The purpose of the Passover classes is to take a piece of Hagadda and analyze it beyond what the naked eye can see. The Hagaddah is one of the most crafted pieces of literature in the liturgy. Within the Talmud, Pirkei Avot dominates the commentaries, but outside Talmud, nothing gets as much attention as the Hagaddah.
In this very library are three shelves, in English, on the Hagaddah; around 150 books that are just commentaries on the Hagaddah.
Now the story of the Hagaddah is introduction, but it says if you don't do these things, right before you eat, you must be sure to mention on passover night; matza, maror, and sacrifices, and if you're not aware of these three objects on passover night, you didn't fulfill the mitzvah.
And the author of the Hagaddah begins to translates what each mitzvah represents, so lets go a little deeper and talk about Matza.
Why do we eat matza, (A) When G-d took the jews out of Egypt there was no time for it rise and therefore we eat matza on passover night. Was that the only thing we ate? Its as if no one ate anything but matza, the way it's described.
A: This Matza that we eat -- what does it recall? That our forefather's dough did not have time rise before the King redeemed them, as it is written: "And they baked unleavened cakes from the dough they were taking from Egypt, cakes which had not risen, because the Egyptians drove our forefathers, and they could not tarry, and they could not even prepare provisions for the way" (Shemot 12:29)
When we speak about Matza in the commentaries, it usually falls into two main ideas:
1. Matza is the flip-side of bread. It speaks to humility. Bread shows ego; it's puffed up. Matza shows humility, doesn't have self-posturing. The mystics say it's the difference between matza and chametz, both three letters, the only difference is the chet vs hey. Even those letters look the same, but the hey in Matza is broken, and open. The chet in chametz is closed. One hey in Matza has humility and allows space for something other than itself. The Chet is closed and the self doesn't allow for additional things within it.
Jonathan Sax, chief rabbi in England has a very close relationship with the Rebbe zl. As a student at Oxford, he wrote a letter to the Rebbe, "I'm graduating Oxford and I've done philosophy, psychology, Hebrew education, world religions, and I'm not sure what I should go. Should I become a Rabbi, a Scholar, a Philosopher, join the family business? Please guide me."
He gets an envelope back with this own letter and as he looks at his own letter, it doesn't seem to have changed, no note on it, no note from the Rebbe, nothing. But as he looked closer, he noticed the Rebbe circled all the Is. He'd used "I" 48 times. There was no room for anything to enter and teach him because there was only room for the Is. Like the Chametz.
If the letter is broken, like the hey is broken, there's some space there. The Frierdiker Rebbe zl used to say"There's nothing more whole than a broken heart," in that brokenness you can be more complete, there's room for growth and change.
2. Why matza and the rush of matza, because G-d rushed the Jews out of Egypt. You'll be in Egypt for 400 years was the promise, but G-d took them out after 210, he rushed them out; similar to a bread where baking takes longer after the rising which also takes longer, but if you flatten it, it bakes quicker; if you rush it, it bakes quicker.
How does G-d change his mind? Was G-d worried he'd lose the Jewish people in Egypt? Or was it because of the Jewish community doing things or experiencing things that changed his mind? Another question for another time. In this discussion, Matza shows the rush of the Jews even though Matza is not rough bread, it's not bread that hasn't risen, it doesn't have yeast at all.
These are the ideas you commonly see when you talk about the Matza, but lets talk about
3. Another idea, from the Jerusalem Talmud, they quote Amos, the prophet.
Some background on Amos: The Kingdom in the north and south of Judea were at peace. Amos was a northern prophet. The wealth of the nation was such that the nation became split between upper class and lower class. They adapted Syrian ideas and brought idolatry into the Temple, (like putting a Christmas tree in the synagogue) and Amos, who was a pretty upbeat prophet, would cry from his heart and plead with them, "go away from what you're doing." So the Jerusalem Talmud analyzes this peace that talks about bringing in alien customs.
The Passover festival has a very unique twist; specific to it. If on Sukkot you have the lulav, does it have anything to do with other cultures? Do they use myrtle or palm in any special way? No. There's no relationship. We're not taking an element of another culture and breaking or transforming it. Are we making Kiddish on Shabbat, because we need to undo something they do, or transform or elevate an activity that belongs to another culture? And when we don't things that the non-Jews do; that commandment isn't usually given as a positive commandments. It's a prohibition. You're not allowed to cut your hair in a circular fashion, for example, because that's a thing that the non-Jews do, like Hari Krisnah or Franciscan monks. So there's a prohibition against having a circular haircut; When you cut, you leave corners. But on Passover there's a positive commandment to undo what was going on, what had been brought into the Jewish community but was foreign to Judaism.
