Parshas Vayakhel - Pekudei (5772)
This weekend, in synagogues all around the world, we will be announcing the arrival of the Hebrew month of Nissan (this year it begins next Saturday, March 24th.)
There are many Jews (myself included) who have the custom not to eat matzah beginning from Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the month of) Nissan. Others stop eating matzah already two weeks earlier on Purim.
While there are differing customs regarding when to refrain from eating matzah in advance of the upcoming holiday of Pesach (Passover), the actual Halachah (Jewish law) prohibits eating matzah all day Erev Pesach (the day before Passover - this year on Friday April 6th).
Various reasons have been given for this prohibition. Maimonides writes in his Mishneh Torah (Laws of Chametz and Matzah 6:12) that the Sages forbade a person from eating matzah on Erev Pesach in order for there to be a distinction between partaking of it as an ordinary food and eating it on the evening of Passover as a mitzvah.
Nachmanides and others quote the Talmud Yerushlami which states that “whoever eats matzah on the day before Passover is tantamount to having sexual relations with his betrothed [fiancée] in his in-laws’ house”.
In order to explain this enigmatic statement of the Yerushalmi we need to first understand the mechanics of the Jewish wedding.
Technically, the Jewish wedding process has two distinct stages: (1) kiddushin (sanctification or dedication, also called eirusin, betrothal, in Hebrew) in which the groom gives a ring or other object of value to the bride in front of two witnesses with the intent to create a marriage bond, and (2) nissuin (marriage, sometimes called chuppah), in which the couple stands together under a chuppah, or wedding canopy, symbolizing the start of their new life together as husband and wife. The first stage prohibits the woman to all other men, requiring a get, or religious divorce, to dissolve, and the final stage permits the couple to each other.
While historically, these two stages were generally twelve months apart, and the bride would still live in her parents’ home for the entire year leading up to the chuppah, today they are commonly combined into one ceremony.
The Talmud Yerushalmi is thus stating that a person who can’t wait until the Passover Seder at night to eat the matzah – when it is a mitzvah to do so – but instead consumes it on Erev Pesach, is much like a groom who can’t wait until after the chuppah - when it is a mitzvah to engage in sexual relations for the first time with his bride - and instead is intimate with her while she is only betrothed to him and still living at her parents’ home.
The Shibbolei HaLeket, a medieval Torah sage, takes this analogy even further. He explains that just as the fellow who has premature relations with his fiancée hasn’t waited for its appropriate time after the chuppah ceremony, when the sheva berachos, the traditional “Seven Blessings” for the bride and groom, are recited, so, too, one who eats matzah on Erev Pesach has not waited until the proper time to eat matzah at the Passover Seder, which is only after seven blessings have been recited: (1) hagafen (2) mekadeish Yisrael ve’hazmanim (3) shehechiyanu (4) ha’adama (5) hagafen (6) hamotzi (7) al achilas matzah.
I believe there is a powerful lesson to be learned from this. You see, we are living in what some have called Generation “Text” - where we want instant gratification and we get it. Gone is the anticipation for a return letter coming in the mail. We can’t even wait for a return e-mail! We need instant messaging and instant responses. We also can’t seem to wait to develop a roll of film, Heaven forbid! We need to see our pictures right away. I believe it was the comedian Demetri Martin who once quipped: “I like digital cameras … because they enable you to reminisce … immediately. ‘Hey, look at us! We were so young! Standing right there, Wow! Where does the minute go?!’”
And this inability to wait for things carries over into all areas of life – and especially in our relationships. We can’t wait until we get married to be intimate with each other. That’s so 1950’s! We want it and we need it NOW.
But are we better off than our “old-fashioned” grandparents (and parents?) who waited to be together only after they got married? I am not so sure.
A recent study led by Professor Dean Busby at Brigham Young University and published in the Journal of Family Psychology surveyed 2,035 married people and discovered that the longer couples waited before becoming sexually active, the higher their satisfaction in multiple aspects of their marriage. Couples who waited all the way until marriage to have sex reported the highest satisfaction. [To read the full article, click on: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/couples-who-wait-report-better-sex-lives/article1847555/ ]
The prohibition against eating matzah on the day before the Passover Seder – and the analogy made by the Talmud Yerushalmi comparing one who eats matzah too early to a groom who can’t wait to have sexual relations with his fiancée until after the Chuppah – serve to remind us that there are some things in life that are better enjoyed and appreciated – and are ultimately more meaningful - when you wait to do them in their proper time. Wait for it ...