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by Yoel Spotts    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"The mincha (meal) offering may not be baked into leavened bread (chametz)" (Leviticus 6:10).



"The mincha (meal) offering may not be baked into leavened bread (chametz)" (Leviticus 6:10).

Not content with the previous verse's instruction that "it shall be eaten as unleavened bread (matzah)," the Torah makes it absolutely clear with the above prohibition that chametz is unacceptable as a meal offering. The Torah expanded this proscription in last week's portion to include all sacrifices, explaining "because all se'or (leaven) may not be burned as a fire offering to Hashem" (ibid. 2:11). Why should the Torah display such distaste for chametz, or more specifically for the leavening agent, se'or?

Although not a complete answer, the rabbis of the Talmud provide a hint by comparing se'or to the yetzer hara (evil inclination), defining the succumbing to one's base desires as the "leavening of the heart". Rabbeinu Bachya, a 14th century classic commentator, expounds on this idea by explaining that if not for this "leavening of the heart," there would be no need for sacrifices, for their entire purpose was to gain atonement for our sins. Logically, we must be careful not to include any hint of the obstacle which caused us to sin in the medium which provides forgiveness. Therefore, no se'or, the representation of the yetzer hara, could be included in an offering to Hashem.

As mentioned, this cannot serve as a complete solution, as we are left with an obvious problem: What properties characterize se'or which warrant such a close connection to the yetzer hara? What similarities mark the two as companions?

In fact, we have already hinted above at what appears to be the solution by referring to sinning as the "leavening of the heart". What causes one to sin? What leads one to stray from Hashem? A serious examination will reveal that the root cause of all sin is arrogance. By overestimating our own importance, we effectively remove Hashem, even if ever so slightly, from our consciousness so that we can proceed on our desired path. By allowing our hearts to rise, we feel ourselves to be self-sufficient, not needing Hashem's constant supervision and sustenance.

The connection between se'or and the evil inclination now becomes clear. Bread is an illusion. Yeast causes a tiny volume of dough to expand to a remarkable size. However, the size is deceiving - it is mostly filled with air. Bread may look impressive, but it is really nothing. The yetzer hara works the same way. It convinces a person that he is all important, inflating a person's ego to grand proportions. But it's all a ploy - it's based on nothing. The yetzer hara builds a facade of grandeur, causing a person to "forget" about Hashem and rely totally on his own might, while in reality he is nothing, existing only because Hashem wills it so. The yetzer hara and the se'or are indeed one and the same.

Of course, this week's Torah portion is not the only time we find a prohibition of chametz. With the holiday of Passover quickly approaching, it seems only appropriate that we examine the Torah's disdain for chametz specifically on that holiday. Passover, as is clear from the Torah, celebrates our freedom from Pharaoh and the exodus from Egypt. However, we did not become totally free from servitude at the time of the redemption. Rather, we gained a new master, albeit a much more favorable one - Hashem. Passover marks the time that we became devoted servants only to Hashem, for it is He who redeemed us from Egypt. Thus, Passover is a fitting time to focus on our absolute devotion to Hashem by totally nullifying ourselves. Therefore, the Torah prohibited se'or on Passover as a reminder to concentrate on this required humility. The meticulous cleaning and scrupulous searching for chametz which precede Passover can be more than a mere annoyance. The crusty matzah usually does not taste quite the same as the bread of the rest of the year. But hopefully, these reminders will prompt us to eradicate not only the chametz that exists in our homes, but in our hearts as well.


Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.

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