Matzah as the Antidote to Egyptian Culture
Shabbat Hagadol, 5772
There are many important projects that our shul is engaged in. One of the projects that I find most
inspiring is the project where we actually bake our own Kosher for Passover Shmurah Matzah.
I believe (although I could be mistaken) that we are the only synagogue west of New Jersey in the world
that bakes our own Kosher for Passover Shmurah Matzah. Here is an excerpt from my own book, Fifty-
Four Pick Up, which describes the background to how we came to start doing this project.
On a recent trip to Israel our tour guide, Rav Yehudah Bohrer took us to his brother’s matzah factory. It
was an inspiring experience.
We came to Rav Bohrer’s brother and saw his “factory.” We saw a shack and inside this shack were three
ultra-Orthodox Jews grinding the grain of the wheat by hand into flour. It required both immense force
and concentration. Although one is allowed to use a machine to grind the matzah, they were grinding it
by hand in order to beautify the mitzvah. This type of matzah is called RASHI Matzah (rechayim shel yad
– ground by hand). The men doing the grinding were working up a tremendous sweat and could not be
spoken to as it might interrupt their focus on grinding the grain for the purpose of eating matzah on
Rav Bohrer’s brother assured me that his matzah was the only matzah that Rav Chaim Kanievsky would
This matzah “factory” produces four and a half tons of matzah. I asked him if he would ship some
matzah to me in America, but he only laughed. I don’t think I have a chance of getting that matzah from
him, so if anyone is around Bnei Brak and can ship me some of his matzah I would appreciate it greatly.
I was overwhelmed by the dedication of these men to performing the mitzvah. For months and months
they would prepare in order to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah properly. What a merit to be standing
with someone who cared so deeply about the performance of a mitzvah that it would literally take over
his life months in advance!
I found this so inspiring that I immediately decided that we too would make our own shmurah matzah in
Washington DC. Since that time, every year we make kosher for Pesach, shmurah matzah. It is one of the
most inspiring projects of our shul and I owe the impetus for it to seeing Rav Bohrer’s brother in action.
Since that day in Bnrei Brak I have been inspired by the dedication to the mitzvah of matzah that I saw in
those men in the “factory”. I knew that I wanted to have the same love for the mitzvah of matzah that I
saw in those men.
How does one acquire love for mitzvah? Two ways. Understand more about the mitzvah and also put
your heart and soul into the preparation for and performance ofmitzvah.
Everyone who bakes matzah in our shul knows that we put our heart and soul into it. It is a
tremendously rewarding process. We prepare for hours and hours just to set up the process. The actual
baking of the matzah is an intense process; it is filled with some anxiety and frustration, requires hard
work and skill, and it involves a great deal of excitement. But it is all worth it.
The matzah we bake doesn’t taste the same and it doesn’t look the same. It tastes divine and when you
look closely at the matzah you can see the holiness of our efforts. I encourage everyone to join us this
year in baking matzah in our shul.
Aside from putting our heart and soul into the making of the matzah, we also need to understand more
about the mitzvah. For this reason, I want to share with you some thoughts about matzah in order to
help us better appreciate the mitzvah of eating matzah.
This year in studying the mitzvah of matzah I came to the realization that when we bake the matzah
with great intensity we are not only participating in a great mitzvah, we are also participating in a
historical reenactment of great significance. When we bake the matzah with a proper understanding of
the historical and spiritual value of our efforts we will realize that we are actually connecting ourselves
in a very significant way to the generation of Moshe and to the Israelites that followed him out of Egypt.
Our Haggadah records two seemingly opposite, even contradictory, interpretations about the symbolism
The Haggadah opens by declaring that matzah is the: “Bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land
of Egypt. Ha lachma anya di achalu avhatana bearah demitzrayim.”
This suggests that matzah is the bread of affliction that we eat on Pesach in order to remind ourselves of
the bitterness of our bondage to Pharaoh. We eat the mazah in order not to forget that we were once
enslaved. Despite the fact that we are now redeemed, we didn’t always have it so good.
