Posted on June 7, 2002 By Rabbi Yehudah Prero | Series: | Level:

Question: Considering that the Jewish nation was in a hurry to leave Egypt and thus did not have time to let their bread rise (hence matzo), why do we celebrate Pesach and refrain from Chametz (leaven) for seven days? It would seem appropriate to celebrate the day commemorating our departure, and memorialize the departure on that day by eating only matzo.

Answer: In the book “Derech Hashem,” “The Way of G-d,” Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato explains the significance of Matzo. He writes that bread is man’s primary food. The presence of leaven in bread is natural, making bread, a staple of man’s existence, tasty and digestible. Man has a need for the physical in order to survive. The Evil Inclination (Yetzer HoRa) is an inclination towards desiring the physical. Because bread by nature is tasty, man is drawn to this physical “pleasure,” thereby maintaining his health and existence.

When the time came for the Jews to leave Egypt, they Jews had to undergo a purification process. They had to purify their bodies and souls for the Torah and dedication to G-d. Therefore, Israel was nourished by matzo, an unleavened bread. This replacement diet reduced the strength of the Evil Inclination and the drive for the physical, enabling each person to reach for the spiritual and closeness to Hashem.

Man cannot survive on matzo forever. Man was meant to sustain himself on bread. However, on order to achieve a state of spiritual purity and detachment from the physical aspects of the world, matzo, or avoiding Chametz, is needed.

The Yalkut Me’am Loez writes that the complete purification and dedication of the Jews to Hashem occurred after the splitting of the Red Sea. The Torah writes (Shemos 14:30-31) “And Hashem saved on that day the nation of Israel from the hands of Egypt; and the nation of Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shores of the sea; The nation of Israel saw the great hand which G-d used with Egypt, and the nation feared G-d, and they trusted in G-d and in Moshe His servant.” Why does the Torah have to tell us that the nation believed in G-d? Shouldn’t that be apparent? Not only had the nation seen the miraculous plagues which afflicted Egypt; they had just witnessed the splitting of the Red Sea and the subsequent drowning of the Egyptians!

The answer, the Yalkut writes, is that when the nation of Israel first approached the Red Sea, their faith in G-d was not complete. However, the nation then proceeded to march into the water. They began to show that they had complete faith in G-d, and that G-d would save them. Only once they were in the water, and they had shown that they were pure, that they were dedicated to G-d, were they worthy to have the splitting of the sea occur for them. Hence, the complete dedication the nation of Israel had to G-d came hand in hand with the splitting of the sea. It is because of this link that the Torah tells us that after the splitting of the Sea, the nation believed in G-d.

Perhaps now we can understand why we refrain from Chametz for seven days. We are not required to eat matzo all seven days. Only on the first day, when we commemorate the departure, must we eat Matzo. However, during the duration of Pesach, we are commemorating a purification process, a time when we developed a closeness to G-d. We refrain from leaven so that we focus on the spiritual. Our closeness to G-d climaxed by the splitting of the Red Sea. Our purification process came to a successful conclusion. For this reason, we refrain from Chametz until the last day of Pesach, the day which is the anniversary of the splitting of the Red Sea.

Question: This question dealt with the reason given for why we do not mention the splitting of the Red Sea in conjunction with the seventh day of Pesach?: We do not celebrate the demise of our enemies. One person wrote “Purim celebrates the defeat of Haman and his cohorts. We read of the victory over all who attacked the Jews. There were two days of fighting! We celebrate! That seems a contradiction to not celebrating the demise of our enemies!” In a similar vein, another asked “Does not Pesach memorialize the almost certain demise of the Egyptians?”

Answer: The answer to these questions lies in something I wrote in the post in question. “We cannot celebrate the downfall of the Egyptians. However, the Jews indeed were saved on this day, and sang songs of praise and thanks, Hallel, to G-d for their salvation. We too sing Hallel to G-d on this day, just as our forefathers did. We can and do mark the occasion of our salvation. We cannot and do not, however, mark the occasion of our enemies’ demise.”

We do celebrate the seventh day of Pesach. We were saved, and therefore there is cause to celebrate. In regards to Purim, the Jewish nation was to be destroyed on the 14th day of the month of Adar. Through a miracle, the Jews were spared. The decree against the Jews, although not capable of being overturned, was effectively annulled by a decree that not only permitted the Jews defend themselves, but allowed them to go on the offensive as well. Hence, the day that the Jews were destined to be destroyed turned into a day of celebration – the Jews were saved. Do we celebrate the death of our enemies? No. When we read the Megilla, do we do so to read the story of our military prowess? No. We celebrate our salvation by telling of the miraculous turn of events that led to it. We celebrate the salvation by giving gifts to the poor and to our neighbors. We are not celebrating the downfall of our enemies. If we were, it would be more appropriate to celebrate on the day they were killed, the 13th day of Adar. However, we celebrate the day on which we were saved, the day of which we were supposed to be killed – the 14th of Adar.

Pesach as well is a celebration of our redemption and freedom. Is it a celebration of our enemies’ demise? No. It is true that our salvation on Purim, on Pesach, and by the Red Sea all came at the expense of human lives – the lives of our enemies. However, by Pesach, we do not and can not celebrate the plagues, that which caused the death of our enemies.. We celebrate the redemption. On Purim, we do not and can not celebrate the downfall of Haman and the destruction of our enemies. We celebrate our salvation. On the last day of Pesach, we do not and can not celebrate the splitting of the Red Sea. We can, however, celebrate our redemption and salvation, and that is what we do.