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Blog - Torah Insights

Ingredients of Matzah

Ingredients of Matzah

Matzah, the unleavened bread we are commanded to eat on Passover, bereft of yeast which inflates the dough, represents humility that is critical in order to experience freedom.

The arrogant person does not seek to change. His inflated ego tells him that he is perfect just the way he is.  Any problem in his life or in his relationships are not his responsibility, he tells himself that they are the fault of other people or external circumstances.

The arrogant person is a very busy person. He wakes up in the morning and is occupied full time protecting his own ego. He believes that he won't survive a bruise to his ego, thus, he does not take risks, he refuses to leave his comfort zone, lest he fail and bruise his ego. 

To be free, to grow, to change, one must break free of the inflated ego. One must destroy the bread, literally as well as figuratively, and eat Matzah, internalizing its message and its spiritual energy. Thus, Matzah, the humble bread, has just two ingredients; no fancy products just flour and water. 

There is, however, one more, less obvious, often overlooked, ingredient in Matzah, and that is speed. When the Torah describes the reason we eat Matzah it states:

You shall not eat leavened with it; for seven days you shall eat with it matzoth, the bread of affliction, for in haste you went out of the land of Egypt.[1]

Matzah remains unleavened only if the dough is baked with speed avoiding the ultimate Matzah killer - the passage of time.

Indeed, when the Passover Hagadah explains the reason for eating Matzah it emphasizes that the Jews hastened out of Egypt without delay, leaving no time for the bread to rise: 

This Matzah that we eat for what reason? Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.

Thus it is said: "They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions."[2]

There are two types of humility. The first is paralyzing. The person is not motivated to do anything as he feels inadequate. He has no ambition to achieve as he is humble and doesn’t seem to want anything for himself. This humility robs a person of motivation and excitement, this is not the humility the Torah calls for. The second type of humility is the Matzah. Yes, the Matzah is humble, but it represents speed[3]. Speed represents excitement, alacrity, ambition. The humility of Matzah allows the person to escape the confines of his own ego, which in turn, fills the person with great passion to achieve his own Divine potential.

Thus the Matzah conveys a double message: like the Matzah, one should rid himself of all traces of an inflated ego. And like the Matzah, one should be filled with the speed, the excitement, the passion, and the ambition, to achieve success; not for the sake of the self, but rather for the sake of G-d, who planted within each person a spark of his infinity.

 

 


[1] Deuteronomy 16:3.

[2] Passover Hagadah.

[3] See commentary by the Ben Ish Chai.

Housing Crisis

Housing Crisis

After reading in great detail about the laws of Tzara’at, the supernatural skin ailment that afflicted people in Biblical times, we read, in this week’s portion, about the purification of the Metzora - the person afflicted with Tzara’at:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, This shall be the law of the person afflicted with Tzara'at, on the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the Kohen. The Kohen shall go outside the camp, and the Kohen shall look, and behold, the lesion of Tzara’at has healed in the afflicted person... The Kohen shall thus effect atonement for him, and he shall be pure.[1] 

The sages explain that the Tzara’at affliction would strike an individual who would engage in evil speech. Evil speech tears people and communities apart and undermines the fabric of society. Thus, the Torah commands that the person with the affliction be sent away from the camp. This would encourage introspection and repentance on the part of the Metzora. While he was outside the camp he would undoubtedly learn to appreciate the value of a social life, the value of friendship with others, and thus he would resolve to cease tearing apart the bond of friendship between people, and then he would be allowed to re-enter the camp. 

After we read about the purification of the Metzora, just when we thought we had solved the Tzara’at issue by correcting its underlying spiritual cause, we read about another form of Tzara’at which appears, this time, not on the flesh of a person, but rather on a home in the Land of Israel.

As stated in the verse:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place a lesion of tzara’at upon a house in the land of your possession and the one to whom the house belongs comes and tells the Kohen, saying, "Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house,"...[2] 

What is the meaning and symbolism of the Tzara’at that afflicts the home? Why isn't this Tzara’at written about together with the Tzara’at that afflicts the person and his garments in last week's Parsha? And why does the Tzara’at of the home apply specifically to - “the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession” - the land of Israel?

For a healthy society to function, the most important rule is, as google’s motto would say, “don’t be evil”. The most important rule is, that each individual, as well as any group of individuals, does not harm other people. Anyone who cannot follow this basic principle of human civilization, has no place in the camp, in the city, or in civilization. This is the lesson taught by the Tzara’at which afflicted the person.  

And yet, not harming others is not enough of a foundation to build the Land of Israel.

Once they’ve entered Israel, once the Jews were no longer traveling together in the desert, dependent on each other for everything from protection to livelihood, there was a danger that individuals would, figuratively, “lock themselves in their own home”, separating themselves completely from the people around them.

Addressing the homeowner whose home was afflicted with Tzara’at the verse uses the term “he to whom the house belongs to him”. The Talmud[3] teaches: “‘to him” implies one who devotes his house to himself exclusively”. The Torah  warns that if a person views  his own possessions as something exclusively his own, then although he is not as bad as the person who actively speaks evil, he is still undermining his relationship with the people of Israel, and therefore he compromises his relationship with his home in the land of Israel. 

