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The Middle Path

Friday, 23 March, 2012 - 3:00 pm

As we prepare for Pesach – which invariably involves lots of cleaning – I am reminded of the dangers of Chametz. What is it about leavened bread that the Torah so abhors, requiring us to purge our bodies and homes from it for one week every year? And if it is indeed so despised, why is it kosher the rest of the year?

The prohibition of Chametz appears quite ironic: during Passover we are forbidden from consuming, benefiting from and even owning leavened products; but the rest of the year they are fully acceptable. Other non-kosher foods – the most infamous being pig – are only off-limits to eat, but we may derive benefit (such as a heart valve or feeding to your pets) from them.  So what does this super-strict – yet temporary – prohibition mean?

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In this week’s Parsha of Vayikra we read about the various korbanot – sacrifices – offered in the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). Interestingly, it was illegal to offer leavened bread on the altar, as the Torah warns:  “No leaven nor any honey shall be present in any offering of G-d.”

Leaven, which is dough that has fermented and risen, represents self-inflation and pride, and there is nothing more abhorrent to G-d. In the words of the Talmud, "G-d says of the prideful one, 'He and I cannot dwell together in the world.'"

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Matzah, conversely, reflects humility. Pesach teaches us the hazard of arrogance and endeavors to ingrain within us a more modest nature.  

But why – you may wonder – is Chametz permissible the rest of the year? On the other hand, what of the dangers of becoming an emotional doormat if we shed our ego? Don’t we need some poise to succeed in life?

***

Chassidic teachings point to the other prohibition in the very same verse. Why was honey off-limits on G-d’s altar? The Rebbe of Kotzk explained that both leaven and honey are extremes. Honey is ultra-sweet and fermented dough is ultra-sour.  G-d dislikes extremes. He wants us to utilize the healthy middle road.

Often finding the balanced path requires a momentary swerve to the other extreme (see Rambam, Laws of Personal Development, Chapters 1-2).

Once a year we must purge ourselves from all ego and conceit. We must begin the spiritual journey – the birth of our people and our selves – with pure self-nullification. Hence, on Pesach we cannot eat or own leaven. After inculcating ourselves with the virtue of matzah, we are prepared to advance with a healthy dose of self-confidence.

Comments on: The Middle Path
4/9/2012

Devorah Leah wrote...

This is such a beautiful process and so well presented. Thank you, Rabbi, for always teaching and lending such applicable insight to my journey and growth.