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Torah Sparks

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesach
April 3, 2010 - 19 Nisan 5770

Torah (Exodus 33:12-34:26) Etz Hayim p. 538; Hertz p. 362
Maftir (Numbers 28:19-25) Etz Hayim p. 932; Hertz p. 695
Haftarah (Ezekiel 37:1-14): Etz Hayim p. 1307; Hertz p. 1015

Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Following the sin of the Golden Calf, God tells Moses to lead the people to the land He has promised, but that God Himself will no longer go in the midst of the people. Moses once again steps forward on behalf of the people and God relents. Moses asks to see God but God refuses, saying, “man may not see Me and live.” Moses ascends Mount Sinai and receives the revelation of God's Thirteen Attributes.

God tells Moses that He will drive the Canaanites out of the land He has promised to Israel. For their part, the Israelites must destroy the Canaanite holy places and shun idolatry.

God speaks to Moses about Shabbat and the three pilgrimage festivals, including “the Feast of Unleavened Bread.”

After forty days, Moses descends the mountain with the second set of tablets.

The maftir reading describes the offerings that were to be brought to the Temple on Pesach.

1. Z'man Cheiruteinu - The Season of Our Liberation

This day shall be to you one of remembrance: you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout the ages; you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time. (Exodus 12:14)

  1. Someone who regards the exodus from Egypt as nothing more than an exodus from slavery to freedom will ask: why should we celebrate this event in our times? Someone who understands that it was a spiritual exodus from impurity to holiness will celebrate the festival in exile as well. If “you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord” in the second sense, then you will keep it as a feast forever. (Meshekh Hokhma (Rabbi Meir Simha Hakohen of Dvinsk), 1843-1926, Latvia)
  2. “We were slaves.” “Our ancestors served idols.” (Passover Haggadah) The momentous multiple meanings of the seder are synthesized between these two apparently unrelated statements, flashbacks, recalling our inglorious past. For to say that we celebrate our deliverance from slavery is both an oversimplification and an understatement. On the one hand, we celebrate freedom on a physical, political, and national level, freedom springing from a climactic happening in the history of our people - and of the world. On the other hand, we also celebrate the spiritual, personal, and religious aspects that constitute the overriding reason for the Exodus: God's choice of Israel as His witnesses. As a result of the Exodus, we became a nation dedicated to God, devoted to His service and His Torah. (Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, The Rabbinical Assembly, p. 34)
  3. In each generation, every individual should feel as though he or she had actually been redeemed from Mitzrayim. In an ideal sense, all Israel went forth out of Mitzrayim, and all Israel stood before Sinai; and all Israel moved through darkness to the presence of God, in the wake of a pillar of fire. Whenever trumpets sound in history, they sound for all ages; and when the bell tolls, the echo lives on forever. . . . The Haggadah is the script of a living drama, not the record of a dead event, and when Jews recite it, they are performing an act not of remembrance but of personal identification in the here and now. (Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, The Rabbinical Assembly, p. 65)
  4. Furthermore, it is written, “The tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing, incised (harut) upon the tablets” (Shemot 32:16). Do not read harut (incised) but rather heirut (freedom), for no person is free except the one who engages in the study of Torah. (Pirkei Avot 6:2)

Sparks for Discussion

Pesach is called the “Feast of Freedom,” but what is the nature of the freedom we celebrate? Is freedom from physical slavery an end in itself? Why is it important to see ourselves as if we had come out of Egypt? What does spiritual freedom mean to you?

2. Chametz and Matzah

No leaven shall be found in your houses for seven days. For whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a citizen of the country. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread. (Exodus 12:19-20)

  1. Pockets must be searched for leaven (Shulchan Arukh). Pockets and bags must be thoroughly inspected to make sure that they do not contain any money gained through theft, robbery, or fraud. In view of the fact that the search for leaven symbolizes the uprooting of evil and the clearing away of all sin from our hearts, it behooves us to be exceedingly careful with regard to sins committed in our relations with our fellowmen, and to rid our pockets also of all money that is not rightfully ours, for otherwise our repentance will be of no avail. (Shnei Lukhot HaBrit (Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz), 1556-1630, Europe and Israel)
  2. The total numerical value of the Hebrew letters in chametz is greater by three than the total numerical value of the Hebrew letters in matzah. Chametz = 138; matzah = 135. This difference of three alludes to the three vices - envy, greed, and lust for honor - that are at the root of many evils symbolized by chametz. These three vices “remove man from this world,” just as the eating of leaven on Passover is subject to the penalty of karet (being cut off). Even as people do not abstain from leaven all year long, so, too, do they not remove themselves from these three vices except on Passover. (Hatam Sofer (Rabbi Moses Schreiber), 1762-1839, Pressburg, Hungary)
  3. Leaven is a symbol of arrogance, pride, boasting, and pursuit of recognition. (Klei Yakar (Rabbi Solomon Ephraim ben Aaron of Lunchitz), d. 1619, Poland)
  4. The obsessive search and destruction of chametz from our homes has spiritual as well as ritual overtones. Yeast came to symbolize arrogance because the bread raised itself above the level of matzah though it was only filled with pockets of hot air. Yeast is also a catalyst that symbolizes the restless force of the evil inclination (yetzer ha-ra). Just as yeast causes fermentation in bread and wine, it also turns them sour when not controlled. Similarly, the instinctual forces, desire and ambition, can contribute to progress but also to discontent and corruption. On Pesach, which celebrates the rejection of Egyptian civilization and a new pristine beginning of Jewish freedom, the matzah is more appropriate fare than bread. (The Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night, Noam Zion and David Dishon, p. 15)

Sparks for Discussion

In preparation for Pesach, we remove chametz from our homes, offices, and cars. In fact, we don't just remove it - we search it out, we burn it, we nullify it, we obliterate it. Why? Is it simply to be sure that we have followed the Torah's commandment properly? Our commentators explain that chametz symbolizes various types of sin and negative character traits. Why do you think they make this connection? If chametz represents sin and arrogance, why do we eat it all the rest of the year?

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