This is a “housing crisis”. They may have learned not to harm others, but they were still susceptible to the “housing crisis” - caring only about their own house, apathetic to what was taking place in the rest of the land.

The Torah believes in private property. The Torah teaches that an individual’s possessions belong to him alone. Each individual’s portion of the land is “the land of your possession”, it belongs to the individual who possesses it. Yet, the Torah teaches that in order for the people of Israel to fulfill their destiny in the land of Israel, they must do more than merely not harm each other. Each and every Jew must view his possessions, his private property, as a means to live a life of meaning, to transcend the self and to share with others. 

Only then will the individual achieve the true satisfaction and joy of self transcendence and connection to the Divine.

As Maimonides writes:

a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his gut.[4] 

The Jewish idea of joy and celebration is, as Maimonides states:

When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows and others who are destitute and poor.[4]

Thus, the joy we strive for comes from using one’s home to transcend the self.

 

 

 


[1] Leviticus 14:1-20.

[2] Leviticus 14:33-34.

[3] Yoma 11b.

[4] Shvisas Yom Tov, chapter 6. 

Last, But Not Least?

Last, But Not Least?

The book of Leviticus, perhaps more than any other book in the Torah, is about man’s service to G-d. The book is packed with Mitzvot and lessons; from how to bring an offering to G-d, to how to treat his fellow neighbor. The word “Adam” - “man” - is the first word that follows the opening statement of the book. It is therefore striking, that when it comes to the laws of ritual purity, in the heart of the book of Leviticus, the Torah does not address the subject of ritual purity of man until it first addresses the subject of purity of the animals.

In the end of last week's portion, the portion of Shmini, the Torah addresses the laws of Kosher meat. The Torah identifies the Kosher animals, fowl and fish. It then describes the instances in which an animal becomes a source of impurity, and the portion concludes with the summation of the laws of purity as they pertain to animals: 

This is the law regarding animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water and all creatures that creep on the ground, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.[1]

Only after the Torah deals with the laws of animals does it, in this week's Parsha, address the laws of the human being’s ritual purity.

This led the rabbis to wonder: if the book is primarily addressed to man, why then were the laws of human purity written only after the laws of animal purity? Rashi quotes the explanation of the Midrash:

Rabbi Simlai said: “Just as in the Creation, man was created after all domestic animals, wild beasts, and birds, so too, the law [concerning the ritual purity] of man is stated after the law [concerning ritual purity] of domestic animals, wild beasts, and birds.”[2]

According to the Midrash, the order of the laws of purity follows the order of creation. Being that man was created after the animals, therefore the laws of his ritual purity were stated after the laws of the purity of animals.  

This however is not a satisfying explanation. All it does is bring up another question. Why indeed were the animals created before the human?

The Talmud[3] offers two possible reasons.

The first reason is as follows: the human being was created last so that if he should become too arrogant he would be told that “even a mosquito preceded you” in creation. According to this reason, the creation of man at the tail end of creation implies that man is inferior to the rest of creation. If man should become too arrogant, he must be reminded of his humble origins, he was the last in line to be created.

The second reason that G-d created man after all other creations, was in order that man would benefit from a full world prepared for him. As the Midrash puts it: “man was invited to the banquet once the meal was prepared”.

These two reasons are polar opposites. While the first reason indicates that the human is inferior to the animals, the second reason indicates that the human being is in fact superior to all animals, and that is precisely why he was created at the final step of creation.

So which one is it? Is man inferior to the mosquito or is he the crown jewel of creation?

Both are true. They are two sides of the same coin.

Man, alone amongst all creations in the universe, is able to defy his creator. All other creations follow their G-d given nature and instincts, without the ability to oppose their G-d given nature. Man alone has the ability, the free choice, to choose to do the opposite of the Divine will. No other creature has the option to choose to go against the will of its maker. In this, man is indeed inferior to all animals, as stated in Tanya:

For the lusting drive in his animal soul is capable of lusting also after forbidden things, which are contrary to G‑d’s will… In this he is inferior to and more loathsome and abominable than unclean animals and insects and reptiles.[4]

Yet, there is more to the story of man.

For man is also unique in his ability to choose to rise above his instincts. Man was given the intellectual power the spiritual freedom and fortitude, to enlighten and improve himself. Man alone has the ability to take the spiritually lowest material - material capable of defying the Divine - and to develop it and elevate it. Man is able to transform himself and the world around him to a place hospitable to the Divine.

Man was created last because he is inferior to the mosquito in his ability to choose evil. Yet this inferiority is the source of his superiority. When man toils with himself, when he plows and plants the soil of his heart, then he indeed becomes superior to all creatures.

For he alone is able to choose.

He alone has the ability to strive to overcome his instincts and nature.

He alone can plant the earth of his heart and cause holiness to grow.

Man must understand that G-d does not seek perfection, G-d seeks the transformative power of toil. Specifically because man was created spiritually inferior to the animals, this is the very reason why, when he chooses the right path, he ascends to the greatest spiritual heights.[5]  

 

 


[1] Leviticus, 11, 46-47.

[2] Rashi, Leviticus 12, 2 (from the Midrash).

[3] Sanhedrin 38a.

[4] Chapter 29.

[5] Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutey Sichos 7, Tazria Sicha 1. 

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