Wow! It’s hard to believe. Purim has come and gone, and now we’re facing a job that doesn’t pass very quickly: purifying our homes for Pesach from all vestiges of chametz. That this is an important task is emphasized by the Arizal who teaches us that any home completely free of even a minuscule amount of chametz will be free from sin in the coming year.
It behooves us to understand, however, why ridding our homes of chametz is so vital. After all, in bentching bread is referred to as “tuvo” – goodness. Furthermore, we mark every Shabbos and yom tov aside from Pesach by eating bread. So how come, all of a sudden, bread becomes “public enemy number one?”
How is it that suddenly if we pop even a kezayis of bread into our mouths, we get kareis? Moreover, how does it suddenly become so dangerous that not only are we banned from eating it; we can’t even possess it!
The answer is that after 210 years in Egypt, we had sunk to the 49th level of depravity and contamination. We were but seconds away from being lost in the spiritual quicksand of Egyptian society. We were freed “b’chatzos halaila,” exactly at midnight. If we had been there even a moment longer, we would have been trapped in Egypt forever.
Thus, the matzah that didn’t have time to rise during our exit symbolizes our escape in the nick of time. It follows, therefore, that leaven represents missing the deadline and being lost to spiritual oblivion. That’s one reason why, on Pesach, chametz represents the negation of everything Torahdik and spiritual in our lives.
There are other lessons to learn from our temporary diet of matzah as opposed to chametz. The lowly matzah sees the bloated challah and says figuratively, “What are you so puffed up about? We both have the same ingredients?” On our national birthday, we also remember our greatest leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the most humble of all men, and we try to teach our children – through the vehicle of matzah – to emulate his humility and tolerance.
In addition, on Pesach we’re judged concerning the produce of the field. Thus, we fulfill a unique mitzvah with produce so that, through it, Hashem blesses our produce with prosperity.
Matzah also teaches us to do mitzvos with alacrity. The Torah teaches us, “Ush’martem es hamatzos – You should guard the matzos,” and the Gemara adds, “Al tikrei ‘es hamatzos,’ ela ‘es hamitzvos.’” In other words, we should apply the same alacrity with which we bake matzos to all mitzvos, attending to them with the urgency reserved for something of tremendous importance, not procrastinating or relegating them to the “when I’ll have time” pile.
For example, Torah study shouldn’t be saved for our retirement. We should run to learn while we still have all our faculties. Let’s also run to explore and unravel the meaning of the more difficult parts of davening. We shouldn’t wait until when we have time lounging on a beach chair. That’s the last thing we’ll want to do then! Rush to spend time with your children too before they cease being children. And the thrill of spousal attention should be recaptured before intense dullness sets into the relationship.
Pay attention! Our temporary diet of matzah reminds us not to fall prey to the wiles of the yeitzer hara, which tries to erode our religiosity with its mighty spirit of procrastination.
Happy hunting for chametz, and in the merit of embracing all the lessons of matzah, may we very soon see the complete redemption.