Adapted from an article by Rav Yoel Bin-Nun in Megadim #13


Chametz and Matza appear several times in the Torah in several different contexts. There are times when chametz is forbidden and matza is obligatory, times when chametz is obligatory, and times when both are required. A close look at all of the occurrences of these two breads throughout the Torah will show that there is one, overarching approach to them that determines which one is used where, and why one may be not be used in certain cases.

First, we must examine the appearances of chametz and matza in the Torah.

1) Pesach (the day of the 14th of Nissan and the night of the 15th), when chametz is forbidden via a negative commandment and matza is obligatory.

2) Chag HaMatzot (from the day of the 15th until the end of the holiday), when chametz is forbidden on penalty of spiritual excision (kareit) and matza is permitted but not obligated.

3) The two loaves brought on Chag HaBikkurim (Shavuot), which were connected to the Omer brought on the 16th of Nissan and had to be chametz (Vayikra 23:17).

4) Mincha offerings, which were not allowed to have any chametz (Vayikra 2:11-12).

5) Thanksgiving offerings (Todah), which consisted of three types of matza and one type of chametz.

6) Milu'im offerings, brought by the priests during the consecration of the Mishkan, which consisted of the same matza as the Todah, but without the chametz.

7) The ram brought by a Nazir after completing his time as a Nazir, which was accompanied by two types of matza.

8) The 'Minchat Chinuch' brought by a new priest upon his induction, which was similar to the Milu'im.

9) The prohibition of bringing any chametz onto the altar itself (sacrifices which required chametz to be brought involved the waving of the chametz, but not the actual offering of it).

How are we to understand chametz and matza? Chametz represents the completion of a process, of the bread rising to its fullest and, symbolically, of one who reaches an apex in terms of material wealth. On the other hand, matza stands for a process that was aborted midway and is left incomplete. To extend this idea, we can say that chametz is a rich man's bread, while matza is 'lechem oni,' the bread of poverty and affliction. This basic explanation will help us to understand our cases listed above.



A person who brings a sacrifice, like one who prays, stands before Hashem and feels a sense of smallness and deficiency in His presence. As such, it is impossible to stand before the altar with a feeling of self-worth or wealth, a feeling that one's own strengths produced the goods that he is now offering to Hashem. As such, chametz is forbidden to be offered on the altar. By contrast, the first fruits brought every year (bikkurim), which represented a successful harvest, could not be brought on the altar itself, as they too could be mistaken for a symbol of man's strength. Thus, they were brought near the altar, but not actually onto it. Man is commanded to use only matza at this time of what seems to be a personal triumph. Specifically when the Jews come into the land and when they bring their first fruits they are told to remember their struggles in the desert, when only the good graces of Hashem saved them from their ordeals. No sign of haughtiness or personal achievement is permitted in such a context.



A Todah was brought by one who had been in a perilous situation and was saved, and thus it involves both matza and chametz, the former to symbolize the hardships and the latter in celebration of his salvation. An interesting parallel can be seen between this sacrifice and Tehillim 107, the chapter that lays out the four cases when a person would say a "birchat ha-gomel" - after recovering from illness, being released from prison, crossing a desert, and crossing an ocean. The psalm is structured as follows: each of the four cases is described first in terms of the suffering itself, followed by the crying out to Hashem done by the one who is suffering, followed by the salvation sent from Hashem, and concluding with the thanks offered by the individual who is saved. It is very simple to suggest that the first three steps are paralleled by the three types of matza offered, while the salvation is paralleled by the one type of chametz that is brought.



These two sacrifices are brought by a priest at the beginning of his service in the Temple. That service began with his consecration and continued for the rest of his life, without any defined point of completion. As such, only matza, the symbol of an ongoing process, was deemed appropriate to be included in this offering.



Placing the offering brought by a Nazir into our theory will help to explain better the whole concept of what it means for one to be a Nazir. The period when a person separates himself from society as a Nazir is not an end in and of itself, but rather is a preparatory stage for a better and more devout life that is to follow this period of time. As such, the Nazir brings only matza, as he is merely at the beginning of a process that will hopefully continue until the end of his life. He is thus similar to a priest who is just entering the service, and thus he brings two types of matza.

Through this explanation we can better understand why the Torah refers to a Nazir who becomes defiled through contact with a dead body as a sinner. According to Rabi Eliezer HaKappar, he sinned by afflicting himself by having to restrain himself from drinking wine. According to Rabi Yishmael, his sin is in his becoming defiled. While the simple reading of the verses seems to tend towards the view of Rabi Yishmael, we can now gain a better understanding of the first opinion as well. A Nazir whose period of separation is prematurely ended and deemed void has denied himself wine for no purpose. Had there been any inherent value to the period of separation we would not say this, but as the entire time that one is a Nazir he is merely preparing himself for his life afterwards, all of his actions are deemed to be worthwhile only when he completes the time period apart from society. A Nazir whose time ends early has, in retrospect, removed himself from the world that Hashem has given him for no reason, and thus is deemed to be a sinner (see Mesillat Yesharim for the Jewish attitude on asceticism).

We can also understand the difference between the offerings of the Nazir and that of the priests. The former brings only two types of matza while the latter brings an additional type. Why is this so? The priests, by entering the service, enter a new life on a higher level, and thus include a more enriched type of matza (revucha) with their offering. By contrast, a Nazir, upon the completion of his term, returns to a normal life and thus does not include anything symbolizing richness in any way.



