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Shiur at the Completion of the Shloshim of Rabbi Avraham Leibtag

The "shloshim" for my father falls out today, the seventh of Nisan. The following shiur relates to his life, and is dedicated in his memory.

Pesach and Chag Ha'Matzot
According to Chumash, most Jewish calendars are incorrect! The 14th of Nisan is not Erev Pesach, rather Pesach. Likewise, the 15th to the 21st of Nisan are not the seven days of Pesach, rather, the seven days of Chag Ha'Matzot. [Read Vayikra 23:4-6 & Bamidbar 28:16-18, and see for yourself.]

What difference does it make? Are not Pesach and Chag Ha'Matzot two names for the same holiday? Surprisingly enough, they are not! Even though these two holidays happen to 'overlap' on the night of the 15th of Nisan ("leil ha'Seder"), each "chag" is distinct.

The following shiur explores the Biblical roots of these two holidays, not only to show how each is distinct, but also to show the deeper meaning of their relationship.

A brief summary of the definition of these two holidays in Chumash will help clarify this distinction:

Pesach - An Offering of Thanksgiving
Definition: Each year we are commanded to bring a special korban on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, and eat the korban that evening, together with Matzah & Maror, while thanking God for our deliverance from "makkat bchorot". (See 12:8-10,14,24-27,43-50)
Reason: Because God saved (passed over) the houses of Bnei Yisrael on that evening when he smote the Egyptians. (See 12:26-27)

Chag Ha'Matzot - A Holiday in Commemoration of Yetziat Mitzrayim
Definition: From the 15th to the 21st of Nisan, it is forbidden to eat chametz - to own it, or even see it; and it is a mitzva to each matza, especially on the first night. (See 12:15-20; 13:3-8)
Reason: To remember that God took us out of Egypt. (See 12:17; 13:8) Eating matza reminds us of an event that took place when we left Egypt. Due to the rushed circumstances, Bnei Yisrael had to bake their dough in the form of matza. (See 12:39)

In other words, on Pesach we thank God for saving us from "makkat bchorot" (the tenth plague), while on Chag Ha'matzot we remember Yetziat Mitzrayim, our journey from Egypt into the desert.

Considering that "makkat bchorot" actually led to Yetziat Mitzrayim, why doesn't the Torah simply combine these two holidays together? Why can't the yearly offering of the korban Pesach be in thanksgiving for the entire process of Yetziat Mitzraim; not just for that one specific event? Likewise, why can't eating matza remind us of our salvation from the tenth plague, as well as our journey out of Egypt?

What is Chag Ha'Matzot?
When we examine Chag Ha'matzot in Chumash, several additional questions arise which have no apparent explanation:

1) Why is this holiday celebrated for seven days? Why not one day or two days, etc., why specifically seven? [Recall that Chumash does not provide a reason for seven days, nor does it mention that Kriyat Yam Suf took place on the seventh day after the Exodus.]

2) Why is the primary mitzva on Chag Ha'matzot not to eat chametz? Should it not be to eat matza? (See 13:3,6) [Undoubtedly, not eating chametz encourages one to eat matza, but that does not explain why chametz is the primary mitzva?]

3. Why is the prohibition against chametz so stringent? e.g.: One can not own it or see it! Any leftover must be burnt. The punishment for eating chametz is "karet", i.e. being cut off from the nation of Israel!

[Before continuing, you should read Shmot 12:1-20, noting its two sections: Korban Pesach (3-14) and Chag Ha'Matzot (15-20).]

When one examines these sources in Chumash more carefully, an even greater question arises: Why are the laws of Chag Ha'Matzot given before Bnei Yisrael leave Egypt? Let's explain: The mitzva to eat matza for seven days (12:15-20) is given to Moshe Rabeinu on the first of Nisan (12:1- 2), together with the laws of the Korban Pesach (12:3-14). Obviously, the laws of Korban Pesach must be given before "makkat bchorot", because the blood is to be sprinkled on the doorposts in anticipation of the plague. Eating matza, however, is to remind us of the matza which Bnei Yisrael baked on their journey, after they left Egypt. Why should God command us to commemorate an event which has not yet taken place? [Recall that Bnei Yisrael baked matza for what appears to be a purely incidental reason. Because they were rushed out of Egypt, and had not made any other provisions, they took their dough (which they had planned to bake in Egypt) with them and baked it as matza during their journey (read 12:39 carefully!).]

Some commentators even suggest that the mitzva of Chag Ha'Matzot may have been given later, and thus, psukim 15-20 are placed out of chronological order (see Ibn Ezra 12:17). According to this approach, we simply have to restate our question: Why does the Torah take the laws concerning Chag HaMatzot, given later, and purposely attach them to the laws of Korban Pesach?

Matza - Al Shum Mah?
Up until this point, all of our questions have rested on one basic assumption - that the primary reason that we eat matza (and thus, don't eat chametz) is to remember the matza which we ate when leaving Egypt. This assumption is very popular because it is the very explanation provided by the Hagada: Matzot al shum mah? [For what reason do we eat matza?]: Because the dough of our ancestors had not time to become leaven, when God appeared unto them and redeemed them, as it said: "And they baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt 'matzot' and not 'chametz,' because they were rushed out of Egypt and could not tarry, nor had they made any other provisions" (Shmot 12:39)

True, this pasuk explains why we eat matza on the Seder night, but it does not explain why we can't eat or own chametz for seven days!

