By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
The Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt is a defining moment in the birth of our nation, and every part of the Torah’s description of it is considered a guiding light for the future of our people.
One peculiar aspect of the story is found in the repetitive warning about not eating chametz.
Imagine: you are trying to pack to leave Egypt with 3,000,000 other people, the future is up in the air, the emotions are intense, the excitement is off the charts, and G-d comes along and repeats many times that you should not eat chametz.
Not only that, but He goes on to say that you need to make matzos, and that these matzos need to be eaten for seven days, and that you will be doing this for seven days every year for the rest of your life.
Oh, and one more point — if you do eat chametz during any of these times, you are committing a terrible sin.
Couldn’t G-d have waited till we got settled before giving us this extra baggage? Why was He so insistent that this had to be part and parcel of leaving Egypt? Did He not think of the reaction so many Jewish moms in Egypt would have when faced with this challenge on top of all the other ones?
Obviously, G-d had a very good reason for making such a strong demand at this early stage in the birth of the Jewish people. The importance of not having any chametz must be so central to the Exodus itself that without it, the whole journey would be missing a key element.
Let’s start our explanation by understanding that the closest food to chametz we have in our house during Passover is matzah, and there is a close relationship between the two. They are both made of flour and water, with matzah just missing the yeast that causes chametz to rise.
In fact, two of the three letters that spell “matzah” and “chametz” are the same — the mem and the tzadi. Only the hei in matzah and the ches in chametz differentiate the two words. These two letters are very similar, with the only difference being the small window in the upper left corner of the hei.
In this window lies the answer to our questions above. Chametz leaves no window for the hot air to escape, and, as a result, chametz products rise. Matzah does not become something more than what is really is—simple flour and water.
On the other hand, chametz is swollen to appear to be more than what its simple ingredients would normally produce.
Chassidic thought explains that the chametz represents the negative aspect of one’s ego, which keeps one out of touch with his true self, and tries to make him appear to himself and others to be more than who he really is.
G-d’s message to the Jewish people is clear: I can take you out physically, but you have to take yourself out spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. That job must start immediately upon your exit from Egypt, and must be part of your journey to Mt. Sinai — and for generations to come.
That exodus is going to be an ongoing one that will challenge you from year to year. And every year at this time, you must do an inventory to see how well you are keeping the negative aspects of your ego in check.
Without those annual reminders, a person can easily become consumed by his ego, to the point of becoming an arrogant individual. Such a person is far from free, but rather is a true slave of his ego, just like Pharaoh and the Egyptians were.
Only through keeping the self in check are we able to let Hashem into the many dimensions of our lives. This is what the Haggadah means when it says that “each individual has to see himself as if he is coming out of Egypt.” This is the challenge of the Jewish people from the day of our founding. This is the path for us to connect to Hashem and become a true vessel for His blessings and for fulfilling the important purpose He has for all us.
Best wishes to all my readers for a kosher and freilichen Pesach!
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.