Our theory can now be used to very neatly explain the requirements surrounding chametz and matza on Pesach and on Chag HaMatzot. On the night of Pesach in Egypt, the Jews still sat in slavery, and in such a situation there was no room for chametz. The Paschal lamb was eaten with bitter herbs and matza, the true bread of affliction. At midnight, Hashem came down and redeemed the Jews, fulfilling generations of hope and promises. However, the redemption was still far from complete. The Egyptians, as it were, pushed them out of the door, right into the vast desert wasteland where wild animals surrounded them and no water was to be found. Jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, the Jews underwent a process of redemption that was a long and difficult one. They had only matza with them to eat, and chametz, a bread of luxury, was the farthest thing from their minds at this point in history.

This dichotomy can explain the differences in the obligations and prohibitions between these two holidays. On Pesach itself, matza is an obligation, stemming from its role in the original Pesach sacrifice, and chametz is forbidden merely by way of a negative commandment. By contrast, chametz on Chag HaMatzot is swept away completely, to the point where we are commanded not to see it and one who eats it receives kareit. Involving oneself with chametz during the holiday that celebrates the redemption process is to effectively deny the entire process and thus to cut oneself off from the nation. In response to that, one receives a punishment whereby he is cut off, as he has already effectively done so to himself. In this context, matza is not obligatory, but it is the only type of bread that one may eat.



We now have a device by which we can solve one of the age-old debates in Jewish history. Vayikra 23:15 speaks of the counting of the Omer and the Omer-sacrifice, and says that it was to begin on "the day after the Shabbat." Tradition held this to mean the day after the first day of Pesach, while various sects such as the Sadducees claimed that Shabbat here meant a real Shabbat, i.e. the seventh day of the week. A closer look at this entire chapter plus the theory that we have developed will shed light on the view of our sages.

Chapter 23 is, in effect, a double-chapter. It deals with the Jewish calendar and the holidays that fall out during the course of the year, and it reflects the two aspects of that calendar - the solar and the lunar. The solar aspect of the calendar deals with the holidays in terms of their agricultural significance (see Shemot 23), while the lunar side of the calendar treats the holidays in terms of their historical relevance. The solar aspect deals in terms of the words "Shabbat" and "Shabbaton," as the holidays come as rests from working the field at times of harvest. By contrast, the lunar side to the calendar discusses the positive commandments associated with the holidays, encouraging us to actively celebrate and memorialize our national history.

We can thus understand why the sages interpreted "Shabbat": here to mean the day after Pesach and not Saturday. The Omer is connected to the first fruits and to the harvest, and thus is connected to the idea of Shabbaton, but not to Shabbat (Saturday) itself. We can also understand why the Torah did not say "the day after Pesach." The Omer is not a continuation of Pesach in any way, but rather is its parallel in the calendar (space prevents me from presenting here the parallel structure of the entire chapter as displayed in Rav Bin-Nun's article). Thus, the Omer beings a process that leads ultimately to Shavuot and the bringing of the two loaves, which were chametz.



Chag HaBikkurim serves as the completion of two processes. First, as the completion of the redemption process, as it marks the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, and second, as the mark of the Jews' firm settlement in the land of Israel, as designated by the bringing of the first fruits. The Torah refers to this day either as the Festival of the first fruits or the Festival of the harvest, and thus the stress is clearly on the agricultural side of the day. As it is clearly a pinnacle in that regard, chametz is brought, symbolizing the completion of the agricultural process.

The aspect of the day that connects to the giving of the Torah also relates to this, although the connection is a more indirect and is not stated explicitly in the Torah. Based on the verses in Shemot 19, one has to concede that the Torah was given on, or at least close to, the fiftieth day after Pesach. If we look ahead, we see that the Jews were scheduled to enter the Land exactly around this time the following year (see Bamidbar 10:11-13, which speaks of the end of Iyar. Add in the eleven day journey described in Devarim 1:2, and the beginning of Sivan is reached). These two events, the giving of the Torah and the entrance into Israel, were the twin purposes of the Exodus.

Without going into too many of the details here, a quick scan of the first half of the Book of Yehoshua will reveal several parallels to the story of the giving of the Torah and the entire stay in the desert. Similar to the Exodus, Yehoshua also brings the nation across a body of water, performs a Brit Mila on the males, and does the Paschal sacrifice. It is precisely at that point that Hashem tells him that "today I have removed the shame of Egypt from upon you." What the generation of the desert failed to do, namely enter the Land, their children had done. Now, those children were re-enacting the steps first taken by their parents when they left Egypt. Beyond that, the capture of Jericho echoes the giving of the Torah. The miracles performed at each, clearly revealing the presence of Hashem, are obvious both in terms of the stories in general and in terms of many similarities in the verses (compare Shemot 19 and Yehoshua 6). Connecting this to what we said before, we can see that both the giving of the Torah and the entrance into the Land have strong ties to the time of year surrounding the fiftieth day after Pesach. As such, this day serves as a day of completion in all of its aspects. Given that, it is very appropriate that the communal sacrifice brought on that day include specifically chametz, symbolizing this high point of the year from both an agricultural and an historical perspective.

Back to Chabura-Net's Home Page