The Mishna (Pesachim 35a) enumerates the types of grains that can be used for making matzah to fulfill the mitzva of eating matzah on Pesach. The Gemara notes that the five grains listed in the Mishna are an exhaustive list, implying that—for example—rice or millet, which are not mentioned in the Mishna, cannot be used to make matzah. What is wrong with using rice or millet? The Gemara infers a connection between chometz and matzah from the pasuk “You shall not eat upon it chometz, seven days you shall eat upon it matzah, the bread of poverty…” (Devorim 16:3): That which can potentially become chometz (leavened) is the type of grain from which we can make matzah. Rice, millet, and other grains that are not listed in the Mishna can reach the state of sirachon (spoilage) but they cannot reach the state of chimutz (leavened).
This concept may seem counterintuitive. Since we are so particular about preventing matzah from becoming chometz, shouldn’t we go out of our way, when baking our matzah, to specifically use grains which do not leaven? Why do we put ourselves in a situation where, if the dough is not baked quickly enough, it will become chometz? With all the difficult stringencies that are involved in baking matzah, why didn’t the Torah sanction the use of a type of grain that will never become chometz? Why does the Torah insist that we use a type of grain which could become chometz, necessitating the baker to zealously guard that it does not so become?
The Tolner Rebbe from Yerushalayim gave several drashas when he was in Los Angeles for Parsha Bo several years ago. In one of his drashas, he commented that in this particular halacha lies a great practical lesson.
Chazal teach that chometz is symbolic of the Yetzer haRah (evil inclination). On the other hand, matzah is symbolic of the Yetzer haTov (good inclination). Chometz rises. It is puffy. It is blown up. This is symbolic of a person’s haughtiness and passions. Matzah, which is plain and is flat, does not rise or get blown up. It is not haughty. It represents modesty, humility and the ability to manage with the bare necessities of life. In other words, chometz and matzah are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Chometz represents negative spiritual character traits, and matzah represents positive spiritual character traits.
The lesson, therefore, is that the Torah wants us to take that very thing that could potentially become chometz and make it into matzah. Extending the analogy of the Yetzer haRah and Yetzer haTov, the Torah wants us to take that which is our Yetzer haRah (our problems, our temptations, and our foibles) and convert it to Yetzer haTov. This means that man’s spiritual mission is to try to work on those very personality traits and characteristics that in the past have proven to be his weak points. If a person is mute then he will not receive reward in the World to Come for not speaking lashon haRah (gossip, slander, etc.). That is not his problem. The reason that it is not his problem is because of an unfortunate physical disability. But nevertheless, he will not receive reward for that because there is no challenge.
Likewise, for example, if a person is unfortunately blind, he has no challenge of “shmiras aynayim” (guarding his eyes) from viewing inappropriate matters. That is not his challenge. The avodas ha’adam (man’s spiritual challenge) is to take those very things that are areas of spiritual weakness, where perhaps in the past he has fallen short of the Torah’s ideals, and to conquer them and elevate them. In fact, perhaps he will even be able to take that very thing and turn it into a dvar mitzvah.
Let the person channel his passions—which have perhaps led him astray in the past—in a positive direction. This is the symbolism of the chometz and the matzah. Don’t try making matzah out of something that cannot become chometz anyway. That is no great accomplishment! Take something that without careful watching and care can become chometz. That is the very item we turn into a “cheftza d’mitzvah” (an entity with which a positive command is fulfilled).
This halacha regarding the grains with which matzah may be baked is a metaphor for a person’s spiritual mission. We must seek out that which has been our Yetzer haRah and turn it into our Yetzer haTov.
We can perhaps relate this idea to a very peculiar Medrash (Yalkut 187) that we have mentioned in the past. A certain Tanna fasted 85 times because he did not understand a particular matter: Dogs are creatures which are called azei nefesh (brazen, insolent) in Yeshaya 56:11. And yet, in Perek Shira, in which each of the animals recites Shira (Song of Praise) to the Ribono shel Olam, the dogs are recorded as saying “Come let us bow down before Hashem our G-d.” This Tanna, Rav Yeshaya, the student of Rav Chanina ben Dosa, was very perturbed by this. How could it be that these dogs, which possess the attribute of insolence (azus), are the ones that recite the praise “Come let us bow down before Hashem our G-d?” Therefore, he fasted 85 times to beseech Divine Help in understanding this anomaly.
The Medrash relates that a malach (heavenly angel) came down and revealed “the secret” to him. At the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim (the Exodus), the pasuk says, “But against the Children of Israel a dog will not sharpen its tongue…” (Shemos 11:7). In the merit of this ‘action,’ the dogs merited to recite the pasuk attributed to them in Perek Shira.
The precise point of this Medrash is the idea mentioned above: Dogs are full of chutzpah by nature. It is a dog’s innate nature to bark, especially when it senses that something unusual is transpiring. For the dogs not to bark at such a time demonstrates a tremendous conquest over their normal inclinations. The Ribono shel Olam appreciates that. Thus, the Medrash’s point is the following: Despite the fact that dogs are azei nefesh, and in spite of the fact that they normally bark, they were greatly rewarded by virtue of the fact that they conquered this natural inclination and remained silent at the time of the Makas Bechoros (the Plague of the First Born). We learn from dogs to people: People too should strive for kvishas hayetzer (conquering their evil inclination) in service of Hashem.
The Lesson of Sensitivity in Halacha
On that same visit, the Tolner Rebbe shared another practical lesson from a different halacha as well. The halacha is that the Korban Pesach (Paschal Offering) needs to be eaten “b’chaburah” (in groups). If two different chaburahs are eating in proximity—even in the same room—no individual is allowed to leave his chaburah and go to the other chaburah. They are certainly not allowed to leave the room and go to another room to join a different chaburah.
