Monday, April 28, 2008

Chametz u'Matzah

Something I was thinking about this weekend - We eat matzah on Passover because of the fact the Jews left Egypt in haste and their dough did not have time to rise. Also to commemorate the "bread of affliction" that we ate as slaves.

What struck me as a little strange is how did the "positive commandment" notion of eating matzah become such a strict prohibition against eating chametz, so strict that even possessing chametz earns you "kares", your soul being cut off from your people (whatever that means).

It seems slightly weird. Why eliminate all chametz, instead of just adding a commandment to make sure you eat Matzah. My wife speculated that perhaps to heighten the experience of eating Matzah only, you need to enforce total eradication of chametz. I can kind of buy that argument, though it seems that the punishment is still disproportionate. Why get rid of all the chametz? Why not just say, don't eat it for a week.


Blogger Leora said...

I assume you know the traditional:
Chametz = Arrogance
Matzah = Humility

and getting rid of the arrogance for a week doesn't work for you as an idea.

The only other thing I can think of is we Jews always manage to do things the hard way. So emphasizing the absence of chametz rather than the presence of matzah is one more way we do things in a challenging manner?

It is a good question you ask.

April 28, 2008 3:10 PM  
Anonymous resh lakish said...

Kefirah explanation?
The haste-leaving-Egypt was a later-added etiology for joining the Pessah offering with the pre-existing Canaanite unleavened bread feast, which had long been observed in Spring (see Encyclopaedia Biblica, Paseah).

April 29, 2008 4:35 AM  
Blogger Yosef said...

It's also a commandment not to own any leaven or sourdough during Pesach, as we say every morning in kadesh li kol b'chor when putting on tefillin. That's where we derive the prohibition to own or to derive benefit from, not from the command to eat the matzoh.

April 29, 2008 6:12 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

resh lakish, do you what evidence exists for the Canaanite festival?


I understand that it is a commandment - but clearly the notion of matzah and chametz are linked, so I guess I was looking for the rationale.

April 29, 2008 7:09 AM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...

The whole chametz thing goes back to the Torah. Check out Exodus 12:15-12:20. It's fairly explicit.

It seems that at the time the Torah was composed/compiled the people already followed a fairly established tradition. That or God ordered us to do it. :)

April 30, 2008 2:23 PM  
Blogger Yosef said...


I suggest that when we damp down the arrogance in our standard demeanor, the humility is already there; or at least, is easy to bring to the surface with a little matzo at the seder(im) -- the only time when we must eat the matzo is at the start of the festival.

However, it is only the continued absense of the chametz that allows the humility to reign for more than a short time.

April 30, 2008 2:31 PM  
Blogger Leora said...


When you get a chance, check out this link:
Phoenician/Canaanite Harvest Festival

At first, I thought this was a parody. I don't know what to make of it! The web page is crediting Canaanites/Phoenicians with:
"A piece of broken matzoh is hidden at the beginning of the ritual, which the children have to find at the end." Is this deliberate anti-semitism? Like I said, someone else please look at this.


April 30, 2008 5:12 PM  

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