There's a Midrash that you should sacrifice a lamb (B) and they held the lamb in their homes for 4 days, sacrificed it, and then left Egypt. They tied it to the bedpost. Moses asked G-d why they would do then the lamb is the Egyptian G-d and the sign of spring. And then the spring came and the lambs were born, the Egyptians felt like they controlled nature. They had water and they took the zodiac sign of the lamb as a symbol of spring and god.
Israel will not depart from Egypt without slaughtering the Egyptian god to prove that their gods were nothing, and only G-d is G-d. The Jews need to slaughter the Egyptian culture that kept into their lives, like the Egyptian gods.
B: DRAW OUT AND TAKE YOU LAMBS. Another interpretation: It is written "Ashamed be all they that serve graven images" (Ps. XCVII,7). When the Holy One, blessed be He told Moses to slay the paschal lamb, Moses answers: "Lord of the Universe! How an I possibly do this thing? Dost Thou not know that the lamb is the Egyptian god?" As it is said: Lo, if we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they nt stone us? (Ex. VIII, 22) G-d replied: 'As though livest, Israel will not depart from here before they slaughter the Egyptian gods before their very eyes, that I may teach them that they gods are really nothing at all." This is what He actually did;
Midrash (Exodus XVI. 3-4)
G-d says the only way I can make this successful is to take them away from what they have adapted as a culture. So he made a Mitzvah to bring the passover lamb, represented by the shankbone. We model the mitzvah, but do not attempt to mimic it exactly. It's not simply something that has to do with you becoming a new people, it needs to detach you from what you were. The lamb was about breaking away from their past, removing them from foreign ideas.
Built into this holiday is this message of detaching yourself, undoing, things that are alien.
G-d gives the 10 commandments. G-d gives the law. and Moses goes up the mountain and the Jews make a golden calf. G-d is upset, destroys the idol, Moses goes back up the mountain and returns with the second set of tablets. "G-d speaks to Moses saying (C)
C: Don't make an Idol. The feast of unleavened bread shall you keep...."
(Exodus 34 17-18)
The way you'll observe passover is that you understand that you shouldn't do idols. Passover and idols become connected.
The Zohar says (D) "Why does, "Do not worship idols and the festival of unleavened bread come together?" If you eat leavened bread during passover, it's as if you worship idols. Talmud says, anger is like idol worship, because you show that you believe you deserve it and you're not open to saying maybe you don't. G-d says, in the room that an egotist is in, I can't enter.
Quick Chassidic story: Agudat party in Israel started in the 1800 where the Chassidic and Luthuianian scholars got together to discuss issues and find common ground. Zionism, Army service, secular education, etc where the issues they handled. In one of the meetings a Chassidic master, Reb Mendel Kotska asked, "Where's G-d?" addressing them. "Will you let him in?" and then he walked out of the conference. If you let him in, He's there. If you don't, He's not. Anger shows that you let no one in. Never try to appease someone when he's angry (Talmud) and you'll make him angrier, and you'll accomplish nothing.
The Talmud equates a few simple ideas with idolatry, someone who fools someone, gave them false hope or illusions, for example. So the Zohar brings a similar idea, maybe?
Or maybe not. Maybe the Zohar is really teaching us something. The reason Jews ate a Korbon Pesach had to do with idolatry.
G-d is continually reminding me us, not just where we're going, but also what we're getting away from. We're getting away from unleavened bread and going towards Matza. Just as we're going away from the idolatry of Egypt to Judaism.
Baal Haturim states(E) it is forbidden to benefit from selling leaven on Passover just as you're forbidden to benefit from idols.
E: The verse of "The Festival of Matzas," is juxtaposed with the verse about "molten gods." This indicates that it is forbidden to benefit from idots, just as [it is forbidden to benefit] from leaven on Passover.
from Baal Haturim Elucidated
This is beyond an issue of Kosher/non-Kosher, which you can make a living on selling non-Kosher, you can't make a living selling leaven on Passover, you can't have pleasure from it. Built into the reason you don't eat leaven is this idea of removing yourself from idolatry.
In RAMBAM's Guide to the Perplexed - (F) He talks about how sacrifices are a pagan custom, that G-d reintroduces to allow the Jews to not have to break with everything familiar. And in his commentary, he talks about the incense offering, Idoloters offer leavened bread and honey as sacrifices, but not salt. This was the odor that hides the horrible smell of animal sacrifices. They seasoned their sacrifices with honey. Thus the mincha offering was unleavened and had salt. But that's why generally we don't use honey with our bread throughout the year, we use salt. But in the world of idolotry leaven was a form of a sacrifice. And unleavened is about moving away from a foreign relationship. In the Temple, they used unleavened bread to move away from idolotry.