But towards the end of the Maggid section, the Haggadah records a second reason for the eating of
Matzah on Pesach. The Haggadah says:
“This Matzah that we eat—what is its meaning? It is because our fathers’ dough did not have time to
rise before the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed is He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.
Al shum she-lo hispik betzekam shel avoteinu lehachmitz ad sheniglah aleihem.”
According to this approach we don’t eat matzah in order to remember our afflictions in Egypt. We eat
to remember that we were redeemed by God. The matzah is a symbol of God’s ability to redeem us in
an instant. When we were redeemed it happened so quickly that the dough did not even have time to
rise, so too, whenever God redeems us in history it can happen in an instant. That is how quickly God
can change our fortunes in this world.
Matzah is a simple bread that lends itself to many contradictory feelings and interpretations.
In his book, Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today, Ari Goldman tells about
some of these contradictions. He writes about a man who buys a non-kosher hotdog on Passover and
then discards the bun and puts the treif meat in between two pieces of matzah. He writes about other
people whose desire to eat matzah is filled with contradictions as well.
At a spring party at the journalism school, the dean’s office was good enough to provide matzah on the
buffet table. One adjunct professor carefully scraped the shrimp salad off the bread and transferred it to
the matzah. “Oh I love Passover,” he was overheard saying. An old friend from Tuscon, Emily, goes one
step further. She makes sure to order the most expensive and most carefully supervised matzah, known
as matzah shmurah, but she puts all sorts of unsupervised toppings on it. Another story comes from my
friend David…David remained at a conference table and took out his matzah and hard boiled egg. As he
unwrapped it a colleague joined him and unwrapped his lunch. It was ham and cheese---on matzah. The
colleague looked at David and smiled. “Boy am I glad I am not the only one. It’s hard to explain
Passover, isn’t it?”
Such is the fate of mtzah. It has become the bread of contradictions. And we see these contradictions
all the way back in the Haggadah and even in the Torah as well!
The Haggadah views matzah as both a symbol of affliction and a symbol of redemption. This is at first
glance a contradictory message, but the more we study the concept of matzah, the more it makes
perfect sense. In its origin, Matzah was actually intended to be a contradiction to the entire society that
the Israelites found themselves living in!
These contradictory messages about matzah are found in the biblical texts.
In Sefer Shemot, even before the Israelites are redeemed from Egypt, Hashem commands the Israelites
to eat matzah on the night that the redemption will take place. This command is issued on the first day
of the month of Nissan.
Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt saying: "This month shall be [reckoned]
to you [as] the head [beginning] of months. It shall be to you the first of the months of the year.
Speak to the entire community of Israel saying, 'On the tenth [day] of this month they shall take--
- each man [shall take] a lamb for [his] family, a lamb for each household. If the [members of
the] household are too few for the [eating of a] lamb then he shall take [a lamb] [together] with
his neighbor, close by his house, according to the number of individuals. According to what the
person eats shall you make your count regarding the lamb. A flawless lamb, a yearling male must
be in your possession. You may take it from sheep or goats. You shall hold it in safekeeping
until the fourteenth day of this month, they shall slaughter it--- the entire community of Yisrael--
- between evenings [in the afternoon]. They shall take of its blood and place it on the side of the
doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they will eat [the lamb]. They shall eat the
meat during this night. It shall be roasted over fire. They shall eat it with matzos and bitter herbs.
On the first day of the month Hashem is telling the Israelites who were still enslaved in Egypt that on the
night of redemption, i.e. the eve of the 15th, they should eat a lamb with matzah and maror. Hashem
then commands them to not only eat matzah on the night that they are actually redeemed from Egypt
but also for future generations as well.
