Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Haggadah
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

r' Meir b"r Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

Simple White Apparel

Matzah is unadulterated by admixtures, like the clothing of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, simple white apparel with no trace of gold. Wearing these plain clothes he enters the Holy of Holies.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

7 tevet 5761
1. Thou Shall Not Possess Hametz
2. Matzah - Simple White Apparel
3. Amalek and Hametz: Partners in Obstinacy
4. Completely Destroying Amalek... and Hametz
5. In Conclusion: Falsification and Illegal Possession

Thou Shall Not Possess Hametz
Concerning Passover, the Festival of Matzoth, the Torah commands us to eat Matzah on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan, Seder Night, and forbids us from eating Hametz during the entire seven days of the holiday. In addition, the Torah forbids all Jews from even possessing Hametz during these days. This is a unique prohibition, one that has no parallel in the entire Torah. The Torah contains prohibitions against eating specific foods or deriving benefit from certain things, yet nowhere do we find a prohibition against possessing particular objects. True, there is a Mitzvah to destroy objects of idol-worship, yet this commandment does not include any prohibition against possessing such objects: It is a positive injunction to eradicate objects of idolatry, not a prohibition against possessing them.

Matzah - Simple White Apparel
As a general rule there is no need to provide explanations for Divine laws - they are above and beyond all explanation. Yet in the case of Matzah the Torah itself found it necessary to enlighten us concerning its significance. The Torah refers to Matzah as the bread of affliction - "Do not eat any Hametz with it. Seven days eat Matzah, the bread of affliction, for you left Egypt in a great hurry" (Deut. 16:3). Matzah, then, is bread of affliction, bread that is devoid of all enhancement, that contains no additives whatsoever; bread that is deficient of all vigor and swelling, that consists of only the most essential ingredients - flour and water. This bread, Matzah, represents the spirit of journey to freedom, total independence, a return to the sources. And this is the essence of the Exodus from Egypt, liberation and freedom, complete and absolute independence. What's more, the greatness of the Exodus from Egypt lies in the fact that it stems from a Divine source. This is the essence of Matzah. It is unadulterated by admixtures, like the clothing of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, simple white apparel with no trace of gold. Wearing these plain clothes he enters the Holy of Holies.

During the Exodus, the Children of Israel ate plain unleavened Matzah. They remained free of injurious foreign influence, clean and untainted. Their plight at this historic hour might be compared to that of a heart transplant patient. In order that the body not reject the foreign organ all inner resistance must be routed. Yet, when the body's resistance is low it becomes susceptible to disease. It must therefore remain completely sterilized until the new organ has been accepted. Similarly, when the Children of Israel went out from Egypt they were given a new heart, a new spirit, and the light of faith radiated in their midst. At that time they had to remain pure and clean of all foreign influence. Therefore, the Exodus was a speedy affair, immediate and not gradual. The food at that time, too, was plain and simple - Matzah, an unadorned mixture of water and flour, nothing more.
Every year when Passover arrives, bringing with it a sense of freedom, we are called upon to behave once again in a manner that reflects the spirit of the Exodus, doing away with all of the Hametz that is in our possession. We dispose of foreign influences, purify ourselves, and absorb anew the glory of faith. We do away with all leaven, and with the evil inclination to which leaven is often allegorized.

Amalek and Hametz: Partners in Obstinacy
The Talmud teaches that through the merit of the observation of "three firsts," an additional "three firsts" were granted to the Jewish People. Granted were the extermination of Esau's offspring, the construction of the Holy Temple, and the name of the Messiah. And which three firsts were observed? Regarding three Mitzvoth it is written, "On the first day." The first time this expression appears is in connection with the waving of the four species of the Succoth festival. Later it appears again in the context of the Mitzvah of observing the festival of Succoth itself. Finally, it appears in connection with the festival of Pesach. By virtue of our honoring these three Mitzvoth we were rewarded with the three privileges mentioned above. Rabbi Yehuda Liva ben Betzalel, "the Maharal of Prague," explains that the reward received for observing Pesach was the extermination of Esau's offspring, i.e. the Amalekites. Rabbi Shemuel ben Avraham Burnstein of Sokochov, "the Shem MiShemuel," in his introduction to the Haggadah of Pesach brings the following Baraitha from Pirkey DeRabbi Eliezer: "Eliphaz the Yemenite said to his son Amalek, 'The Children of Israel are inheritors of both this World and the World to Come, so dig wells and construct roads for them. If you follow my advice your portion will be with the worst of them and you too will enter the World to Come.' But he did not do so, rather he set out to destroy the entire world, as it is written, 'And Amalek came and made war.'" Eliphaz said to his son that the World to Come is designated for the People of Israel alone; his own merit is insufficient to secure him a similar destiny. The only way to enter, says Eliphaz, is by clinging to the Jews.

But Amalek refuses to take his father's advice. He is completely unwilling to be neutralized by something greater than himself. Therefore, instead of benefiting from the People of Israel he behaves in the opposite manner, displaying jealousy towards them and becoming an enemy and pursuer of them. This, then, is the essence of Amalek: haughtiness and pride, obstinacy and refusal to bow to anything greater than himself. The same is true regarding Hametz. Hametz, representing as it does Amalek, does not become nullified. There exists a special rule regarding mixtures of permissible food and Hametz. Even when the permissible part of a mixture is of a much greater quantity than the Hametz the mixture as a whole is forbidden. The Hametz is not rendered null and void.

Completely Destroying Amalek... and Hametz
And just as the Amalekites must be completely wiped out until no trace of them remains, Hametz too must be destroyed until none whatsoever remains. There are three types of Hametz: pure Hametz, mixtures containing Hametz, and what Halakhah refers to as "Hametz Nuksheh," spoiled or deficient Hametz. Similarly, there are three types of evil inclination. Like pure Hametz, there is pure evil inclination; like mixtures containing some Hametz, there is evil inclination that possesses both pure and not so pure intentions; like Hametz Nuksheh, there exists a sort of evil inclination characterized by stubbornness, lack of responsibility, and a drive for self gratification. All three of these must be done away with. The Torah was more stringent with Amalek than with all other nations. Though many nations have done harm to the Jewish People, even to the point of destroying our Holy Temple, in the final analysis, what they truly desired was self gratification, the expansion of their rule, etc. The Nation of Amalek, though, represents a unique type of depravity: their only intention is to strike at and debase Israel. In this regard Amalek resembles leaven. Regarding the Mitzvah to dispose of Hametz the Torah emphasizes, "On the first day dispose of leaven from your houses." What is leaven? Leaven is very concentrated and vigorous Hametz that is used to cause dough to swell. Leaven itself is not fit for consumption. It makes its influence felt by causing others to behave in a manner similar to its own. This was the goal of Amalek. Concerning most prohibitions against deriving benefit there is a rule that if the permissible matter in a mixture is greater than the forbidden, the mixture as a whole is acceptable. Yet, when it comes to leaven during Passover or ritual impurity this rule does not hold. This is because both leaven and impurity, even when they exist in very small amounts, will mar the rest of the mixture. Therefore complete destruction is necessary. Complete destruction of Hametz and complete destruction of Amalek. Nothing less than this is acceptable.

In Conclusion: Falsification and Illegal Possession
There is another special law regarding Hametz. According to the Torah, Hametz is forbidden already on the fourteenth of Nissan at noontime. This, despite the fact that one does not become liable for Divine punishment until the entrance of the holiday, i.e. at nightfall. What we have here is a sort of Divine decree to distance us from transgressing the prohibition of Hametz. The Shem MiShemuel explains that there exists only one other prohibition concerning which the Torah commands us to distance ourselves - "Distance yourself from lying." Hametz and dishonesty are similar in nature. Lying is an attempt to cause things to appear differently than they actually are. It implies self-elevation and the creation of a false outer appearance. This can be compared to Hametz which appears large and swollen, though in actuality it is full of air. (Incidentally, the same is true of Amalek. He too epitomizes haughty self-elevation and deceptive outer appearance.) Therefore, regarding both of these matters - Hametz and lying - the Torah calls upon us to take special care to distance ourselves.

There is another prohibition that exists only in the case of Hametz - the prohibition against possession. While there does exist an obligation to destroy objects of idol worship, a prohibition against mere possession can be found only in the case of Hametz. According to some early authorities even the obligation to search out Hametz - to examine all cracks and crevices in the house and to remove the Hametz from these places - is a Torah obligation. There are those who bring proof from the Jerusalem Talmud that searching out Hametz by the light of a candle on the evening of the fourteenth of Nissan is a Torah obligation.

In light of the above it becomes clear that the significance of Pesach is so lofty and so profound that the Torah found it necessary to demand immaculateness. Nothing is to blemish the holiday's sanctity, to the point that even possession of Hametz is forbidden. The Torah even went out of its way to teach us how to eliminate Hametz from our houses. From all this the greatness of Pesach, the Festival of Matzoth, becomes clear.

Torah - The Five Books of Moses.
Mitzvah (pl. Mitzvoth) - Commandment/s.
Hametz and Leaven - The prohibition against Hametz applies to substances made from either wheat, spelt, barley, oats, or rye. Flour of one of these grains that was in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer is considered Hametz. Leaven is a substance used to cause fermentation and swelling in dough.
Talmud - The voluminous embodiment of the Oral Torah. Basis of Jewish law and philosophy.
Baraitha - A teaching from the Mishnaic period, yet not included in the body of the Mishna.
Pirkey DeRabbi Eliezer - Important Midrashic work from the school of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus.
Midrash - An exposition of Scripture, or collection of such, by the early Sages.

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