Selected Sermon/Article
2001-04-14 Shabbos/Pesach 7th day by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Matzah: the Timeless Tool
Dateline, TEL AVIV. Hand over that hamburger -- it's a violation of the law.

That's the message from Israeli government inspectors,checking plates of food on restaurant tables and confiscating bread and other leavened products

We're well familiar that that during Pesach, we're not allowed to own, much less eat, bread or other products with leaven in them.

But in Tel Aviv, where the overwhelming majority of residents are nonobservant Jews, many restaurants continue serving the forbidden food.

They used to get away with it. Now they're facing the bread police.

At Cafe Alexander, a popular Tel Aviv watering hole, inspectors entered the restaurant this past week checked for bread on diners' plates, confiscated incriminating evidence -- a roll -- and fined the owner 100 shekels, about $25.

The aggressive enforcement of the no-leaven law angered Shaul Yahalom, a member of the Orthodox Jewish National Religious Party, which sponsored the law. He said it applies only to restaurants and stores displaying bread products in their windows, not to cafes serving them inside.

A meal of a very different type is described in Sefer Beraishis, where in Parshas Vayayrah (19:3) the Torah relates that two angels came to the city of Sodom. One angel was on a mission to save Avraham Avinu's nephew Lot, the second to destroy Sodom and four other wicked cities. Following in the footsteps of his illustrious uncle, the Torah states that Lot greeted his two 'guests' with a feast. Lot learned the mitzvah of 'hachnas orchim' -- hospitality -- from the best that there ever was. As an aside, the Torah also points out that Lot prepared one special food for this meal. The Torah says, "U'matzos afah" -- he baked matzohs.

I like matzah and whipped butter as much as the next guy -- but given a choice between my wife's home baked challah and matzah, the matzah wouldn't have much of a chance. Why did Lot, in the spirit of hospitality, serve his guests matzah? The plot thickens, when Rashi (on this verse) points out "Pesach haya" -- 'it was Pesach.' The Exodus from Egypt took place 400 years from the time of Avraham and Lot -- yet Lot is serving matzah, because it's Pesach? How are we to understand what the Torah is teaching?

I once saw a poster in a subway that depicted a girl of 4 or 5, holding a robot. The caption read, "Times Change, Values Don't" This thought certainly holds true for the Torah, in that while history occurs and passes before our eyes, the values and lessons of the Torah are eternal.

We read a bit further in the Torah that when Moshe came to Pharoah, demanding that Bnai Yisrael be released to serve God, Pharoah uttered a famous response. "Your people are lazy," Pharaoh responded, "and it's quite clear to me that your people have way too much time on your hands. Such thoughts of serving God come from not being preoccupied with physical labor. Therefore, collect your own straw, but produce the same number of bricks"

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in his introduction to 'Derech HaShem', states that Pharaoh represents the prototype of the yetzer hara -- the evil inclination. The yetzer hara is content to allow us to fritter our life away with trivial, meaningless activities that waste our time. Once, however, we begin to ask questions of monumental importance such as, "What am I living for?", "What is life about?", and "Let My people go, that they might serve Me" -- the yetzer hara employs every method available at his disposal to distract us from asking such questions. Pharaoh is dead and gone; the yetzer hara, which Pharaoh represents, is still hard at work.

To return to the original question; how did Abraham and Lot keep Pesach 400 years before the Egyptian Exodus? We can suggest the following answer. While matzah was baked because Bnai Yisrael didn't have enough time to allow their bread to rise in their hasty departure from Egypt, Avraham Avinu was able to notice two peculiar things.

Someone who has a very highly developed degree of spiritual sensitivity, can tell the difference between Shabbos, and the 6 other days of the week. Even on a deserted island, having lost track of time, a Jew who is in touch with 'kedusha' can tell when Shabbos is. Similarly, Avraham Avinu, who kept Shabbos before the mitzvah of Shabbos was given, was able to 'feel' when Pesach -- the holiday of freedom -- was 'in the air.' Avraham thus decided that the plain flat bread known as 'matza' was appropriate to eat during this time of year. Regular bread and puffy, inflated chometz represents the ego. The flat simple bread known as matzah, Avraham felt, was a perfect 'tool' to use to help inculcate the idea of spiritual freedom, that would later be celebrated as Pesach. Thus, Avraham and Lot served matza and 'kept' Pesach.

"This year we are slaves, but next year we will be free," we said in the Haggadah. This year, we still are slaves. Slaves to our desires. Slaves to bad habits. Slaves to the lack of consideration we show to people who we really care about. Slaves to what holds us back from being the best possible Jew that we can be.

We have two more days to eat 'the bread of freedom', and obtain freedom from our own forms of slavery, while over the next two days we celebrate the splitting of the Yam Suf, our deliverance from Egypt through the Hands of the Almighty. Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov