Matzah - Symbol of Humility
Regarding the mitzvah of eating matzah, the pasuk states (Devarim 16:3), “For seven days you shall eat matzot… bread of affliction.” Regarding the mitzvah of eating the korban Pesach, the pasuk states (Shemot 12:8), “They shall eat the flesh… roasted over the fire – and matzot, with bitter herbs shall they eat it.”
There seems to be a paradox at play on this night. On the one hand, a person feels that he is a truly free man, the son of the King (see Pesachim 99b), in a truly elevated state. On Pesach, people set their tables royally, with expensive, fancy dishes and beautiful tablecloths, as is stated in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 472:2). On the other hand, he is enjoined to eat matzah, the “bread of affliction.” This is so that, despite all the pampering and pleasures, one’s heart should become broken through, like the middle matzah, and he should feel true humility and submission.
We are commanded to check for chametz in every crack and crevice (Pesachim 2a). The chametz refers to severe sins which one may have done. The cracks and crevices refer to lesser sins, which a person hardly feels at all. Chametz refers to the Yetzer Hara, which Chazal (Berachot 17a) call the “yeast in the dough.” After a thorough search for chametz, one is ready to nullify any chametz he may still have on his property. This can also refer to nullification of self, a form of humility. Without humility, a person cannot attain any level of serving Hashem. After nullifying his chametz, he can nullify himself before Hashem. According to the Written Torah, simply nullifying the chametz is sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah (Pesachim 4b).
Eating matzah signifies the exertion necessary to acquire the middah of humility. Matzah is hard to chew and takes a long time to digest. So too, one must exert himself to attain the middah of humility. Moreover, a person becomes humble through suffering, as depicted by the bitter herbs.
I remember, a number of years ago, toiling excessively to clean the house for Pesach. I checked for chametz numerous times, being scrupulous with all the mitzvot involved, large and small alike. I spent many nights searching for chametz and destroying it, until Erev Pesach arrived.
When I got home from the Beit Hakeneset on Pesach night, I could barely make it up the five flights of stairs to my apartment, for I was exhausted from all of the hard work. When I walked in and saw the brightly lit house, the sanctity of the Yom Tov was palpable. I felt a tangible sense of kedushah, which I had never felt before. I thought to myself that all the efforts I had invested were worth these few minutes of feeling a taste of the World to Come.
When I looked at the Seder plate with the matzot, I told myself, “The essence of the entire holiday is the matzah and maror. Chazal teach (Pesachim 116b), ‘Whoever does not say (or eat) three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation.’ They are the basics of remembering the affliction and bitterness which our forefathers endured in Mitzrayim.
“If so,” I asked myself, “wasn’t all of the trouble I went through in honor of the holiday, and all of the self-sacrifice involved, worth it just in order to see the matzot and maror on the set table? Surely, it is in their merit that we feel a sense of spiritual elevation.”
A saying of Chazal immediately came to mind. The Mishnah in Avot (1:17) states, “Not study, but practice is the main thing.” All of the preparations for the chag are merely in the category of study. The practice, the outgrowth of study, is the fulfillment of the mitzvot of eating the matzah and maror. These are what enable us to feel a taste of the World to Come. What is their inherent kedushah?
A person slaves to clean his house before Pesach, ridding it of any vestige of chametz. Even an aristocrat, one who never felt the feeling of servitude, comes to the Seder table and recites the passage (Devarim 6:21) “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” How can he feel this, when he never experienced any type of slavery in his life?
When a person works to clean his home of chametz, and sacrifices himself toward that goal, he gains an understanding of the labor our fathers endured in Mitzrayim. He is better able to appreciate the miracle of their salvation. All of the pre-Pesach preparations help to humble a person before Hashem, allowing him to serve Him in the best way possible.
“His heart was elevated in the ways of Hashem” (Divrei Hayamim II
17:6). Only this type of arrogance is accepted. Any other form of haughtiness is an abomination (Mishlei 16:5). One who aggrandizes himself over others is not a servant of Hashem but a slave to Pharaoh, the embodiment of the kelippah.
A Jew is different from a gentile in every respect, even in thought and in deed. For every facet of the Jewish person has great significance in serving Hashem.
One who invests effort into a mitzvah becomes a servant of that mitzvah, so to speak. Chazal state (Eiruvin 31a; Yerushalmi, end of Terumot) that mitzvot were not given for pleasure, but rather, as a yoke. One who makes himself a servant of Hashem feels an ethereal joy, literally a taste of the World to Come. When he brings satisfaction to his Creator by fulfilling His mitzvah, he becomes elevated through the kedushah of the mitzvah. The sense of elevation he is granted from Shamayim is a taste of the World to Come.
