“The Essential lessons of Chametz and Matzah
(Updated and Revised from Passover 5763-2003)


by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week, the normal weekly Torah portion is preempted by the upcoming holiday of Passover which begins on Wednesday evening, April 8, 2020. A major theme of the Passover holiday is, of course, the elimination of Chametz (leaven) and the substitution of matzah in its stead.

Oddly enough, both chametz and matzah are made of the exact same ingredients: flour and water. However, chametz is flour and water that has been allowed to ferment. By permitting the mixture of flour and water to remain undisturbed for more than 18 minutes, the mixture ferments, becomes leavened–chametz, and is forbidden for the duration of Passover.

Matzah, on the other hand, contains the same ingredients, flour and water, but as long as the mixture–the dough, is constantly kneaded, it does not become chametz. Even though the dough may be kneaded for more than 18 minutes, because of the constant action, no fermentation takes place. Once the kneading of the matzah dough is completed, the raw dough is quickly shaped into matzah and baked, so that it never becomes chametz.

The process by which dough becomes chametz underscores that by inaction, by simply doing nothing–by allowing the flour and water to remain dormant, the mixture begins to ferment. The dough rises and expands, as if by itself.

Our rabbis suggest that there is a profound message to be elicited from the manufacturing process of chametz and matzah. All too often, people seek the easy way out, in the expectation that things will come their way with little or no effort or exertion. Wealth will accrue spontaneously. Knowledge will suddenly materialize. Health and strength will maintain themselves automatically. But, we know that such assumptions are fallacious. These assumptions are, in fact, predicated on totally false hopes and expectations.

Indeed, we learn from the matzah that truly meaningful life experiences come not spontaneously, but only through significant effort and labor.

More than a simple “pleasurable” life, Judaism promotes a life of “fulfillment.” Fulfillment, as opposed to pleasure, always involves significant amounts of hard work. While the task may be difficult, it nevertheless leaves us with a far more permanent sense of satisfaction, rather than a transitory, often illusory, moment of joy or pleasure.

So, in effect, the message of Passover is: Don’t be a “half-baked matzah!” Invest the effort, and reap the ineffable and lasting benefits that fulfilling life experiences provide.

חַג כָּשֵׁר וְשָׂמֵחַ . We wish all our friends a wonderfully joyous, meaningful and healthy Passover.

Please note: The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Wednesday night, April 8th and all day Thursday and Friday, April 9th and 10th. The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Tuesday night, April 14th, and continue through Wednesday and Thursday, April 15th and 16th.

May you be blessed.