You must eat matzos for seven days, but before the first day you must remove [all] leaven from
your homes; for anyone who eats chametz, that soul will be cut off from Yisrael. [Chametz is
forbidden] from the first day [of Pesach] until [after] the seventh day. The first day shall be a
holy assembly and the seventh day shall be a holy assembly to you. No work shall be done on
them, only for [the preparation of food] which will be eaten by every person, that alone may be
done for you. You must be vigilant regarding the matzos, for on this very day I brought out your
hosts from the land of Egypt. You must preserve this day for your generations, it is an eternal
statute. In the first [month] on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening you shall eat
matzos, [continuing] until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening. For seven days no
leaven may be found in your homes, for whoever eats chametz that soul shall be cut off from the
community of Israel, whether a proselyte or a native born in the land. You must not eat anything
that is chametz. In all your dwellings you shall eat matzos. (12:15-20)
This time the commandment adds several important features: First, it is for future generations who have
already been redeemed from Egypt. Second there is a requirement to have a seven day festival
associated with the matzah. And third, there is also a prohibition against having leaven or sourdough
(seor) in your homes on this festival and against eating chametz (leavened bread) on this festival.
Since this commandment was issued on the first day of the month—two weeks before the redemption--
then obviously the reason why they were commanded to eat matzah is not because their dough did not
have time to rise on the night of redemption. Furthermore, why can’t they have any leaven in their
homes? Theoretically, the fact that they eat matzah should not require them to destroy their leaven.
For example, on the festival of Sukkot we move out of our homes and into booths, but we are not
required to destroy our homes!
In this passage the Torah does not tell us why there is a commandment to eat matzah. Nor does the
Torah tell us why specifically there is a festival of matzot for seven days. It does however hint that the
nature of matzah is redemptive as there is no mention of affliction associated with the matzah.
Several verses later the Torah tells the story of the Israelites leaving the land of Egypt and when it tells
that story it adds a different layer to the commandment to eat matzah:
The Egyptians pressed the people to hurry them---to send them out of the land, for they said,
"We are all dead men." The people took their dough before it was leavened. Their leftovers were
wrapped in their clothing, [and carried] on their shoulders. The B'nei Yisrael did as Moshe said,
and they requested of the Egyptians silver articles and gold articles and clothing. Hashem
granted the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they granted their request. They [B'nei
Yisrael thus] drained Egypt of its wealth. The B'nei Yisrael traveled from Ramseis to Sukkos.
There were about six hundred thousand males on foot besides the children. A great mixture [of
nationalities] also went up with them. There were [also] sheep and cattle, a huge amount of
livestock. They baked the dough that they had brought out of Egypt into matzoh cakes, for it
was not leavened. Since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, they had also not
prepared provisions for themselves. The habitation of the B'nei Yisrael living in Egypt lasted
four hundred and thirty years. It was at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, and on that
very day all of Hashem's multitudes went out of the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12: 33-41)
This time the Torah tells us explicitly that the children of Israel ate matzah on the night they were
redeemed from Egypt because they were redeemed in an instant and their dough did not have time to
But this cannot be the exclusive reason that we must eat matzah on Pesach. First, as we have seen, the
commandment to eat matzah was given two weeks prior to the redemption. Second, there is another
biblical text from Vayikra which we will discuss later on, that hints to the idea that there is something
fundamentally and spiritually wrong with eating leaven on Pesach.
Before we go on to the next biblical text there is another question about this passage. Why within the
context of their eating matzah does the Torah tell us that the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years? Is
there a connection between the dough not rising and the length of time that they lived in Egypt?
There is a verse from Devarim that contains both ideas about Matzah that the Haggadah relates;
namely, that maztah is the both the bread of affliction and the bread of redepmption.
The verse states:
You shall slaughter the pesach-offering to Hashem, your God, flocks of ruminants and cattle in
the place that Hashem chooses to house His Presence there. Do not eat chometz on it; seven days
are you to eat on it matzos, bread of anguish; since in haste you left the land of Egypt, so that you
remember the day of your exodus from the land of Egypt all the days of your life. And no
sourdough of yours may be seen in all of your boundary seven days; and none of the flesh may
remain overnight which you slaughtered towards the evening of the first day---until morning.
Here, the Torah calls matzah, lechem oni (bread of affliction) and tells us to eat matzah for seven days
because we left Egypt in a hurry (bechipazon).
The great commentator Ramban (R. Moses b. Nachman, 1194 –c. 1270) writes (in his commentary to
16:2): “Now this explains many things. It mentions here that matzah is bread of affliction to teach that
there is a commandment to remember that they left Egypt in a hurry, and this is an affliction for when
they were in Egypt they had meager bread (lechem tzar) and scant water. And this hints to two things.
