Unleavened — it’s what we are meant to eat at Passover.
We scrub and clean. We burn and sell. We expend all this energy to rid ourselves of leavened bread. But what is so terrible about chametz? And what is so special about matzah?
Adding a leavening agent to dough allows it to rise, disproportionately to its original state and mass. In short, it’s inflated. So, metaphorically, leavened bread represents an inflated ego. Unleavened matzah represents humility.
Rye, whole wheat, pumpernickel, sourdough and cinnamon raisin are just some of the many varieties and flavors of bread. Matzah, on the other hand, is always made with just two simple and humble ingredients: flour and water. So, leavened bread represents an inflated, self-centered, ego, while matzah represents the same plain and humble offering every time.
At Passover, the time of our birth as a nation, it is important that we all focus on the very essence of our Judaism, which is the same for us all.
Newborn babies look more similar than not, although later on, each one of them will go on to develop its own distinct character traits and individual personality. At birth they seem to be almost identical, a simple yet powerful — and humble — soul. Likewise, at Passover we should focus on our similarities and humbleness, and even a seemingly insignificant amount of “leaven” can spoil this Passover spirit.
“Wait a minute,” you may wonder. “I consider myself to be an accomplished person with a successful career. I am dedicated to community service on a regular basis. Why the need for the extra dose of humility?”
Well, let us learn from the best: Moses.
Ask anyone who has studied the Bible to describe Moses and they will tell you that he was powerful, fearless, and holy. He began his career by attacking and killing an Egyptian slave driver to save the life of a fellow Hebrew. He single-handedly protected Yitro’s daughters from the collective harassment of the shepherds of Midian. He returned to Egypt to challenge the mighty Pharaoh face-to-face, provoking the wrath of the deified emperor of an ancient superpower whose rule extended across the known world. Despite Pharaoh’s displeasure, Moses frequently reentered the lion’s den to rebuke the tyrant and to warn in harsh terms of one plague after another.
He led the Jews across a split sea and into a wilderness, with the goal of conquering a land filled with kings and their armies. He repeatedly rebuked the Jewish people for their rebelliousness — despite acknowledging that “a little more of this and they will stone me!” When he witnessed the worship of the Golden Calf, he made the toughest of all decisions: He shattered the tablets that he had received from G-d’s hand. Without hesitation, he cast them down the mountainside, shattering beyond repair the most sacred items known to mankind. He did this without consulting G-d, the Giver of the Tablets, or the Jewish people, the intended recipients.
After all that, Moses returned to confront G-d Himself, not hesitating to risk his own welfare in doing so: “Forgive their sin!” he demanded. “If not, erase me now from Your book that You have written!”
Later, Moses took on the rebellious Korach and personally led the nation in war against the two mighty giants, King Og of Bashan and King Sichon of the Emorites.
Yet, despite this all, the Torah presents Moses as the epitome of humility: “The man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
This year, Passover might be different than usual. Living through a pandemic has been a Passover of sorts for many of us. In some ways, we have been robbed of our talents and uniqueness. And, we have been reduced to equals in many ways.
Some see it as a harsh and brutal punishment to endure. And, make no mistake, to many it has been a time of loss and suffering.
As Jews, however, we are reminded annually that Pesach is an important time to return to our core. This humble beginning will lead to many great accomplishments. PJC
Rabbi Mendy Schapiro is the director of Chabad of Monroeville. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.