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



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