Pesach: Life choices

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism An illustrative photo of a shopper at a grocery store picking up a box of matzah
An illustrative photo of a shopper at a grocery store picking up a box of matzah
צילום: PR

Our Life Choices usually fluctuate between two seemingly opposite poles. On the one hand we are filled with a determination to achieve and to express ourselves completely. On the other hand we feel humbled and inadequate and truly comprehend the limits of our abilities.

 The Torah teaches us that in fact the walk of life is a journey having both poles as our guide

 Mount Sinai was the place that G-d revealed Himself before millions of people, and the choice of Hashem of  using that mountain  was critical. One would have thought that the revelation of G-d's word into the world would be done on a mountain of gigantic stature. On an Everest or some other mighty and impressive mountain.

The Midrash (Midrash Psalms 68:17) states that G-d chose Mt. Sinai for the “Giving of the Torah” because in fact it was “the smallest of all mountains.” This was to ensure that man would know that the key to receiving Divine revelation and inspiration necessitates a sense of humility.

The Sfat Emet then asks that if that is so, then why did G-d not give the Torah in a valley.

The Sfat Emet answers that G-d did not want the vessels of His revelation to be so completely self-effacing. The experience at Mount Sinai was meant to be a lesson. We need to be humble vessels and yet we cannot think of ourselves as totally unworthy. Otherwise we would not be able to achieve our individual and corporate purposes. Otherwise we could not be a useful vessel for the plan of destiny.

That same lesson is impacting us as we celebrate the festival of Pesach (Passover). It is there that we encounter the fascinating dialectic regarding the concept of Bread and that of Matza (unleavened bread).

To commemorate and spiritually relive the Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people are commanded by the Torah to celebrate the holiday of Pesach and are prohibited to eat or even to possess any Chametz (leaven) in their home:

    “During these seven days no leaven may be found in your homes. If someone eats anything of Chametz his soul shall be cut off from the community of Israel. This is true whether he is a convert or a person born into the nation. You must not eat anything leavened." (Exodus 12:19-20)

The word Chametz means fermented or leavened. The grains which can become Chametz are wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye. From the fourteenth day of the first month in the evening until the night of the twenty-first day of the month, only matzoth (unleavened bread) are eaten. The leavening and the yeast represent the arrogance and puffed up ego that leads us away from the Divine missions in our life. The yeast is simply the agent that causes the dough to rise and gives the impression that there is more than there really is.

    “You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall you eat unleavened bread – matzoth.“ (Exodus12:20)


Matzah, on the other hand is the only form of flour and water mixture permitted on Pesach. It is baked under very rigorous conditions and strict time constraints to insure that it not become Chametz. Yet Matzah itself can only be made from the five grains that have the potential to become Chametz. The obvious question is , why use the very ingredients that if used incorrectly would invalidate the item?

This becomes one of the powerful messages of Passover and is a message that weaves throughout Jewish thought and ritual. The same leavening and yeast that represent arrogance and puffed up ego is used for a higher purpose.

The underlying message is that the secret to obtaining freedom from the things that enslave us is not to avoid those things but rather to elevate them. The very things that can entrap and enslave us can instead be elevated towards a higher purpose.

The bread we avoid is nothing more than puffed up matzah. Yet on the other hand “Bread” has  it has its own purpose and Divine importance.

Wheat is classically termed the “staff of life” and is considered the staple of mankind’s existence. The creation of bread from wheat is also known as the apex of his creative abilities. As the verse says:

  "He would feed him with the finest wheat." (Psalms 81:17)


That same fine wheat bread is the result of much effort, planning and yearning. Interestingly only 49 days after Pesach, it is in fact that finely prepared loaves of wheat bread that is brought to the temple as an offering on Shavuot.

If in fact the leavened bread is a symbol of arrogance and pride why bring it to the temple? Why not forbid it altogether?

The truth is both realities are critical in our walk in this world. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that bread represents Mochin DeKatnut (small mindedness) while matza represents Mochin DeGadlut (enlarged mindedness).

Small mindedness focuses on the details and small steps of reality. This is critical for getting things done right but it can easily get bogged down and lose sight of the vision.

The “Enlarged Mindedness” is simplified like the matza and as a result it sees the whole picture and understands its purpose.

That is the reason that the fine wheat offering can only be offered after the experience of the Matza based Passover festival. Only after the corrective experience of eating Matza and contemplating its lessons, will we be ready to bring the gift representing the partnership between the G-d and man with the bread offering of Shavuot. Only when we become simplified like a matza will we develop the vision of Divine purpose and destiny. It is following the acquiring of this broad sense of direction that we can then begin to focus on the small details of building and growing.

Pesach is about rebirth, empowerment and re-finding our purpose. Shavuot and the experience at Mount Sinai is about focusing on the details of our life and aligning it with the vision.

May we enjoy a happy and soul building Pesach and thereby make us ready for the soul nourishment of the Shavuot festival that follows.

Chag Kasher Ve sameach