These questions compel us to search for an independent reason for the celebration of Chag HaMatzot, not related to the matza which Bnei Yisrael baked on their journey; a reason that will explain: a) Why "isur chametz" is the primary mitzva; b) Why it is celebrated for seven days; and c) Why its commandment was given together with korban Pesach, before Bnei Yisrael actually left Egypt.

Chametz - A Symbol
In the Torah, the prohibition of "chametz" is not limited to Chag HaMatzot. In the Mikdash, for example, chametz is not permitted on the "mizbayach" all year long! [Vayikra 2:11,6:9-10] Why? The precise reason is not clear, however, chametz appears to represent something which is antithetical to the concept of 'korbanot.' Obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong with chametz, rather it serves as a symbol. Likewise, by Chag HaMatzot, chametz serves as a symbol. In Chazal we find numerous suggestions as to what chametz symbolizes: "ga'ava" (haughtiness); "yetzer ha'rah" (evil inclinations); "avodah zara" (idol worship), etc. Being a symbol, its various properties can represent various concepts. [For example, one aspect of chametz could be its property that it causes bread to appear much more appetizing than a mere mixture of flour and water. Another could be its property causing dough to rise, possibly symbolizing the complexity of a process, etc.]

The connection between "avoda zara" and chametz on Chag HaMatzot is especially interesting - the laws of both are almost identical! Both carry an "isur karet" and "isur ha'naah" (one can not have benefit from it). Similarly, if found, both must be burned, i.e. totally destroyed. [The Zohar deals with this in detail- "v'akmal".]

The special prohibition on Chag HaMatzot of "bal yay'raeh u'bal y'matzei" - not owning or seeing chametz - definitely supports this comparison. Let's suppose that chametz on Chag HaMatzot does indeed represent "avodah zara". Consequently, let's assume that getting rid of our chametz symbolizes getting rid of our "avoda zara". If so, why is chametz prohibited only for the week of Chag HaMatzot, why not all year long?

Back to Sefer Shmot
In light of our shiurim on Sefer Shmot, the connection is obvious. Recall that God called upon Bnei Yisrael to rid themselves of their "avoda zara", i.e. their Egyptian culture, before the redemption process began. [See previous shiur on Va'eyra.] Although this point was only alluded to in Sefer Shmot (6:6-9), in Sefer Yechezkel it was stated explicitly: Yechezkel, while rebuking the elders of Yehuda in Bavel, reminds them of the behavior of their forefathers - prior to Yetziat Mitzraim: "On the day that I chose Israel... that same day I swore to take them out of Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey... And I said to them [at that time]: Each man must rid himself of his detestable ways, and not defile ("tumah") himself with the fetishes of Egypt - [for] ani Hashem Elokeichem." But, they rebelled against Me, and they did not obey me, no one rid himself from his detestable ways...and I resolved to pour out My fury upon them..." (Yechezkel 20:5-8)

Despite God's demand that Bnei Yisrael repent prior to the Exodus, to be worthy of redemption, they did not 'listen.' They deserved to be destroyed! [God saved them, Yechezkel explains, for the sake of His Name: "va'a'as l'maan shmi, l'vilti ha'chel l'einei hagoyim" (20:9).]

Before "makkat bchorot", God gave Bnei Yisrael one last chance to prove their loyalty - to offer the Korban Pesach - a declaration of their readiness to listen to Him. The word - "pesach" - the name of this korban, reflects this very purpose. God must 'pass over' the houses of Bnei Yisrael because they deserve to be punished (see Shmot 12:27)! [One 'passes over' something which he is supposed to 'step on;' had Bnei Yisrael been righteous, there would not have been a punishment that required 'passing over.']

Nostalgia or Destiny
Therefore, Pesach and Chag HaMatzot are thematically connected. When we offer the korban Pesach, we must remember not only what happened, but also why God saved us, for what purpose! To help man concretize these sentiments of teshuva, a symbol is required. Thus, getting rid of one's chametz symbolizes getting rid of those influences that corrode one's spiritual existence. The korban Pesach - the "korban Hashem" (see Bamidbar 9:7 and context) - is not just an expression of thanksgiving but also a declaration of loyalty; - a willingness to obey; - a readiness to fulfill our Divine destiny. Therefore, the commandment to keep Chag HaMatzot (12:15-20) follows immediately after the commandment to offer the korban Pesach (12:3-14). Every year, we must not only thank God for our redemption, we must show Him that we are truly worthy of redemption by getting rid of our chametz, the symbol of our "avoda zara": "Seven days you should eat matza, but even on the first day you must remove all chametz from your houses, for whoever eats chametz on these seven days, that person shall be cut off from the nation of Israel" (12:15) [Chazal's understanding that "yom ha'rishon" refers to the 14th of Nisan (not the 15th), at the time when the Korban Pesach is offered, now takes on additional significance.]