F: Insomuch as the idolaters offered only leavened bread and made many offerings of sweet things and seasoned their sacrifices with honey, as it generally recognized in the books that I have mentioned to you, and thus no salt was to be found in any of their offerings, He, may He be exaulted, forbade offering up any leaven or any honey and command that salt always be offered: With all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.
(RAMBAM's Guide to the Perplexed vol III)
The tractate of Avoda Zarah (G) on the first page, discuses the prophesy of Amos as it relates to idolotry.
G: The Torah has said, "[When you offer a sacrifice of peace offering to the Lrd, you shall offer it so you may accepted]. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, or on the morrow[; and anything left over until the third day shall be burned with fire." (Lex. 19:5-6)
And Idolatry has said, "...your tithes on the third day," (Amos 4:4)
The Torah has said, "You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread (Ex. 23:18)
And idolatry has said, "Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened."
Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Avoda Zara 1:1
So they sit and celebrate for days; it's not a Jewish custom. The Jewish method of sacrificing an animal is to eat it within two days so there's more incentive to share it broadly including to the Cohain and Levite families, rather than keep it to your own family and friends.
Next piece says they have started eating leavened bread and offering leavened bread as a sacrifice. And we are distinct in that even when we have sacrifices, they are done differently. There's a break between what they do and what we do.
Josiah (Yishayahu) was a prophet in the time of King Chesky who was Menashe's grandson. Menashe was one of the worst kings ever. He was the downfall of the first temple.
Along comes his grandson with Yishayahu and starts turning the country around and Yishayahu was this powerful man and he accomplished things in the Jewish community that hadn't been done. He chased out foreign nations and really turned the country around.
So in Kings II (H) looking at his last great story before he died in battle; he goes back to Jerusalem and reclaims it from the Jews. In order to do that, he has remove the dead bodies of foreign priests from holy sites and remove and the idols from the Temple.
And after this done, the King commands the people to perform a Passover sacrifice. And the text states that such as a Passover sacrifice has not been performed since the time of the Judges. They didn't have a celebration of passover like that one.
H: And also all the temples of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria that the kings of Israel had made [in order] to anger, Josiah removed and he did to them like all the deeds he had done in Bethel....And the king commanded the people saying, "Perform a Passover sacrifice to the Lord your G-d, as it is written in this scroll of the covenant. For such a Passover sacrifice had not been performed since the time of the Judges who judged Israel and all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judea. Except in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover sacrifice was performed to the Lord, in Jerusalem. Kings II 23:19,21-23)
What precipitated that? They removed the idols, they cleaned out that attachments to the negative, foreign past, to move forward to the Jewish future. They weren't running away from idolatry. Built into the Passover, it isn't just about who you are becoming as a people, it's also what you're closed off from your past; the idolatry of foreign nations.
The matza and the chametz tie into idolotry.
In Judaism, we are so proactive, and we talk about things in futuristic terms. We don't like to look back. We don't like to talk about looking back. So why celebrate Passover? If the whole reason for passover is to become a nation and a people on Mt. Sinai, why talk about the people and the nations that affected us; it was a means to an end - Shavuot! We should add to Shavuot, you know that we got here, because we went through Egypt, as a footnote. Must we talk about it? Must we make a holiday about it? It's the past? It's a negative experience. The whole positive experience that emerges is that we have become a people.
As the commentaries says that you shouldn't write commentaries about the middle of dayanu, because it's not the end of the story. You need to continue. Taking us out of Egypt is the middle of the story, you don't stop in the middle of the story. We're uncomfortable with the middle of the story, because it's not pretty.
But here, we build our holiday around this middle piece. We celebrate it. We glorify it. It's the most celebrated holiday in Israel. Compare Passover to Shavuot! Although Shavuot is the culmination of the story, it doesn't get the press of Passover. So why not? Why must we look at the future and the past on Passover? Why do we need to learn to undo the foreign things about who we are? In order to move forward. It's about a Jew understanding that he has to undo foreign things within him in order to go forward.
[Perhaps that's why Hagaddah starts the story with Abraham who removed himself from foreign things?]
If you don't undo ego, leavening, you can't forward. You can't truly become a Jewish people, you can't become a nation, until you let go of what you had from foreign nations.
Idols were not some crazy idea, it was worshiping elements in nature that people can relate to, and see. Because its superior to us, we worship it. But it's something tangible that you can observe and analyze and interact with.
Along comes G-d and says, "That's leavened bread. That's just about building up your own perceptions. It's not about how you find things and control things. It's about the ability to allow G-d, unleavened bread, into your life, to become a Jewish people.
Taking foreign things out of your life is as important as being able to celebrate and allow G-d into your life. Without removing the foreign things, there is no room for G-d to enter.