Thus it says that ‘This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.’”
Ramban is saying that the two themes of matzah which are found in the Haggadah are rooted in this
verse. The idea of matzah as redemption is found in the fact that we left Egypt in a hurry; i.e. the
redemption happened in a split second. And second, in this verse the Torah calls matzah the bread of
affliction. Ramban suggests that it is called the bread of affliction because when the Israelites were in
Egypt they had lechem tzar. This can mean either that they had only a small amount of bread in Egypt
or else that the bread they ate in Egypt was different than the Egyptians bread; i.e. the Egyptians ate
sourdough, whereas the Israelites ate matzah.
In any case, Ramban sees this verse as pointing to two aspects of matzah: it is both the bread of
affliction and also the bread of redemption.
It seems that according to Ramban this is an intentionally conflicting message that is vitally important
for us to remember on Seder night: we must remember that our current state of redemption is a result
of our previous affliction. Who we are as a people (and as individuals) is a direct reflection of how we
were once afflicted. This must then become part of the narrative that we tell on Seder night; we must
make certain that our current situation—our actions, our beliefs, and our value-system--always reflects
our past history.
An alternative explanation of the contradictory ideas about matzah contained in this verse is offered by
the commentator, Sforno (d. Bologna, 1550). He writes (16:3):
Lechem oni: The bread they there were eating in their afflicted state. And they had no time to
leave the dough to ferment on account of the task masters pressure. Ki bechipazaon yatzata: The
reason it mentions the stress of leaving in a hurry is because in exchange for the stress of
affliction there was the stress of the haste of redemption, as it states: “I turned their mourning to
joy (Jeremiah 31:12).”
Sforno’s argument is that whether it is the bread of redemption or the bread of affliction, in both cases
matzah represents the concept of pressure being placed upon the Israelites, and more specifically, the
pressure of time. In Egypt the Israelites felt the time pressure of their masters and they could not allow
their dough to rise. And on the night of redemption, the Israelites felt the time pressure of the Master
who was redeeming them and thus they could not allow their dough to rise. On Seder night as we
recount both reasons for the matzah the message for us is that our time is so valuable and it is always
under pressure. We can either allot our time to our slave masters or to our Redeemer. In other words,
we can use our limited time in this world valuably or frivolously. All this is symbolized by the matzah.
Another explanation was suggested by one of my teachers, Rabbi Elchanan Adler , a Rosh Yeshiva at
“We might suggest an additional explanation for the link between the dual aspects of matzah by
examining the difference between the symbols of chametz and matzah. Chametz suggests
haughtiness; matzah symbolizes humility. Chametz shows itself for what it is not – it is just fluff!
Matzah is what it appears to be, without any pretensions.
It is easy to see why matzah is associated with slavery. A slave is naturally humble. He has
nothing to boast of. He has little sense of self. However, once liberated and given a chance to
express his potential in the world, it is easy for the slave to become arrogant, self-centered and
status-conscious. Therefore, the Jews needed to preserve the symbol of matzah even after their
liberation, so that they could retain an appropriate measure of humility even after their
Hence, matzah remains a symbol of destitution specifically on the festival commemorating our
freedom. The kitel is a similar symbol. The kitel is a white garment, traditionally used as a burial
shroud. The kitel is also traditionally worn by the head-of-family at each seder. The kitel is
present as a symbol of our mortality at the ceremony that emphasizes our transcendent freedom.
The matzah and the kitel both remind us to maintain our humility in the face of our newly
acquired freedom.” (Yeshiva University, Pesach To-Go, Nissan, 5768, page 8.)
All of these explanations share the common theme that the purpose of the matzah is to force us to look
at redemption in a more nuanced manner. It is not as simple as we were enslaved, but now we are
victorious, so lets start the parade and celebration! On the contrary, the message of the matzah is now
that we are redeemed we need to make certain to retain elements about God and spirituality that we
were only capable of understanding as slaves and would not be able to understand in our redeemed
state without our past experiences of slavery. Whether it be Seforno’s focus on time, or Rabbi Adler’s
focus on humility, or Ramban’s focus on the physical conditions of our enslavement, all of these ideas
force us to retain a large part of our slave experience even while we are celebrating our freedom. This is
the job of the matzah.