This interpretation also explains the special halacha regarding korban Pesach mentioned in Parshat Mishpatim and repeated in Parshat Ki-tisa: "lo tishchat al chametz dam zivchi" - You may not offer the Pesach while owning chametz - (23:18, 34:25). It is meaningless to offer a korban pesach if one did not first rid himself of his chametz, i.e. his "avoda zara". [For a similar reason, one must perform brit Milah, before offering the korban Pesach - see 12:43-49.]

The reason for Chag HaMatzot now becomes clear. Our declaration of thanksgiving when offering the korban Pesach is meaningless if not accompanied with the proper spiritual preparation. Just as Bnei Yisrael were commanded to rid themselves of their "avoda zara" in anticipation of their redemption, so too future generations. By getting rid of our chametz in preparation for Korban Pesach, we remind ourselves of the need to cleanse ourselves from any "avoda zara" which we may have adopted. The 'spring cleaning' of our homes must be accompanied by a 'spring cleaning' of our souls.

Sheva Mi Yoday'ah?
Two questions still remain. Why is chametz prohibited for 'seven days?' Why is there also a mitzva to each matza, at least on the first night. Recall our explanation of Yetziat Mitzraim in the shiur on Parshat Beshalach. The korban Pesach alone was not enough to prepare Bnei Yisrael for Matan Torah. Instead of the original plan to travel directly to Har Sinai, a three day journey, God took them on a seven week 'training mission' out in the desert; carefully controlling their supply of food and water. This was necessary to help Bnei Yisrael rid themselves of all ties with Egyptian culture, especially their instinctive dependance on Egypt and its life-style.

Thus, Chag HaMatzot commemorates not only the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim, but also their purpose. As we remember that journey into the desert, we must remember that process of breaking our dependance on Mitzryaim, and developing a dependance upon God (see Dvarim 8:1-6!). Unlike the one time act of a korban, this 'teshuva' requires a routine. This process of 'soul searching,' represented by the total ban on chametz, can not be completed in one evening. Rather an entire week, the seven days of Chag Hamatzot, is required to internalize that commitment which we re-affirm every Pesach on 'leil haSeder.'

Seven days, throughout Chumash, is the basic unit of routine. Be it the routine of a week (six days followed by shabbat), or seven days to cleanse oneself from "tumah" (see Tazria Metzora and tumat meyt), or seven days of the Miluim, etc. These seven days not only remind us to get rid of "avoda zara", they also set us into a new routine, a routine of dependance upon God.

Eating Matza
Similarly, by eating matza on Chag HaMatzot, especially on the first night, the very same food we ate during the Exodus, we remember the positive aspect of this 'educational' process, i.e. growing dependant on God. If we look carefully, this may be the meaning of what the Torah tells us that we are to tell our children, when they ask as - Why are we eating matza? "And you shall tell your son on that day: it is for this purpose ("ba'avur zeh") that God took us out of Egypt - and this shall serve as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead- in order that the Torah of God may be in your mouth.." (13:8-9, see context- compare with Dvarim 6:20-25!)

I find special significance in the date of my father's shloshim - the 7th of Nisan, for this date also marks the day on which Sefer Yehoshua opens. Recall that Bnei Yisrael crossed the Jordan River entering Eretz Yisrael on the 10th of Nisan (4:19), and therefore, three days earlier, on the 7th of Nisan, Sefer Yehoshua opens as he commands the nation to prepare themselves for that day (1:11). This very same day also marks the conclusion of the thirty day mourning period for Moshe Rabeinu (see Dvarim 34:8), and God told Yehoshua: "Moshe My servant had died, and get up and cross the Yarden together with the people, into the Land which I am giving to Bnei Yisrael..." (1:2)

The 7th of Nisan marks a time of transition from one generation to the next, from "dor ha'midbar" - the generation of the desert - that received the Torah, to "dor knisa l'aretz" - the generation that inherited the Land of Israel - whose responsibility it was to fulfill the goals of Matan Torah. My father served as the Rabbi of Akron, Ohio for some forty years. Like Moshe Rabeinu, he was leader of a Jewish community, in the spiritual 'desert' of Akron, Ohio. His life-long dream was to live in Eretz Yisrael, yet he dedicated his entire life to his community in Akron.

"Shloshim" for one's father is also a time of transition - a transition from one generation to the next. God has given me the "zchut" to fulfill my father's dream - like the generation of Yehoshua - to live in the Land of Israel; to raise a family, to learn, and to teach Torah. I must be thankful to my father, for it is he who instilled in me the love of Torah and the love for the Land of Israel.

Like the connection between Pesach and Chag HaMatzot, on "Shloshim", one must be thankful to a parent not only for the life that he gave him, but also for its purpose: Thank you, Abba, not only for the life which you have given me, but also for its purpose that you have taught me. Thank you, Hashem, for you have blessed me with a wonderful teacher and father.

    Shabbat shalom,
    Pesach & Chag HaMatzot kasher v'samayach

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