In this week’s parsha, Tzav, the Torah commands: “Any meal offering that you offer to God shall not be prepared leavened, for you shall not cause to go up in smoke on the Altar any leavening or fruit-honey as a fire-offering to Hashem” (see Vayikra 2:11). Leavened bread (and honey) are thus disqualified for all mincha offerings.
The Argument For Chametz
Why, then, does the Torah command, in Vayikra 23:17, that the Two Loaves (Shtei Ha’Lechem) brought on Shavuot MUST be “baked leavened”?!
Ramban (Nachmanides) addresses this anomaly. He explains that the Torah commands that the Two Loaves should be leavened, because they are a thanksgiving to God for having kept for us the appointed time of the harvest – and a thanksgiving offering (korban toda) always comes with leavened bread (see Vayikra 7:13).
The Argument Against Chametz
Generally speaking, however, leavened products may not be brought as an offering. Perhaps this is because, Ramban conjectures, “leaven alludes to the attribute of strict justice, for it is called chametz [leaven], just as wine which sours is called (Bamidbar 6:3) chometz yayin v’chometz sheichar [vinegar of wine or vinegar of strong drink], the word [chametz] being derived from the expression: “the unrighteous (v’chomeitz) [and ruthless man]” (Tehillim 71:4), for [vinegar of wine and vinegar of strong drink] are drinks whose original taste has been “robbed” from them, and they are therefore not suitable for [normal] drinking.”
Sweet and Sour
The Ramban continues: “Since the offerings are brought to be acceptable before the Glorious Name, they are therefore not to be brought from objects which possess a strong power to change natural properties of other things [such as leaven], and similarly they are not to be brought from things which are completely sweet such as honey. [Instead, they are to come] only from things that are blended of different qualities, just as the Rabbis have said with reference to the creation of the world: He combined the attribute of mercy with the attribute of justice, and created the world.”
The common denominator of leaven and honey is that they are both extremes. Extremes are almost always bad. A person should not be overly sour (chametz), but should likewise not be overly sweet (honey). He should be sweet and sour!
In the words of the Rambam (Maimonides), in Hilchot De’iot (the Laws of Personal Development 1:4): “A person should not be wrathful, easily angered; nor be like the dead, without feeling, rather he should [adopt] an intermediate course; i.e., he should display anger only when the matter is serious enough to warrant it, in order to prevent the matter from recurring… He should not be overly stingy nor spread his money about, but he should give charity according to his capacity and lend to the needy as is fitting. He should not be overly elated and laugh [excessively], nor be sad and depressed in spirit. Rather, he should be quietly happy at all times, with a friendly countenance. The same applies with regard to his other traits. This path is the path of the wise. Every man whose traits are intermediate and equally balanced can be called a “wise man.”
One should not be too miserly, but likewise not overly wasteful. Not easy to anger, but not indifferent either. Not too self-possessed, but not without any pride. After all, the Torah was given on a mountain – albeit the smallest and humblest of mountains, but not in a valley…
Extremes Can be Beneficial – in Extreme Cases,
Yet, at times, to change a negative character trait, we need to veer to the opposite extreme. In the Rambam’s words (ibid 2:2), “What is the remedy for the morally ill? The man who is full of pride should cause himself to experience much disgrace. He should sit in the lowliest of places, dress in tattered rags which shame the wearer, and the like, until the arrogance is uprooted from his heart and he returns to the middle path, which is the proper path. When he returns to this middle path, he should walk in it the rest of his life. One should take a similar course with each of the other traits. A person who swayed in the direction of one of the extremes should move in the direction of the opposite extreme, and accustom himself to that for a long time, until he has returned to the proper path, which is the midpoint for each and every temperament.”
A Blend of Chametz and Matza
To appreciate a life of Chametz, and to counteract its physically fulfilling but often spiritually distracting tendencies, we need to go to the opposite extreme – of Matza. In general, the halacha is that where a prohibited substance falls into a permitted substance (e.g. non-kosher food that falls into a pot of kosher food, or a slice of cheesy pizza falls into a cauldron of chicken soup), the mixture can still be eaten, provided the volume of the permitted item is 60 times greater than the volume of the prohibited item. The taste of the prohibited item is considered no longer detectable and the mixture therefore remains kosher. However, with Chametz, the slightest quantity renders the entire mixture inedible! (In a similar vein, an idol, or anything used in the service of idolatry, including wine, is incapable of annulment.)
Matza is simply a mixture of flour and water. Bread is made of the same ingredients; however, when left without supervision, it miraculously expands and inflates, thus bringing out its full potential! Is this a bad thing? Of course not! To the contrary, it is the Torah’s ideal, evidenced by the fact that on Shavuot, the culmination of the redemptive process begun on Pesach, we use specifically leavened bread in the Temple service.
The Torah seems to be teaching us that to grow, one needs guidance and direction. Left unbridled, the process of growth and development can be destructive and dangerous – precisely because it is so powerful. To be truly free, the first step is not to give vent to all one’s repressed urges and tendencies. On slaying the Egyptian firstborn, Hashem commands us: “but as for you, you may not leave the entrance of the house until morning.” The Torah wants us to avoid the tendency of slaves to avenge themselves, by releasing all their pent-up anger and baser instincts against their former overlords. This is the message of Matza – it reminds us of the need for simplicity, to enable us gradually to reach the goal of complexity.
Shabbat shalom and Chag sameach!