] E.g. ‘‘attractive attraction,” ‘‘rejective attraction,” etc. An example of ‘‘rejective attraction” would be a parent’s disciplining of his child—the use of ‘‘rejective” behavior toward an ‘‘attractive”—i.e. loving—end.

[12] The Jews in Egypt, though retaining their identity, their sanctity of family life and their faith in G-d, worshiped the idols of their enslavers (see Mechilta on Exodus 12:21; Midrash Tehillim 15:5).

[13] On the other hand, for one who is still ‘‘in Egypt”–still imprisoned by his negative habits–the evocation of pride might be the only means by which he can overcome  them, notwithstanding its negative effect on his internal self (see “Potion and Poison,” WIR vol. VI, no. 30).

[14] Cf. II Chronicles 17:6.

[15] Responsum 6, printed at the end of Shulchan Aruch HaRav.

[16] See Tur, Shulchan Aruch and commentaries, Orach Chaim, section 491.

[17] Deuteronomy 16:9-10; see also Leviticus 23:15.

[18] Zechariah 13:2.

[19] Indeed, the ‘‘feast of Moshiach” offers another, even more extreme example of Acharon Shel Pesach’s ‘‘tolerance” for chametz. On Passover (as on all other festivals) a special section—Ya’aleh Veyavo—is added to the Grace After Meals recited at the conclusion of each meal; this section includes the passage, ‘‘Remember us to good, on this day of Passover.” The law is that if one begins his meal on the last day of a festival and continues it after nightfall, he is to recite the Ya’aleh Veyavo at the conclusion of this meal, even though, for everyone else, the festival has ended hours ago. Nevertheless, it is permissible to eat chametz immediately after nightfall following the last day of Passover, even in the middle of a meal that began before nightfall. Thus we have the amazing paradox of a Passover meal, at whose conclusion we still consider ourselves ‘‘on this day of Passover,” during which it is permissible to eat chametz! (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 491:3. See also Mishnah Brurah, ibid; Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXII, p. 36, notes 62-64).

[20] Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXII pp. 30-38.

PRINT

Did you enjoy this? Get personalized content delivered to your own MLC profile page by joining the MLC community. It's free! Click here to find out more.

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments