Yishai Fleisher takes us to Beit El in Israel’s heartland, the location of Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) ladder, to bake matzot (unleavened bread) the old fashioned way by hand. A crew of friends and neighbors carefully follow the detailed processes laid out in Jewish Law (Torah) for preparing and baking the matzah in less than 18 minutes total from start to finish.
Posts Tagged ‘matzah’
As the Seder night ebbs away – long after the Four Questions have been asked and answered, after the festive meal has been eaten and the post-feast drowsiness descends, after the evening’s mitzvot have been observed and the fourth cup of wine emptied – we raise our voices in a curious, delightful, seemingly whimsical song at the end of the Haggadah.
The song is Chad Gadya, a lively tune that is one of the most popular of the many Pesach songs as well as one of the strangest.
On the surface, Chad Gadya appears to be nothing so much as a simple folk tune. Perhaps even a nursery rhyme suitable for the youngest among us, the very child who sang the Four Questions early in the Seder.
Like so many nursery rhymes – an egg perched upon a wall? A fork running away with a spoon? A cow jumping over the moon? Two young children tumbling down the hill? – it is filled with odd images and paradoxes.
What are we to make of these curious images? Likewise, what are we to make of a song that seems, on its surface, to be about the purchase of a goat? While it is possible to enjoy the song just in the singing, the paradoxes and troubling images draw us deeper as we search for meaning and significance.
Why have the rabbis placed this strange song in the Haggadah?
Certainly it keeps the children awake so that the end of the Seder is as filled with delight as its beginning. But more than that, the song is part of a sublime and meaningful religious/halachic experience.
A skeptical reader will no doubt ask: A religious experience? About goats? What does Chad Gadya – a song worthy of Dr. Seuss, a song that goes on and on about goats, cats, dogs, sticks and butchers – have to do with the leil shimurim, the night of geulah and redemption?
Is this any way to conclude Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim?
* * * * *
Among many other things, our ancient rabbis were brilliant educators. God had commanded that we teach our children. The question then became, How best to teach? How best to fulfill this commandment?
The answer: To engage and to reward. And to keep the focus on the student – the child. For Pesach is a holiday of children. And it is right that it is so. Our Egyptian servitude was made more painful for its cruelty to our children.
“And he said, When you deliver the Hebrew women look at the birthstool; if it is a boy, kill him.” With these words, Pharaoh sought to cut off our future by denying us a generation of children. He demanded that “every son that is born… be cast into the river.”
Why did Pharaoh cause such suffering for the Jewish people? For no other reason than we grew. We became numerous. We gave birth to children, in accordance with God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.”
Pharaoh felt threatened by our numbers. “The children of Israel proliferated, swarmed, multiplied, and grew more and more.”
How great was Pharaoh’s hatred of the Jews and our children? How threatened did he feel? So threatened that the Midrash teaches us that when the Israelites fell short in fulfilling the prescribed quota of mortar and bricks, the children were used in their stead to fill in the foundation of the store cities built in their servitude. Another Midrash describes Pharaoh bathing in the blood of young children.
When redemption was finally at hand, children were once again at the forefront of this historical and religious drama. When Moses first confronted Pharaoh with the request to be free to go into the desert to worship, he proclaimed, “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters.” In making this proclamation, he was giving voice to the ultimate purpose of our redemption, found in the central command of Pesach, “You will tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt…”
Judaism is a faith rooted in the past but which is always forward looking. Tradition loses meaning unless it is passed forward to the next generation. We do not look for individual redemption so much as communal salvation.
For that to happen, our children must thrive. They must go forward with a solid foundation in the godly lessons of our history. The Exodus from Egypt is rife with the significant role our children played in its historical narrative.
Perhaps Chad Gadya, in its guise of a nursery rhyme, is no different from the afikoman, one more in a series of games and songs and techniques to stimulate and motivate the interest and curiosity of the youngest among us on the Seder night.
I love Pesach. Really, I do. Even with the stress and preparation associated with March Madness (I still have no idea why my father thinks it has anything to do with basketball), I enjoy it. Maybe it’s because of my mother’s spinach kugel, or the way I still love actively searching for the afikoman. Maybe it’s the Manischewitz brownie mix that gets more expensive every year. Maybe it’s singing “Who Knows One” as fast as possible, or maybe it’s the way my brother sneaks extra wine into the charoset when he thinks my mother isn’t looking. Maybe it’s the way you can find the entire Jewish population of Columbus in Graeter’s ice cream an hour after Pesach ends. Whatever the reason, I love Pesach.
I also love cleaning for Pesach. (Yes, you read that right). Every year some newsletter always addresses the fact that Pesach cleaning does not have to be spring cleaning, and every year almost everyone ignores it. I love the lack of clutter as much as the next girl, but believe me, I’ve seen households take it to a whole other level and not only wash the mattresses, but the walls too. I think it should be simple. Putting things back in their place. Donating the toys and clothes no longer used. Finding a drivers license from years past. The dust is gone, the whole house smells fresh, and you can now start to deal with the chametz.
But, in this case, the chametz isn’t the last stale cookie crumbs in your sock drawer or the M&M’s wedged in your sofa cushions. It’s your limitations. Chametz can be anything that prevents us from being the person that we know we can be. And during the year, it is so easy to become so enthralled with our own ego that we actually lose ourselves. We forget that the real present is not the wrapping paper at all, but the neshama inside.
This is where the matzah comes in. Matzah is more that just a cracker that we wave around at the seder (although, even I admit that after the first couple of bites, it really does become the “bread of affliction”). While yeast causes chametz to rise with it’s own self-importance, matzah remains flat and humble.
In order to achieve this level of humility, we need to take away the distractions. We can’t focus solely on our outside. We must cultivate our minds and perfect our souls. A person with this level of humility is not in constant competition with others, and although they realize that physical attributes and goals are important, they also know that they need to constantly work on their inner attributes, for it is those that make them truly unrivaled.
During the weeks leading up to Pesach, we must try to work on ourselves as well as our households, for in order to establish and maintain a good relationship with G-d, we must first establish one with ourselves. That’s why we have Pesach. By eliminating the chametz and making room for the matzah, we have the opportunity to recreate ourselves. Pesach is known as Chag HaAviv (The Holiday of Spring) for a reason. Think about it. Spring is a beautiful season. Everything that’s gloomy and lifeless during winter is renewed. From barren trees cherry blossoms begin to bloom. Daffodils shyly start to open their buds. And we, too, are given the chance to renew ourselves. Pesach breathes new life into us. We can recreate. Refresh. Renovate. Repair. And if once a year I had that opportunity, I would take it. Wouldn’t you?
Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach!
The evil inclination likes to tempt us to indulge in material delights. It is important to know that these delights may have another purpose, too: kedushah (holiness).
As Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains, the fact that kohanim were commanded to consume the korbanos offered in the Temple reveals that eating itself has a highly spiritual function. When done in the right measure and with the right intentions, eating is very much an act of holiness and service of Hashem.
“In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the Ohel Moed” (6:19).
Kadshe kadashim, the more sacred offerings, such as the chattas (and the asham – 7:6) are eaten only by kohanim and only in the Court of the Sanctuary.
Thus the Torah states, “It is holy of holies” here (6:18) and regarding the asham (7:6). The minchah also, as stated in 6:10-11, is holy of holies and is eaten by kohanim in the Court (6:9) of the Sanctuary. A very great principle is derived from this procedure: “The kohanim eat and (thereby) the owner gains atonement” (Pesachim 59b).
Actually, the atonement is completed at the sprinkling of the blood on the mizbeach; even the offering of the korban on the fire is an additional mitzvah, which if not fulfilled does not invalidate the korban. Yet the offering of the parts on the fire is indeed a very important part of the service, which has many details of laws and procedure.
Now we also learn that the eating on the part of the kohanim is one of the forms of offering the korban; and like the offerings on the fire, that which is eaten also enhances the quality of the atonement. When the kohen eats in the sacred precincts, he becomes an altar; and the physical pleasure of ingesting the sacred offering is compared to the fire on the mizbeach. Certainly, he should eat with holy intention. But he may not swallow pieces that are not chewed because achilah gasah (an abnormal manner of eating) is against Torah law. He must chew and enjoy the sacred food, and despite the unavoidable pleasure he adds the intention of the service of the offering to Hashem.
Let us not underestimate the value of Hashem’s teachings. The fact that we, “the nation of kohanim” (Shemos 1 9:6) eat matzah on Pesach night with appetite is not a blemish on our mitzvah; on the contrary, we are admonished to refrain from much food during the day in order to eat the matzah with more appetite (Pesachim 99b) “because it is an honor for the mitzvah” (RSHI). The body of the kohen is sacred enough to consume kadshei kadashim but the body of every Israelite is also endowed with such holiness that it may consume kadashim kalim such as shlamim and todah and similar sacrifices.
The Sages derived even more from this principle: “He that desires to pour wine-offerings on the altar, let him fill the throats of talmidei chachamim with wine” (Yoma 71a). We learn the extremely valuable principle that eating with proper intention is a service to Hashem, and may even be considered as a form of kedushah (Mesillas Yesharim Ch. 26). In this are two elements: 1) the holy Intention, 2) and the holiness of the body of the eater.
The karbanos of lesser degree (shlamim, todah, and maaser b’hemah), which all Israelites could eat, were however permissible to eat only in Jerusalem: “And you shall bring there your olos and your z’vachirn and your maasros…and you shall eat there before Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 12:5). Thus even when the Israelite eats of the korban he is performing a holy service and therefore it must be done before Hashem.
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.
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Question: What is the basis of the custom to refrain from eating matzah for a period of time before Pesach?
Answer: The Rema (Orach Chayim 471:1) rules that it is prohibited to eat matzah on the day preceding Pesach. Ba’er Heitev (471:5), however, cites numerous scholars who permit eating matzah on the night before Pesach. Some contend that the text of the Four Questions in the Haggadah actually supports this position since it states, “On all other nights we may eat chametz and matzah” (emphasis added). Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Orach Chayim 471:4) specifically notes that the prohibition to eat matzah starts on the morning prior to Pesach at amud hashachar.
The Mishnah Berurah (471:12) notes that “rabbim – many people” have the custom of refraining from eating matzah the entire month of Nissan. Yet the Ma’adanei Shemuel (113:12) points out that some scholars scoffed at this stringency. They went so far as to state that the proponents of this custom should be designated not as “rabbim” but “reikim – empty [of Torah].” Despite this opprobrium, many sages follow this custom.
Regardless of how long one refrains from eating matzah, the reason behind the practice is the same: Eating matzah on Pesach is a distinct and special mitzvah and we should have an appetite for it. And absence – even if only for a day – makes the heart grow fonder.
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has published eight books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.
In his classic work, Tending The Vineyard, my Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates the following vignette:
“At the time that my wife and I made aliyah, the Ministry of Interior required certification through the chief rabbinate that any new immigrants were Jews in order to qualify for citizenship and immigrant benefits. After an hour-long wait at the ministry to be interviewed, my wife and I sat before a hard-faced clerk. I did not have a letter from a rabbi certifying to my Jewishness, but I felt confident that since I was on the chief rabbinate’s list of approved rabbis whose letter would be accepted to verify the Jewishness of others, I would suffer no problem.
“Well, I was wrong. The clerk acknowledged that my name did appear on that august list of recognized rabbis but she sweetly said: ‘Simply because you are acceptable to say about others that they are Jewish does not necessarily mean that you are yourself Jewish.’
“This baffling piece of legal logic astounded me. I told my wife to continue sitting at this clerk’s booth and I hurried out and hailed a cab that delivered me to the house of a rabbinical friend of mine whose name was likewise on the approved list of rabbis. He wrote out a letter for me and I took the same cab back to the Interior Ministry. My poor wife was still sitting at the clerk’s booth as I breathlessly charged into the office and presented the letter to the clerk.
“The clerk smiled at us and said: ‘Now you’re Jewish!’ And so we were. Never underestimate the power of a letter written by a rabbi who is on the approved list of the Israeli chief rabbinate.”
Chumash Vayikra, also known as Toras Kohanim, is chiefly dedicated to the unique laws pertaining to the Kohanim and their daily Service in the Mishkan. It commences with a detailed account of the many laws endemic to the various offerings brought in the Mishkan.
Aside from animal offerings, there were also Mincha/flour offerings that could be offered. Although there were different types of Mincha offerings, flour and water were universal ingredients of every Mincha. Yet, the Torah warns that when the flour and water were mixed they could never be allowed to leaven or ferment. “Any meal-offering that you offer to G-d shall not be prepared leavened, for you shall not cause to go up in smoke from any leavening or any honey as a fire-offering to G-d” (Vayikra 2:11).
As we are all aware, there is another prohibition of chometz, during the days of Pesach. Throughout the rest of the year there is absolutely no prohibition to eat chometz, in fact bread plays a central role in many food-oriented mitzvos. But on Pesach the mere ownership of chometz becomes a serious transgression.
The austere prohibition against owning chometz on Pesach and offering chometz on the altar seems to be interconnected. What is the deeper idea behind that connection?
In order for bread to rise, leavening must take place, catalyzed by yeast or another leavening agent. As oxidation occurs, air pockets develop. Nothing is added to the dough, but it gets bigger, propelled upward by warm air. It is nothing more than the process of nature which causes dough to rise.
Our egos are compared to the yeast in dough. Our ego comprises our sense of self, which is vital to a healthy identity. It is our ego which propels us to accomplish and to grow. But at the same time our egos are always in danger of becoming inflated with “hot air.” This occurs when our sense of identity becomes befuddled, and we no longer appreciate our uniqueness. A false ego can persuade us that trivialities are hugely significant and we can easily be distracted from what truly matters. Just as a healthy ego helps us love, be compassionate, and sensitive to others, it also can cause us to become self-absorbed, envious, and hateful.
Matzah, which consists of nothing more than flour and water that has not been allowed to leaven, symbolizes self-negation before G-d. It is flat and contains nothing but the barest essentials, demonstrating that we are nothing without G-d.
Chometz, on the other hand, symbolizes our sense of identity and independent contribution. Ultimately G-d wanted us to exercise our free will to contribute to His world and bring His Presence into it. In that sense Chometz is not a negative force at all. In fact, it is the source of all accomplishment and positive action. However, when one becomes arrogant and forgets his place things can easily spiral out of control. He loses perspective of where his independence and achievements come from and he begins to take himself too seriously.
Punning might be the most annoying form of art save for mime (a punning mime, now that would be hateful). Check out the Monday NY Post (a paper known for outrageous punning, not enough mime) for verification. They claim that an outfit named Urban Nosh, which got its start making Matzel Toff, a chocolate-covered matzah, is adding a new, year-round version of the same dubious treat, called Matzel Bits, and are also conspiring to launch yet another new product, called Holy Macaroons. Help…?
A couple who disclose only their first names, Abbie and Philip, conceived the treat (which, incidentally, has been enlarging Jewish thighs for centuries every Passover). The legend goes as follows (on their website):
Phillip grew up enjoying his Bubbie Edith’s toffee-chocolate-matzah. Inspired by her recipe, he eventually honed his own recipe as a graduate student in New York City, where it became his beloved staple for potlucks and dinner parties. One bite into this scrumptious treat and his friend Abby was immediately hooked. But she realized that the matzah needed a gourmet makeover, and decided that toffee-chocolate was the perfect fit. Phillip and Abby teamed up to make Matzel Toff! available to everyone wherever unbelievably seductive candy is sold.
The Post says Urban Nosh, which started with $10,000 in 2009, “generated $25,000 in revenue in 2009 and has doubled its revenue every year since. Its products are now in more than 100 stores nationwide, including Dylan’s, Fairway Markets, Zabar’s and Dean & Deluca in the city.”
But wouldn’t you rather snack on an apple? Just asking…