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Shabbat Parashat Tazria 5779

Parashat Hashavua: In Search of the Place of Matza

Rav Daniel Mann

The preparations for Pesach intensify with Rosh Chodesh falling out on Shabbat and the reading of Parashat Hachodesh. Parashat Hachodesh is the first mention in the Torah of eating matza in connection to Pesach. Matza is presented as a food that is eaten along with the Korban Pesach and that is eaten throughout the duration of the seven-day festival. We also find that one must remove chametz on the “first day” because it is forbidden to eat chametz all seven days (Shemot 12:15).

Chametz and matza are strongly related as opposites. If you let the ingredients rise, it becomes chametz. If you bake it before it has a chance to rise, it is matza. In fact, if the ingredients cannot turn into chametz, the “matza” is invalid matza (Pesachim 35a). This seems so counter-intuitive based on the approach to mitzvot that we are used to. If something is as strictly forbidden as chametz is, then we would have expected to be required to avoid anything that could become chametz!

I would like to raise what we call in the beit midrash a chakira (an analytical dilemma) about chametz and matza: If the two are indeed related, which is the beginning of the “equation” and which is the result? Is it: 1. There is a mitzva to eat matza on Pesach, as it reminds us of the manner in which Hashem took us out of Egypt (with chipazon – Devarim 16:3). It is not wrong to eat, say, potatoes instead of matza. However, one must not eat chametz because it is the antithesis of matza, countering the impact of remembrance that one would have had with matza. 2. The Torah does not want us to eat chametz throughout Pesach, whether for the above reason, because chametz represents the yetzer hara (see Berachot 17a with Rashi), or for some other reason. When the Torah says that Pesach (what the Torah calls Chag Hamatzot) is a festival of eating matza for seven days, it means that if one eats something that can be either chametz or matza, it better be matza!

The simpler reading of the p’sukim throughout the Torah (we do not have room to elaborate) is that the stress on matza being a positive commemoration is part of the basic definition of the holiday. It is then worthwhile to contemplate why chametz, being the opposite of matza, is such a big problem, especially according to the more accepted opinion that there isn’t even a mitzva to eat matza throughout the seven days. (We dealt with the famous machloket if there is anything positive about eating matza after the first night of Pesach in Living the Halachic Process, vol. III, D-18.)

Let us consider the following suggestion. When a nation emerges (which we celebrate on Pesach), it receives tools to do significant things that it did not have previously. One might think that if these tools are used well, good, and if not done exactly right, it is no big deal, as the nation can always get it right the next time. Perhaps the newly formed dough teaches a different lesson. If one handles it correctly and promptly, that is good. If one does it wrong or even tarries, the result is dangerous! Mitzva haba’ah l’yodcha al tachmitzena – when you have the possibility to do a mitzva, do not miss the opportunity; it will turn into “chametz”!

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