In order to better notice these different themes of the matzah we should bake the matzah ourselves. If
we bake it, we will not just be eating it, we will also be reenacting it. It will force us to focus more on the
mitzvah and to think about the different themse of the matzah. It will force us to understand that there
are elements of both redemption and slavery in every bite of matzah that we eat that night. As we bake
the matzah and pay great care to every single speck of flour, we will be more sensitive to the idea that
Ramban says that this was the poor person’s bread in Egypt. And as we rush to finish the matzah before
the eighteen minute session expires, we will be more sensitive to the idea that we have to use our time
valuably and that every second is precious. And as we watch our best efforts to make a perfect matzah
sometimes end in complete –lets say, “imperfection”—and we have to throw an entire batch, it
definitely reinforces the notion that matzah reminds us to maintain our humility!
All these explanations of the dual nature of matzah are beautiful and important and of course, true. But
still, there is another biblical text which tells us that there is an additional element to the matzah and
the prohibition of chametz that we must account for in our efforts to understand the commandment to
eat matzah and the prohibition of owning and eating chametz. This additional element is a theme of
matzah which tells us that if we want to truly appreciate the mitzvah of matzah we must break with the
culture of Egypt and its influence upon us.
The verse in Vayikra tells us:
All meal-offerings that you bring to Hashem are not to be made leavened (chametz), because all
sourdough (seor) and all honey you shall not burn from them a fire-offering to Hashem. You
shall bring them as a first [fruit-]offering (korban reishit) to Hashem but they shall not go up [be
placed atop] the altar as a pleasing fragrance. (Leviticus 2:11-12)
This commandment appears in the context of the grain offering (mincha) that is offered to Hashem on
the altar. We are told that this offering of grain cannot have any leavened bread or sourdough.
The Torah issues this command but does not provide us with an explanation. The commentaries offer
Baal Haturim (written by Jacob b. Asher, c. 1269-1343) comments on this verse that the offering cannot
contain chametz because chametz is inherently bad and sneaky: “The evil inclination (yetzer harah) is
similar to sourdough, and for this reason honey is also prohibited because the evil inclination appears to
man as sweetness, like honey.”
Ramban in his commentary on this verse offers another explanation in the name of Maimonides (1138-
“It is possible that the reason why we are forbidden to bring leaven and honey upon the altar is as the
Rabbi states in Moreh Nebuchim, where he says that he found it written in their books that the custom
among the idolaters was to offer all their meal-offerings only in leavened form, and to season all their
sacrifices with honey: therefore He forbade bringing them on His altar.”
So Baal Haturim sees the prohibition of using sourdough in a Temple offering as a result of a noxious
element associated with the sourdough: it reminds us of the evil inclination and we need to distance
ourselves from the characteristic of the evil inclination. He doesn’t tell us exactly how sourdough
resembles the evil inclination but we can speculate that it is because the sourdough is puffy and full of
air without real content, just like the evil inclination. (See Maharsha (1555-1631) in his commentary to
the Talmud.) This is based upon Berachot 17a which states:
“R. Alexandri on concluding his prayer, used to add the following: Master of the Universe, it is
known full well to Thee that our will is to perform Thy will, and what prevents us? The yeast in
the dough and the subjugation to foreign powers.”
In contrast, Ramban sees nothing inherently wrong chametz; it is just that idolaters used the chametz,
and for this reason God commands us not to use it in our sacrifices to Him.
However neither of these explanations account for the fact that the very next verse says that we should
use the seor under another circumstance. The pasuk states that we should use the seor and honey as a
Rashi (ad locum) explains that the korban reishit is:
You shall bring them as a first [fruit-]offering. What must you bring from sourdough and
from honey? A first [fruit-]offering--- two [loaves of] bread of Shavuot which come from
sourdough, as it is said, "unleavened shall they be baked" [along with] first-fruits from the
honey, such as the first-fruits of figs and dates.