The Mishna (Pesachim 86a) states that if two groups are eating in one room, one group sitting at one table and the other group sitting at another table, they may not even face one another. Each group must face only the people in their own group. The halacha is that if in fact they do turn around and face the other group, they are no longer allowed to eat the Korban Pesach. That is considered “eating in two different groups,” which is a Biblical prohibition.
The Mishna allows only one exception to this rule: A bride may turn away and eat. The Rambam in fact codifies this law (Hilchos Korban Pesach 9:3-4). The Gemara explains the reason for this leniency (which is also mentioned by the Rambam). It is because the kallah (during the first thirty days after her marriage) is embarrassed. During the first month after her marriage, she is particularly self-conscious and she thinks people are staring at her.
Consider the following: On the night of the Seder, Leil Pesach, everyone is on a different level. We all know the importance of the mitzvos. Unfortunately, today we do not have the Korban Pesach, but we still have a certain seriousness and focus regarding our matzah, marror and daled kosos. We focus on properly fulfilling these mitzvos of the evening. We can only imagine what an elevated state people were in during the time of the Beis HaMikdash when everyone had a Korban Pesach at their table as well.
Do we really think that at such a moment people would be staring at a kallah to see how she looks or how she eats? The answer is no! So why did the kallah think that? It was a figment of her imagination. She is embarrassed because she THINKS people are looking at her. Therefore, she is embarrassed. Nobody is staring at her while they are eating the Korban Pesach!
Do we need to accommodate this figment of her imagination and let her transgress that which would otherwise be a Biblical prohibition? Apparently, yes! Apparently, we acquiesce to her mishugaas (foolishness). Why is that so? What is the lesson?
The lesson is sensitivity. We need to account for a person’s sensitivity, even though it may be based on a figment of their imagination. If we need to be so careful and sensitive when there is really nothing there, how much more so must we be careful and sensitive when people ARE justifiably sensitive about certain things.
This is an amazing insight. We let the kallah do something that under normal circumstances should disqualify her from eating the Korban Pesach, simply because of her embarrassment regarding a non-existent phenomenon.
The Tolner Rebbe added that we see the same principle in another halacha that is more familiar to us. There are five things prohibited on Yom Kippur, one of which is that a person is not allowed to wash any part of his body. There is a dispute among the early commentaries whether anything beyond the prohibition to eat and drink is a Biblical prohibition, but there are those who hold that all five ‘prohibitions’ are Biblical.
If that is the case, why does the Mishna (Yoma 8:1) allow a kallah to wash her face on Yom Kippur? The allowance is made “so that she does not look unseemly to her (new) husband”. Again, do we think a kallah, within thirty days of her chuppah is going to become ‘unseemly to her husband’ because she does not wash her face one day? Will this cause her husband to lose interest in her and think she is not beautiful anymore? Of course not! How do we permit a Biblical prohibition for such a reason?
It is the same answer. Yes, it is a figment of her imagination, but that is the way she thinks and that is the way she is super sensitive. Since in her mind, she is afraid she might lose her husband’s adoration, we again make an accommodation for that.
This again is a tremendous lesson in sensitivity. How sensitive must we be to a person’s feelings, even when those feelings are not based on reality. How much more so is that the case when we know that people are hurting, for example widows, orphans, or divorced people. These are classic examples of people who are in pain. These are realities of life. People who are in pain or sick or beaten down are very sensitive. If we need to be sensitive to these two kallahs—by the Korban Pesach and on Yom Kippur—al achas kamah v’kamah, we must be sensitive to people whose embarrassment is based on fact and not just fiction.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Bo is provided below:
- # 040 Amirah L’Akum: The “Shabbos Goy”
- # 083 The Burning Issue of Smoking
- # 131 Sephardic vs. Ashkenazic Pronunciation Is There a Correct Way?
- # 178 Tefillin and Long Hair
- # 224 Kiddush Levanah
- # 268 The Consequence of Dropping Tefillin or a Sefer Torah
- # 314 Chumros in Halacha
- # 358 Mezzuzah-What Is a Door?
- # 402 Doing Work on Rosh Chodesh
- # 446 The Dog In Halach
- # 490 The Lefty and Tefilin
- # 534 Rashi & Rabbeinu Ta’am’s Tefillin
- # 578 Tefilin on Chol Hamoed
- # 622 Ya’ale V’Yovo
- # 666 Dishwashers on Shabbos
- # 710 Checking Teffilin by Computer
- # 754 Cholent on Pesach – Why Not?
- # 798 Kiddush Lavanah – Moonshine on Purim
- # 842 What Should It Be? Hello or Shalom?
- # 886 Women and Kiddush Lavana
- # 930 Eating Matzo An Entire Pesach – A Mitzvah?
- # 973 Yaaleh Ve’yavoh
- #1017 Kiddush Levana on a Cloudy Night
- #1061 Rosh Chodesh Bentching (Bircas Ha’chodesh)
- #1104 How Long Must You Wear Your Tefillin?
- #1147 Hashgacha Pratis – Divine Providence – Does It Apply To Everyone?
- #1190 Kiddush Levana Issues
- #1234 Can Your Wife Put Your Tefilin on You?
- #1278 Oy Vey! My Tephillin Have Been Pasul Since My Bar Mitzvah
- #1322 Chodesh Issues: Women and Kiddush Levana; Getting Married in Last Half of Chodesh?
- #1366 I Don’t Open Bottle Caps on Shabbos, You Do. Can I Ask You to Open My Bottle?
- #1410 Saying U’Le’Chaporas Pesha In Musaf Rosh Chodesh In a Leap Year
- #1454 Why Don’t We Wear Tephillin at Mincha?
- #1498 What Should You Write January 21 2022 or 1-21-22 Or Neither?
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.