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Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei (HaChodesh) - (5769)

In Search of (the Meaning of) Chametz

If you are one of the many Jewish men and women who will be working strenuously for the next few weeks just to rid your house of all the chametz, bread products, and leavened foods, in preparation for the upcoming holiday of Passover, you will surely appreciate the news of one more piece of chametz that is no longer ...

DEATH NOTICE

Please join us in remembering a great icon -- the veteran Pillsbury spokesman.

The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71. Doughboy was buried in a lightly greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and Captain Crunch. The gravesite was piled high with flours. A longtime friend, Aunt Jemima, delivered the eulogy, describing Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded. Doughboy rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half-baked schemes. Despite being a little flaky at times, he still, as a crusty old man, was considered a roll model for millions. Toward the end, it was thought he would rise again, but, alas, he was no tart. Doughboy is survived by his wife, Play Dough, two children, John Dough and Jane Dough, and they had one in the oven. His elderly father, Pop Tart, also survives him. The funeral was held at 350 for about twenty minutes.

[Ed. note: Author unknown. Some foods listed above may not be kosher.]

WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT A LITTLE YEAST, ANYWAY?

The way I see it ... if we are going to go through all that effort just to get rid of the dough and bread and other chametz products, making our homes totally "pesachdik" (as my grandmother used to call it when the house was finally clean for Passover), we might as well find out for ourselves just what is so bad about having a little yeast or bread around during Passover. After all, everyone needs a little dough, right? So what is the symbolism and meaning behind the Biblical commandment to search and remove all chametz from our homes for the duration of the Passover holiday?

The Talmud in Berachos 17b states:

"Rabbi Alexandri, when he finished his daily prayer, said the following: 'Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known to You that our true desire is to do Your will. What prevents it but the "yeast in the dough" (evil inclination) and the subjugation of the exile! May it be Your will, O Lord, to deliver us from their hands, and we shall return to perform the decrees of our will with a perfect heart' ".

We see from this obscure Talmudic passage that the "yeast in the dough", otherwise known as chametz, alludes to the yetzer hara (evil inclination) inside each and every one of us that prevents us from doing G-d's will and from leading spiritually meaningful and fulfilling lives.

So it seems as though there's something in that yeast that is really bad for our spiritual growth, and that G-d asks us - at least for the duration of Passover - to remove from our homes, as well as from our hearts.

What remains to be understood is why yeast, or leaven, was chosen to be the symbol of the evil inclination. After all, all yeast does is to cause the dough to rise. How bad can that be? Maybe a putrid, rotten tomato or some other gross-tasting or spoiled food should have symbolized the yetzer hara ... but yeast?!!!!

WATCH THOSE MITZVAHS!!

When the Torah commands us to bake matzah (unleavened bread) for Passover, it states the following:

“U'shemartem es ha'matzos - You shall watch the matzah…” (Exodus 12:17)

On the surface level, the Torah is telling us to be careful to watch and be diligent regarding the growing, harvesting and baking process of the matzah to ensure that it does not become chametz, or leavened, thereby invalidating it for use on Passover.

However, as the Midrash points out, since a Torah scroll contains no written nekudos, or vowels, the word matzos can also be read mitzvahs (commandments), as they share the exact same Hebrew letters. In which case the Torah is saying, "Watch those mitzvahs so that they don't become chametz".

In other words, the Torah is comparing mitzvahs to matzahs, and is telling us that just as we must watch and hurry up the baking of the matzahs so that they don't rise and become chametz, so, too, when we perform mitzvahs we must watch and hurry their performance so that they don't turn sour like chametz.

We see from here that there is a direct connection between the speed and diligence with which we perform a mitzvah and the chametz or yeast in the dough. And here we are coming to the essence of chametz, and how it truly symbolizes the evil inclination.

GIVE IT EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT ...

Ever notice when someone is performing a task very slowly and lazily, and another person watching will tell him, "C'mon, give it everything you've got!"? Well, there's a lot of truth to that saying.

The Jewish philosophers teach that the body is, by definition, lazy. It doesn't really want to perform good deeds. It just wants to sleep and laze around. It is the soul within man that can motivate him to do a mitzvah real quickly, with haste and zeal. The soul constantly yearns to bond with G-d through the performance of His mitzvahs, and would do them with great speed and diligence ... if not for the body which just wants to take it easy. And the more "soul" we put into the good deeds and rituals that we do, the more we "give it all we have", the more quickly we will find ourselves performing them.

Unfortunately, all too often, when we perform mitzvahs, we don't "give it everything we've got". Sure, our bodies might pop in to the synagogue to pray on a Saturday morning, or we might attend a Torah class on a weeknight, or do some other Jewish religious activity, but does "all of us", body and soul, really want to be there - in other words, it is truly meaningful and exciting for us - or are we just showing up?

Sure, we'll bring ourselves to the Passover Seder this year, just like we did last year and the year before, but will our neshamah (soul) be there, too? Will we be doing these special mitzvahs with zeal and diligence? Or will we be just barely making it through the Four Cups and all that matzah and maror, dragging ourselves along until the all-too-long Seder is finally over?

The difference between performing the mitzvahs lazily and without meaning, versus performing them with zeal, diligence and meaning, is also the difference between chametz and matzah, between leavened and unleavened bread.

MATZAH: THE REAL "FAST FOOD"

If you've ever been to a matzah bakery, you are sure to have noticed the great speed and diligence with which the matzah is made. The pace is frantic and hurried, and everyone is either running or screaming, or both. And the reason for the big tumult is that everyone knows that if they wait too long between the mixing of the dough and its baking in the oven, the matzah will have risen and turned into chametz. As a matter of fact, the entire process from mixing the dough until the baking of the matzah must take no more than 18 minutes! And even leaving a single unbaked matzah on the table - when it's not being kneaded and worked on - can cause it to leaven and become chametz. So you can imagine how fast everything happens in a matzah bakery!

The lesson of this Jewish "fast food" is a simple one: Just as one has to be diligent and focused during the baking process so that the matzah doesn't become chametz, so must we put all our heart and soul into the performing of mitzvahs so that they don't, G-d forbid, sour and become chametz.

The yetzer hara (evil inclination) wants us not to think about the mitzvahs that we perform, not to put our everything into them, just to do them lazily and mechanically. This way, all the rituals that we do will eventually sour and will have virtually no meaning to us.

So, in order to counter that yetzer hara which would have us do things half-baked, and without putting our heart and soul into it, we remove all chametz - the symbol of what happens to matzah when we become lazy and don't watch it properly - from our homes for the duration of the Passover holiday.

"CHAMETZ-FREE" FOR LIFE

The commentaries explain that the seven days of Passover represent a full cycle of life. (Biblically speaking, Passover lasts for seven days. But outside of Israel, an additional day is observed for reasons set forth in the Talmud.) As there are seven days in a week, the number seven represents the full span of the natural world. The concept of removing chametz from our homes for the seven days of Passover, is really a message for all of us to try and remain chametz-free for the duration of our lives.

If we want the mitzvahs and religious rituals that we perform to have meaning for us, and to have the staying power to continue to the next generation and to the one after that, we must get rid of the chametz within us. If we find that we are dragging ourselves to the synagogue or to any other religious function, and we're not "giving it all we've got", putting our heart and soul as well as our bodies into all that we do, we run the risk of letting our mitzvahs and our Jewish heritage become chametz for us and for our children.

But if we resolve to learn more about the mitzvahs and religious duties that we perform, and if, through that study, we can inject new energy and meaning into them, then they will never become chametz, and will, G-d willing, continue for many generations to come.

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