At a recent dental convention (actually it was three dentists that got
together in a living room to "talk teeth"), to the great shock of their
dining-room attendant (the ba'alebusta), the vegetable platter she had
prepared was left untouched. The plate of sweets and cakes, on the
other hand, was completely devoured.
We all appreciate a good sweet. Give a person the choice between,
say, a milchige truffle and a plate of kasha, and what's he going to
When bringing a korban (offering), we are told we should give
Hashem from our fattest and choicest animals. So what is wrong with
adding a little honey? A touch of honey could turn our roasted
offering into a marinate; our flour/meal offering into a sweetcake. Yet
the Torah strictly forbids it (2:11). Similarly, the Torah forbids us to
use yeast in our offerings all-year-round. For the most part, all flour
offerings were kosher le'Pesach - even in Tishrei! Given the choice,
most people would prefer a freshly-baked challah over a matzah (not
to mention bagels and cream cheese). But the Torah insists: "For all
types of yeast, and all types of honey, may not be offered upon the
fires of Hashem."
The Sefer HaChinuch (117) explains the prohibition as follows:
Generally, korbanos (sacrifices) are brought by someone requiring
atonement. In what way does slaughtering an animal upon an altar
grant forgiveness? The person bringing the offering should have the
following thought: Since I have sinned, I should, in truth, be going
through the process of slaughter and death in order to atone for my
sins. Hashem, in an act of great compassion, has given me the
opportunity to take an animal from my possessions, and offer it in my
stead. The process of preparation for slaughter should thus be
overseen by the person bringing the offering, in the hope that it will
impress upon him the severity of his sin, and he will thus achieve full
This, he explains, is why the Torah forbids honey and yeast. Sin is
rooted in one (or both) of two faults: Laziness and desire. The
prohibition against yeast (and any sort of leaven) alludes to the sinner
that if he desires to repent, he must acquire the trait of zerizus -
enthusiasm and alacrity - unlike leaven which only occurs when dough
is left unattended to rise. The prohibition against honey hints to the
sinner that sin is also rooted in an unbridled preoccupation with
satisfying one's desires. The repentant must recognize that learning
to "saddle the sweet tooth" is also a critical ingredient in the recipe for
Rabbi Shmuel, son of the famous Tzemach Tdedek, explains that the
Torah alludes here to two character traits, each of which, if taken to
extreme proportions, can be very harmful. "Leaven," he explains, is
symbolic of the kind of person who is constantly bitter and angry at
the world. Chametz, leaven, is of the same root as chamutz,
sourness. This person walks around with a chip on his shoulder. He
is always critical, and has a hard time seeing the good in anything.
Life may not be a bowl of cherries, but for him, it often seems like a
mouthful of sour cherries.
"Honey," by contrast, is symbolic of the person who is overly sweet
and affable. Nothing ever phases them or gets them angry. They have
a hard time seeing evil in anyone, and are in danger of measuring the
wicked and the righteous with the same yard stick.
By forbidding both leaven and honey, the Torah teaches that one
must learn to control his emotions, even positive ones, and not take
things to extremes. There are times when it is appropriate to be
"leaven," and times when it is appropriate to be "honey."
While this may not be the appropriate platform to talk pro-sports, it
is no secret that both professional and amateur sports today are
plagued with a most alarming drug problem. Athletes no longer rely
solely on training and hard work. Today, athletic excellence has two
critical factors: Your body and your barbiturates. Many athletes claim
that without performance-enhancing hormones, they wouldn't stand
a chance against their peers.
I am no budding athlete, nor do I take much of an interest in
professional sports, yet I believe that from a moral standpoint, it is a
sad reflection on the state of our society that great performance is no
longer simply a question of "how you workout", but rather of "what
you're taking," and how good you are at concealing it from the
authorities. What's next? Genetic modification? Will we take a strand
of hair from the best athletes of yesteryear, and fill our fields and
stadiums with their clones? One shudders.
The Torah advocates bringing one's fattest and choicest animals for
an offering. Only the best. Yeast and honey, however, are external
catalysts, one which induces the leavening process, the other having
the ability to make the sour sweet. Perhaps the Torah's message, in
forbidding these items, is to allude to us that while we must indeed
sacrifice to the Almighty our choicest and our best, it is the best we
have to offer that Hashem wants, and not some doped-up,
hormonally hyperactive mutation we've cooked up in a laboratory.
While matzah and meat may not measure up to muffins and
marinate, it is that which dwells in manžs heart that Hashem truly
desires, pure and untainted.