The shetei halechem or the “two loaves” is an offering that took place on Shavuot. The first wheat of
the new crop was harvested and turned into leaven loaves and those two loaves were waved by the
kohen and then eaten by the kohanim. Unlike the grain offerings these loaves were supposed to be
leaven. So if the Baal Haturim and Ramban’s answers are correct that chametz is either inherently
problematic or else associated with paganism, why would we allow, let alone require, these loaves to be
chametz? What is about the korban reishit status of the offering that requires us to make the shetei
halechem in a leavened form?
The answer to these questions can help us understand the nature of the commandment to eat matzah
on pesach and the prohibition of eating chametz.
What exactly is prohibited on the Pesach? The Torah prohibits us from eating or possessing seor and/or
chametz (Exodus 12:15). Chametz is a term for any leavened bread and seor is sourdough.
In the ancient world leavened bread was made from a sourdough starter.
What is sourdough and where does it come from and how did it make leavened bread?
Sourdough was a technology for producing bread that originated in…ANCIENT EGYPT! It became
associated with the great technological advances of Egypt.
Here is what one source says:
“Sourdough is the oldest and most original form of leavened bread. The oldest recorded use of
sourdough is from the Ancient Egyptian civilizations.
The first recorded civilization we know about that used sourdough was the Egyptians around
1500 BC. There are many stories as to how they first discovered it, but you can probably imagine
that some bread was left out and some of the wild yeast spores that are in the air at all times got
mixed in the dough and they noticed that it rose and was lighter than the usual flat breads.
The Egyptians also made a lot of beer and the brewery and the bakery were often in the same
place. a batch of flour may have been mixed with beer and produced a light loaf of bread, or the
wild yeast spores were thick from the brewing and they got into the bread doughs and caused
them to rise considerably more than the usual wild sourdoughs.
Through trial and error they found out that some of these sourdough cultures worked and tasted
better than others. They could keep this culture alive by saving from their baking a little raw
dough and adding more flour to it, and it would produce the same flavor. This is known as a
sourdough starter. a good sourdough culture became very important to day to day living, and
even taken by explorers when they went on expeditions around the world.”
(See http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/sourdough.htm .)
Another source explains:
“The origin of bread making (sourdough bread) was first discovered and developed in Egypt.
They had the best climate and soil conditions (at the time) to grow hard wheat, and as their
knowledge grew in agricultural practices, sourdough baking became more widespread. Baking
with a sourdough culture was the first truly leavened bread. This bread was baked exclusively
from wheat with an exclusively sourdough starter-culture. As depicted in the hieroglyphs, they
seemed to have achieved fairly advanced baking technologies. This sourdough bread was the
staple food for the Egyptian dynasty until its demise.”
The historians of ancient Egypt tell us that sourdough was an Egyptian invention and was part and parcel
of the identity of ancient Egypt. A sourdough starter can last for hundreds of years if not more. Every
time sourdough bread is made a little bit of the dough can be preserved to make the next batch. In this
manner the ancient sourdough of Egypt can theoretically last forever.
Even after the children of Israel left Egypt, they still pined for the famous bread of Egypt:
The B'nei Yisrael said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of Hashem in the land of Egypt,
when we sat by pots of meat and ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us out to this desert
to cause this entire congregation to die of starvation." (Exodus 16:3)
Note that the verse does not say that the Jewish people ate the meat in Egypt, but it does say that they
ate the bread of Egypt.
By telling us that we must get rid of the sourdough from our homes and eating matzah the Torah is
commanding us to do at least three few things:
1) Break from Egypt’s culture of emphasizing bread:
The Ramban (Exodus 12:3) notes that one of the reasons for the commandment to slaughter a Paschal
lamb is because the Egyptians worshipped a lamb and by slaughtering the lamb the Israelites were
demonstrating that they were not under the dominion of the Egyptian deity. The same theory works for
the commandment to destroy our sourdough and eat matzah. By destroying the sourdough we are
emphasizing that we are not part of the Egyptian culture which invented and glorified the technology
and the achievement of sourdough. Our consumption of matzah on Pesach is thus a reminder that we
are rejecting Egyptian culture.
