Sunday, April 20, 2014

Food for Thought on Chametz and Matzah

Food for Thought on Chametz and Matzah  

            You know that on every one of our 3 festivals, we are to rejoice, so I will begin 
my comments with a few words of humor before I actually get to my theme of this
            You know we Jews love to play on words, especially when we can do so in two
or three languages.
For example, Do you know why we have an Haggadah at Passover?
A: So we can Seder right words.
Of course, all Jews are born psychologists, and Freud was merely verbalizing
what we all know instinctively.  What do you call someone who derives pleasure from the
bread of affliction?

 A matzochist.
Then, of course, all Jews are either doctors, have doctors in the family, and
believe we know more than the doctor . Did you hear that  a group of leading medical
people have published  data  that indicates that Seder participants should NOT partake
of both chopped liver and  charoses.  It is indicated that this combination can lead to
Charoses of the Liver.
There 's a story about a very wealthy, yet very modest, Jewish chap named
Hyman  Goldfarb. Because of his large donations to charities through the years, the
queen wanted to knight him, but he was going to turn it down.
"That's a great honor," a friend asked. "Why would you turn it down?"
"Because during the ceremony you have to say something in Latin," he said. "And I don't
wish to bother studying Latin just for that."
"So say something in Hebrew. The queen wouldn't know the difference."
"Brilliant," Hy complimented his friend, "but what should I say?"
"Remember that question the son asks the father on the first night of Passover? ... Can
you say that in Hebrew?"
"Of course," he said. " Thank you, old sport, I shall become a knight."
At the ceremony Hy waited his turn while several of the other honorees went before the
Finally they called his name. He knelt before Her Majesty, she placed her sword on one
shoulder and then on the other, and motioned for Hy to speak. Out came "Ma nishtana
ha leila hazeh."
The queen turned to her husband and said, "Why is this knight different from all other
            Enough, enough, now is  time for some wisdom for Pesah, about matzah- mah nishtanah- not just haleila hazeh- the one night, but "sheva yamim"= seven days you shall eat matzah.! Why matzah- Why not, in the words of Marie Antoinette- let them eat cake.!
            In this zman herutenu, Season of Liberation, Pesah, Passover, no element so dominates the festival as the contrast between "Chametz" and "Matzah", leavened and unleavened bread.
            Our official explanation is that our ancestors left Egypt in haste on the night of liberation and had only enough time to prepare the simple matzah for the journey into the desert. That simple fare has remained for us Jews as the symbols par excellence of our freedom as human beings, subject to no other human being, bound only by the moral and spiritual responsibilities emanating from the Eternal One. Because of that event, the Jew, even in exile, under oppression and persecution, remained free in the heart.
            But mazah is even older than pesah! Lot, Abraham's nephew served it to his angelic visitors 400 years before. Matzah was not only for Pesah-- The Kohanim, the priests, ate matzah through the year with their sacrifical meals.
            The choice of Maztah over Chametz is ironic. After all, the similarities greatly outweigh the difference at first sight.
            Eve the Hebrew spelling is close.  Chametz and Matzah,  share two root letters, Mem   and Tsadi .  The third letter is similar .
חמץ  מצה    מ  צ ה  ח
The only difference between the letter Het  ח of Hamezt  and Heh ה of Matzah is only a tiny space that closes the gap. In pronunciation, the two are similar; again, the difference is a little friction in the throat for the sound of Het .
.           The real difference between the two  is a result of bio-chemistry.
            What can be Chametz?  Only five grains, which by common tyranslation in Europe are-- barley, rye, oats, wheat, and spelt and only when immersed  in  cold  water  for  at  least  eighteen  minutes,  or immediately in hot water or salt water.
 (Modern scholars , however, suggest this translation:
 שיפון Shippon (shifon) – einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum),
כוסמין Kusmin – 
emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon),
חיטים Ḥittim – 
durum wheat (Triticum durum) and bread wheat (Triticum aestivum),
שעורים Se’orim – six row 
barley (Hordeum vulgare), and
שיבולת שועל Shibbolet shual – two row barley (Hordeum vulgare).)
Rice and legumes, which Ashkenazic Jews avoid during Pesah, are treated as Chametz only by custom, as there was a concern that flour substitutes made from these foods might be mistaken with real flour. These plants  can never leaven, only ferment. That is why Sefardic Jew use rice and beans in their cooking and why an Ashkenazic Jew may eat at a Sefardic meal at which rice is served, even though by tradition, he doesn't eat the rice, unless- unless the cook is his wife as she is sefardic.)
            These grains share a scientific peculiarity. Only these five grains of all plants have a combination of four enzymes- B Amylase, A Amylase Oxydase,  and Proteinase. This is the chemistry lesson : it is just that combination of enzymes, in the presence of water, that causes the release of  carbon dioxide which causes the dough to  rise.
            So now, what is matzah?
            It's the same thing as Chametz. A matzah can only be made of those five grains,  never from corn flour, nor rice nor potato flour. Only that which  can become Chametz may be used for matzah.
            What makes the difference? Only  eighteen minutes separate the one from the other, the time between the mixing of the dough and the putting into the oven.
            How so?.
            The dough is baked in an extremely hot oven. This instantly dries up the water, before the leavening can take place, and destroys the key enzyme B Amylase. There is no leavening and  no release of carbon dioxide, the bread stays flat, and you have matzah.
            So why this oddity, this peculiarity that so much effort is made because of eighteen minutes of baking--that which is kosher throughout the year is suddenly forbidden, yet it is replaced by something made from the same source, which is now commanded. This peculiarity becomes the symbol of our liberation from bondage.
The moral lessons are plentiful.
1)     Matzah must be made new, while  Chametz can be old. Matzah must be made fresh and quickly. This is the rule for life--­we have to start each time, in life, renewed, fresh. We can not rely on last years efforts, nor allow ourselves to go stale.
2)     Matzah is simple, while  Chametz is fancy. Matzah reminds us of our ancestral simplicity in life . Chametz symbolizes  all the trappings of  human civilization. Once a year, we put some of it aside, to remember us to return to the basics of our ancestors in a simpler time.
3)      Matzah is flat, while Chametz is puffed up. A Matzah is humble and modest,  true and straight--what you see is what you get. A loaf of bread is all fluff , a lot of air, and less substance. An ounce of Matzah and an ounce of Chametz must  weigh the same, but the Chametz seems greater only because it is filled with hot air. So too, with people-- we are to be straight and honest, filled with human substance,  and not inflated for show  with vain ego.
4)      A Matzah is pure, while the Chametz has impurity in it, a souring of the dough. Matzah is our basic nature, created clean and pure. Chametz is the souring and the gas that is produced in our lives by giving in to our passions and instincts  and the choosing evil instead of good.
5)     A Matzah is fast food, while Chametz is slow.  The Torah describes the matzah as being made in haste, and that the children of Israel could not linger . Legal  contracts always say 'Time is of the essence' and that is true here. The Chametz is puffed up because we waited  too long, we missed opportunities to do good in our lives and with ourselves. The Matzah is permitted to us because we have acted speedily and resolutely.
6)      A  Matzah is poor, while Chametz is rich."Ha lahma anya  - This is the bread of poverty that our ancestors ate in Egypt." Better the poor Matzah made with hard work, than the rich Chametz,  gained by letting things spoil or earned without effort.
            That is why Chametz and matzah are so near, yet so far apart. Hence, the matzah, so poor in texture and appearance, is so rich in meaning for us as we celebrate with our families and friends through the rest of the holiday.

            Hag Kasher v'Sameach--May you have a truly Kosher for Passover holiday and a joyous celebration with all those you love. 

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