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Torah Sparks

April 11, 2009 – 17 Nisan 5769

Annual: 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. 1308; Hertz p. 1015)

Prepared by 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 their midst. 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. Al Akhilat Matzah

You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread - eating unleavened bread for seven days, as I have commanded you - at the set time of the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you went forth from Egypt. (Exodus 34:18)

  1. This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Mitzrayim. All who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Pesach. Now we are here. Next year in the land of Israel. Now we are enslaved. Next year we will be free. (Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, p. 31)
  2. On the surface, matzah represents the cakes that our ancestors baked in haste amid frenetic preparations for departure from the house of bondage. Yet, delving for deeper meanings, the Rabbis identify leaven with the evil inclination, the urge that gives rise to wrongdoing. They point to the philological similarity between the two Hebrew words, hametz and matzah, and they ponder the implications of this resemblance. It takes mere moments for unleaven to become leaven, and it takes even less time for good intentions to become subverted. The Alexandrian philosopher Philo derives this moral: just as leaven is banned because it is “puffed up,”" so we must guard against the self-righteousness that puffs us up with false pride. (Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, p. 17)
  3. "You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread [ha-matzot]...” (Exodus 12:17) Rabbi Josiah said: Do not read it this way, but “You shall observe the commandments” (ha-mitzvot, spelled the same but with different vocalization). Just as you should not be slow when making matzah, lest it leaven, so also you should not allow a mitzvah “to leaven.” If a mitzvah comes your way, do it immediately. (Mekhilta Pisha 9)
  4. The obsessive search and destruction of hametz from our homes has spiritual as well as ritual overtones. Yeast came to symbolize arrogance because the bread raised itself above the level of matza though it was only filled with pockets of hot air. (The Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night, Noam Zion and David Dishon, p. 15)
  5. Matzah takes no advantage of the human technological ingenuity and creativity that allows man to raise the dough more than simple flour and water that are created by God. Hametz is the epitome of human involvement in nature. Thus, “non-leaven” is the symbol of the survival and ongoing existence of the Jewish people solely through the spirit of God. (Ha’amek Davar (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin), 1817-1893, Lithuania)
  6. Unleavened bread is the leveler that raises us all to the same lofty level. Outside the battle rages between the haves and the have-nots, between those who have more and those who have less. Too often the struggle for daily bread is attended by feverish competition, tension and trauma. But at this most egalitarian of banquets, bread of the most unpretentious kind is the uncommon denominator that makes all Israel haverim (kin). (Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom p. 28)

Sparks for Discussion

In the Torah, Pesach is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Its essential mitzvot are eating matzah and avoiding hametz. But beyond their definition as two types of food, our commentators find many symbolic meanings in hametz and matzah. Which of them do you find meaningful? How did you feel as Pesach approached - did you look forward to or dread the days of matzah? Do you regard matzah as a symbol of oppression or freedom? How might you explain the meaning of hametz and matzah to a non-Jewish friend?

2. Teach Your Children Well

And you shall explain to your son on that day, “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt.” (Exodus 13:8)

  1. Why are two dippings necessary? In order to excite the curiosity of the children and have them ask the reason for this. (Pesahim 114b)
  2. Indeed the very first school to which any child is exposed is his own home; his very first and most important teachers are his own father and mother. It is parents who play the dominant role in the formation of the child’s personality and way of life. Parents are the ones who provide the atmosphere from which the child derives a set of values and a set of assumptions about life. Though part of their children’s education is turned over to and shared with many teachers, parents are still the most effective educational force in the lives of their children... If Judaism is to become a source of steadfast faith throughout one’s adult life, it is important, from early childhood, to receive and retain warm and precious memories of the Jewish way. (Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, “To Raise a Jewish Child,” p. 78)
  3. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: When a man teaches Torah to his grandson, Scripture regards him as though he had received it from [God Himself] at Mount Sinai... (Kiddushin 30a)
  4. If you truly wish your children to study Torah, study it yourself in their presence. They will follow your example. Otherwise, they will not themselves study Torah but will simply instruct their children to do so. (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotsk, 1787-1859, Poland)
  5. Each year more and more families set off to destinations far and near, exotic and prosaic, to spend Passover away at a hotel... Many of us who grew up in traditional homes have very fond memories of making Pesach - unwrapping the special dishes, dunking the silverware in boiling water, covering the countertops in aluminum foil... I worry that what is being lost by this generation will be lost for future generations as well. If you have never seen your parents making Pesach, if the lore of the holiday is that it is just too overwhelming, then no child will grow up wanting to make Pesach at home or knowing how to do it. It is sad to think of generations and generations of unopened family heirlooms and charoset recipes that will never be made again. (Bat Sheva Marcus, “Stop the Exodus for Passover,” The New York Jewish Week, April 2005)

Sparks for Discussion

The Torah mentions parents’ obligation to teach their children about Pesach in four separate verses. (This is the basis for the passage about the four children.) There is no similar commandment for any other holiday. Why is it so important that parents and grandparents teach children about Pesach in particular?

What do you remember about the Pesachs of your childhood? If you weren’t raised Jewish, what do you remember about the first Pesach you experienced? How do these memories make you feel? How does your current observance of Pesach compare to that of your childhood? What traditions have you continued? What traditions do you hope your children and grandchildren will preserve?

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