2) Physically and literally break our connection with Egypt
The Torah is concerned that the Jewish people will desire to return to Egypt. For this reason Hashem led
the Israelites on a circuitious path during the Exodus so that they will not be able to return (Exodus
13:17). But still the Jewish people pined for the life that they lived in Egypt (Exodus 16:3). This was such
a concern of Hashem that one of commandments given to the Jewish people is that they cannot marry
an Egyptian and that their king cannot take them back to the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 17:16).
Sourdough theoretically raised the possibility of a physical connection to the land of Egypt. A sourdough
starter bread could go back hundreds of years and actually have originated in Egypt which was a natural
place for the best sourdough to grow. By commanding us to rid our homes of sourdough every year the
Torah is ensuring that our sourdough during the year will not be Egyptian sourdough. It will have no
physical and literal connection to the land of Egypt.
3) The Torah wants us to distance ourselves from the spiritually defective idea represented by
Sourdough bread represents the idea that we have complete control over our lives. The sourdough can
be hundreds of years old and it is something preserved by families and communities. On the other
hand, redemption represents the idea of giving ourselves completely over to Hashem and not thinking
that we have total control over our lives.
How do we know that sourdough is really a spiritually defective concept and it is for this reason we need
to rid ourselves of it for one week a year?
First we already saw that Sefer Vayikra prohibits us from bringing sourdough on the altar of Hashem.
And second, as soon as we cross the sea Hashem gives us the anti-sourdough bread that will nourish us
in the desert both physically and spiritually.
Immediately after the Israelites express their longing for the bread that they ate in Egypt, Hashem
promises them manna from heaven. The manna is a different type of bread. It is a spiritual bread that
will sustain them:
The B'nei Yisrael said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of Hashem in the land of Egypt,
when we sat by pots of meat and ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us out to this desert
to cause this entire congregation to die of starvation.” Hashem said to Moshe, "Behold, I will
make bread rain from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather enough for each
day, that I may test them [to see] if they will walk in [the way of] My teaching or not. (Exodus
There are two elements that are especially noteworthy in this description of manna. The manna is
supposed to be gathered each day. Unlike sourdough which can hang around forever, manna can only
last for one day and is renewed each day. And also, the purpose of the manna is spiritual. Hashem gave
the manna in order to test the Israelites spiritually and to see if they would walk in His way? The manna
requires a daily spiritual commitment to Hashem and it is a daily reminder of the need for Hashem’s
Fresh from their experience with the sourdough of Egypt, the Israelites looked at the manna and did not
know what to make of it:
“The B'nei Yisrael saw it and said to one another, "It is a food," for they did not know [exactly]
what [kind] it was. Moshe said to them, "This is the bread that Hashem is giving you to eat.”
Sourdough is the bread of the Egyptians; manna is the “bread” of Hashem. Today, our spiritual
equivalent of manna is therefore the matzah.
“This is what Hashem has commanded: Each man shall gather his requirement of food. An omer
per person, according to the number of your people. shall each man take for those in his tent. The
B'nei Yisrael did so. They gathered it, some more, some less. However when they measured it
with an omer, the one who had taken more had no extra, and the one who had taken less, was not
lacking. They had gathered exactly enough for each one to eat. Moshe said to them, ‘Let no man
leave any over until morning.’" (Exodus 16:16-19)
We see in this description of the manna that it shares many of the elements originally associated with
the Paschal lamb. The manna was eaten according to the number of people in each tent, so too the
Paschal lamb (Exodus 12:3). The manna could not be left over till morning and neither could the Paschal
lamb (Exodus 12:10). The paschal lamb was held as a mishmeret, safekeeping from the tenth day of the
month until the fourteenth day, and so too the manna is called a mishmeret, a safekeeping:
“Moshe said, ‘This is what Hashem has commanded: Fill an omer [measure] with it to preserve it
for your generations. That they may see the bread with which I fed you in the desert when I
brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ Moshe said to Aharon, ‘Take a jar and put an omer full of
manna in it, and place it before Ad-noy to be preserved for your generations.’” (Exodus 16:32-
The manna is the spiritual equivalent of the paschal lamb. It is the reminder that we must break from
Egypt and their sourdough and commit ourselves entirely to Hashem. When the manna stopped falling
we no longer had that daily reminder of the need to separate from Egypt. Instead we preserved for one
week a year the ritual of eating matzah and ridding our homes of sourdough to teach us this lesson.
