Sacred Chametz

R. Yehuda (Udi) Dvorkin • 2018

The details of the sacrificial work, as well as the fanaticism of the Passover cleaning, remind us that we aspire to by fully pure and holy, but it is the mundane, everyday Chametz routine, which will be here forever.

The world of korbanot (offerings) unfolds before us during the book of Leviticus with a wide stream of commandments. A world of rules, sub-rules, details, laws, regulations and prohibitions. The world of korbanot is kosher for Passover, they cannot be leavened:

“No meal-offering, which ye shall bring unto the Lord, shall be made with leaven; for ye shall make no leaven, nor any honey, smoke as an offering made by fire unto the Lord. As an offering of first-fruits ye may bring them unto the Lord” (Leviticus 2, 11-12).

The Korban Reshit (first fruit offering), includes a two-bread offering for Shavout and is one of the exceptions to the rule. The other exception which includes leavened bread is the Korban Toda - an offering of gratitude, and is mentioned in Parashat Tzav:

“If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour soaked. With cakes of leavened bread he shall present his offering with the sacrifice of his peace-offerings for thanksgiving. And of it he shall present one out of each offering for a gift unto the Lord” (Leviticus 7 12-14).

Why do most of the korbanot must be of matzah and cannot include chametz? What does it mean to create an environment that is as a matzah, that is kosher for Passover? Vayikra is read at a time when we are all busy cleaning our house for Passover. We attack shelves that until a moment ago looked reasonable with dust rags, and feel delighted with every piece of chametz that we clean. Chametz, as we know, is not nullified even by a thousand, and therefore we work day and night to prepare a ‘sterile’ environment. All the Jewish tendencies to OCD arise even with those who only a minute ago choose a more lenient Halachik approach.

why? The reality of Passover is not natural for us. In our time we are experiencing a life full of Chametz, not only our food, but all of our surroundings is constantly leavening, we live in a ‘puffed-up over inflated world’. The sense of satiety in our society is not only a parable to the Western capitalist society, but it is real. We are satisfied and well fed. Matzah is not satisfying, but it is precisely because of this that it is the bread of freedom. The Maharal explains that the fact that matzah is simple, modest and lacks complicated ingredients, symbolizes a free person who stands alone and is not chained to a master who controls him, or on the other hand - to his own property. Being well fed, being satisfied by our material life always comes with burdens, liabilities and many tasks. The matzah that is not satisfying symbolizes absolute freedom.

The Tabernacle and the Temple are the centers of the People of Israel. They symbolize the absolute freedom and the constant choice to be with Hashem. Whoever is bringing the korban (offering) is becoming closer to Hashem every time. The constant choice to return and bring an offering (rather than to a more convenient pagan platform, or to give up on the closeness to God in general) is a declaration of loyalty to our belief system and to the affinity and connection between the people of Israel and Hashem. The desire to withhold chametz in such an environment is because it is not an environment of satiety, but rather an experience of search and hunger.

So why are there two types of offerings which ‘contaminate’ the Temple with chametz? Why are the offerings of Toda (gratitude) and the offering of the Shtei Halechem on Shavout are bound with leavened bread? With chametz? The offering of gratitude, whether according to the Rambam’s view that it is a completely voluntary offering, and that any person who feels gratitude towards Hashem can bring it, or according to other commentators that limit this offering to a gratitude when overcoming real danger (like Birkat HaGomel), symbolizes the desire for normalcy. Those who are out of danger are thankful for returning to the real world, thankful for returning to a world of satiety after time in the desert or the sea, returning to a world of choice after sitting in prison, or returning to a blessed routine after a time of illness. The offering of gratitude is the constant reminder that we do not live in the world of Matzah but in the world of Chametz, and we are thankful for it. The offering of the two loaves of bread on Shavout is the reminder that the Torah is a system of laws that tries to contain the holiness in this world, in the world of Chametz, as the Maharal writes: “But the Torah is a guard from the evil inclination, this is why they have brought two leavened bread of chametz on the festival of Matan Torah, because the yeast in the dough is as the evil inclination that is within every person and on the Torah side sits the evil inclination, and if he would not (have the Torah), he would not be able to stand against it “(Tiferet Yisrael 25:25).

We do not live in a world that is entirely Matzah. Parashat Vayikra tells us of offerings that can amend our actions and mark the cycle of the year and life. It offers ways to deal with the falls and impurities that are part and parcel of this world. We try to cleanse our house for Passover, the cleansing of the house, as well as the cleansing of the psychic and soul so we will be ready for Passover, so we will be pure, like a people who have just left Egypt and as priests who serve in the holy temple, but this is only one week.

No one can be like a Matzah throughout all of his life. Human freedom which allows a voluntarily subjugate to Halacha, brings in turn gratitude for all the good in this world. “Only free men are thoroughly grateful one to another.” (Spinoza, Ethics, D, 71). Gratitude is possible only in a world of freedom. Chametz on Passover cannot be nullified even one in a thousand, it does not allow us real freedom and true gratitude. The Passover offering (קרבן פסח), according to the Ktav Sofer, is fundamentally different from the offering of gratitude. It is not brought for gratitude, but for acknowledging the reality of our existence as the people of God in God’s service. It is an offering that recognizes reality, and does not necessarily give thanks for it. The Torah, as part of the world, must also be brought into the ‘sacred’ through the offering of the two loaves of bread on Shavuot. The regular avodat korbanot - the service of offerings - tries to create a world that recognizes God’s reality at different stages of our lives, tries to bring holiness through the Tabernacle and the Temple into the people of Israel by making them partners in a world of purity. The “Chametz” offerings are doing the opposite, the offerings are bringing the world into the ‘sacred’, through the events we thank for and through gratitude for the Torah itself, we are bringing ourselves into the world of purity.

The fanaticism that arises in each of us during Passover cleaning is the attempt to preserve a dimension of absolute purity, of a pure and clear house. “Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Menachem of the Galilee: In future times, the observance of the sacrifices will be nullified, with the exception of the Thanksgiving offering which will never be nullified” (Vayikra Rabbah 9:7). It is not the Passover offering that is kept, neither the offering of the matzah, but the chametz offering, which brings the world into the holy. The details of the sacrificial work, as well as the fanaticism of the Passover cleaning, remind us that we aspire to by fully pure and holy, but it is the mundane, everyday Chametz routine, which will be here forever.

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