Sweating in exertion to do a mitzvah indicates that one is a true servant of Hashem. If he sweats in submission to Him, he merits untold abundance of blessing, and his sins are forgiven. He becomes holy and has no connection to the kelippah.
The sefer Noam Elimelech states that before performing a mitzvah, a person should do teshuvah. The abundant blessings showered upon a person who does mitzvot can be attained only by one who is free of sin.
Humility and Submission Are the Basis for Avodah
A person attains kedushah only through self-nullification and toil in Torah. The pasuk states (Vayikra 19:18), “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” Rabbi Akiva (Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4) proclaims that this is a fundamental principle of the Torah. In order to teach Torah to a fellow Jew, one must first develop a strong love toward him, to enable himself to share his Torah knowledge with him.
In order to attain this level of love of others, one must nullify his own desires. He must truly feel his friend’s burden and not be arrogant about his own Torah knowledge (Avot 6:6). One who desires to learn must act with submission, in order to be able to accept Torah from his friend.
Another virtue in being humble is that such a person is included in “those who are insulted but do not insult, they hear their shame, but do not react” (Shabbat 88b; Gittin 36b). Even when this person’s colleague annoys him, he does not respond or get angry, but humbles himself before him. There is no submission greater than this; it is a sound basis for reaching great heights.
We find a similar concept regarding the month of Nisan, the month of miracles. It is also called the “beginning of the months” (Shemot 12:2). If one properly relates to the miracles wrought for our forefathers in the month of Nisan, he will merit feeling the miracles of all the months of the year, and receive abundance of kedushah from Hashem, as it says, “So that you will remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Devarim 16:3). One draws kedushah from the miracles of Pesach, and the illumination of the salvation in Nisan will shine forth the entire year.
It is incumbent to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim during the day as well as the night. This is learned from the wording of the phrase “all the days of your life.” The words “the days of your life” refers to the days; “all the days,” refers to the nights (Berachot 12b). Every single day of a person’s life, he should feel as though he has experienced his own personal exodus, as though he is being emancipated from the clutches of the Yetzer Hara.
By keeping alive the memory of Yetziat Mitzrayim, we arouse ourselves to combat the Yetzer Hara, who desires to enslave us each day anew. We emerge from his bondage to true liberation.
This is as Chazal state (Pesachim 116b), “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as though he came out of Egypt.” We have an injunction to feel as if we ourselves left Egypt. This is difficult to understand. Why does the Torah stress that one is obligated to feel as if he were a slave and became free? He was never a slave. How can he be commanded to feel that he was?
When one prepares for Pesach by working hard to rid his house of chametz and then nullifying it, he experiences what it must have felt like for our ancestors in Egypt, who were slaves. By taking this thought further, he realizes that if they had not been redeemed, he himself would be a slave there now.
The Torah states that merely nullifying the chametz orally is sufficient (Pesachim 4b). But our Sages are not satisfied with that. They demand that we search for chametz. This is in order to experience the feeling of real slavery, and the geulah which follows.
An important feature of preparing for Pesach is extending assistance to those less fortunate than ourselves. When one checks for chametz, he comes to the realization that there are those who have nothing to check for. In Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisrael elevated the lost nitzotzot to greater levels of kedushah by helping one another. At the beginning of the Seder, we state, “All who are hungry, should come and eat…” Humbly giving tzedakah to the poor, and helping him in his hour of need, in spiritual as well as in physical areas, is one of the main aspects of the geulah.
The purpose of Pesach is for one to become sanctified and submit himself to Hashem. He should acknowledge that he is different from the gentiles, as the pasuk says (Shemot 12:27), “You shall say, ‘It is a Pesach feast-offering. Hashem passed over the houses of the Children of Israel… in order to save Bnei Yisrael, when He smote the Egyptians.’” Hashem distinguished between Bnei Yisrael and the Egyptians. This is the essence of Pesach, and is alluded to in its name חספ. Hashem passed over the 'ס, an allusion to the 600,000 members of Bnei Yisrael, and He destroyed the snare (חפ). These are the Egyptians, compared to an ensnaring trap (Tehillim 91:3).
We should feel as though we are ready for Hashem to save us and smite our enemies. In this way, the following pasuk will be fulfilled (ibid. 124:7), “The snare broke and we escaped.”
In order to be eligible for this, we are obligated to remain apart from the rest of the world. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu told the people (Shemot 12:22), “No man shall leave the entrance of his house until the morning.” They should remain within the shelter of their homes, not mingling with the gentiles. They should go out only to the Beit Hamidrash for Torah study and tefillah. This is the way to become truly free people.
When one acts in this manner, he will merit an abundance of Heavenly blessing, bringing him closer to Hashem. The spiritual elevation that he has gained on Pesach will accompany him always