Perhaps it is for this reason that when the manna ran out and ceased to fall the very first food that our
ancestors ate was none other than matzah! Rashi tells us that the matzah the Israelites brought forth
from Egypt tasted like manna and that when they ran out of manna it was on the holiday of Pesach, so
of course they had to eat matzah!
Rashi (Exodus 16:35) writes:
“But were they not thirty days short [of 40 years]! For on the fifteenth day of Iyar the manna
descended for the the first time and on the fifteenth of Nissan it ceased, as it is said: "And the
manna ceased the next day." But [the answer is:] this indicates that in the cakes that B'nei Yisrael
brought out of Egypt they tasted a manna taste… When Moshe died in Arvos Moav on the
seventh of Adar, the manna ceased and they had sufficient manna from what they gathered on
that day until they brought the [korbon] Omer on the sixteenth of Nissan, as it is said: "’They ate
from the produce of the land on the day following the [first day of] Pesach.’"
With this reference to the sourdough of Egypt, we can use our historical knowledge to answer
the question: What is matzah? It is like the manna, the bread of Hashem that forces us to break
from the culture of Egypt. It is also the anti-bread that causes us to break from a false concept of
material security presented by reliance on the technology involved in creating sourdough.
This explains the verse in Vayikra (2:12). Sourdough cannot be used on the altar; it can only be
used as a korban reishit, a first offering. The rabbis understand that korban reishit is a reference
to the shetei halechem of Shavuot. But it can also have another hyper-literal meaning; i.e. from
here on in the sourdough that use in our lives must not be connected to the Egyptian sourdough.
It must be a new beginning and a new offering to Hashem and that will make it a korban reishit.
The manna did not fall on Shabbat. Instead our ancestors were supposed to rely on the fact that
Hashem would give us a double portion on Friday.
The spiritual message of manna and matzah is that redemption is about true reliance upon
Hashem. Only if we submit ourselves to Hashem, like our ancestors did with the manna in the
dessert and the matzah in Egypt can we expect to be fully redeemed on Pesach.
In this sense the matzah is both the bread of affliction and redemption. When we eat our matzah
and as a consequence remember our “affliction” in Egypt via the Egyptian love of the anti-
matzah sourdough and when this realization, spurs us to distance ourselves from an Egypt-like
approach to the world, then we are turning our bread of affliction into the bread of our
We have tried to answer the question: What is the nature of Matzah?
We have studied two different approaches.
The first approach looks at matzah and sees the contradictory themes of redemption and
bondage. It is a reminder to us that as we celebrate redemption we must never forget that we
were once enslaved as well and we must incorporate the spiritual lessons of our enslavement into
our redeemed state of existence.
The second approach looks at matzah and sees it as the antithesis of Egyptian culture. Egyptian
culture valued reliance upon sourdough, a human discovery. Egypt rejected the idea that we
must rely upon God for all of our needs. In contrast the matzah is our modern symbol for the
manna from heaven. When we eat the matzah we are in essence saying that even whil ewe work
every day, and even while we sweat to make a living, we know full well that all of our physical
sustenance is coming from Hashem. He was the source of the manna and He is the source of our
bread today, and of course of our matzah!
According to this second approach, when we bake matzah on the eve of Pesach we are not
simply baking bread to eat that evening. In reality we are actively participating in a tradition
which is attempting to destroy Egyptian culture. It is not enough just to eat the matzah to realize
what we are doing. We actually have to bake it. This is why the Jews had to take a paschal
lamb, tie it to a post, and smear its blood. It was an active attempt to get rid of Egyptian culture.
So too, with us today. We can no longer take a paschal lamb and tie it to our post. We have lost
that right until the Korban Pesach is reinstituted. In the meantime, all we can do is make matzah.
When we do that we are not just making matzah. We are telling the Egyptians that we are no
longer a part of their culture. And we are telling Hashem that we know that above all else we
rely upon You and You alone.