#blogExodus – Chametz

#blogExodus prompts

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s #blogExodus prompts

There are so many layers to the idea of Chametz, the forbidden food of Passover, that I barely know where to begin.

Let’s start with one of the many, many times this commandment is given in the Torah:

ז מַצּוֹת, יֵאָכֵל, אֵת, שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים; וְלֹא-יֵרָאֶה לְךָ חָמֵץ, וְלֹא-יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר–בְּכָל-גְּבֻלֶךָ

7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee, in all thy borders.

We are told that the unleavened bread is a reminder of the bread of the first Passover, eaten in haste before it had time to rise, as the Israelites prepared to leave the Land of Egypt. But it is not merely an addition to our diet. We eat special foods on other holidays as well, but not to the exclusion of others.

There is something very special about Passover, in which specific foods take over our kitchens and our lives, and others are banned for seven days (eight in the Diaspora – that’s a whole other story). No other holiday, aside from Yom Kippur where we do not eat at all, demands such a wholesale change in our lifestyle.

So what does Chametz mean? To begin with, a definition:

Chametz means wheat, barley, oats, spelt, or rye that has become wet and allowed to remain for a short period of time (18 minutes) so that it begins the leavening process.

The kabbalistic book called the Zohar equates Chametz with idolatry:

Zohar 2:182 Whoever eats Chametz on Pesach is as if he prayed to an idol.

Other rabbis have seen Chametz as a metaphor for the ego (just as leavening puffs up bread without adding any substance), or for the evil inclination, the yetzer hara. In all three of these cases, it is not hard to see how cleansing our houses and our souls once a year is a good spiritual exercise.

For myself, I tend to see Chametz as just that – food that we need to put aside for a few days, as a discipline of the body and soul. A truly gluten-free household would probably not have much by way of Chametz in it anyway.

What do you think, does the metaphor of Chametz as the ego or the evil inclination work for you?

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