Gem of the Week from Rav Hirsch: Chametz vs. Matzah


When Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, their oppressors did not give them enough time to wait for their dough to rise, so they had to take it with them as matzos. Throughout slavery, they had never been given time to let their dough rise. Driven by the whip and constant toil, they could bake bread only in haste. Thus, matzah is the bread of slavery, and we still call it “the bread of dependence that our forefathers ate in Egypt.” Matzah symbolizes avdus, social dependence. Its opposite is chametz, which, accordingly, symbolizes independence.

Now, Pesach serves as a zikaron, reminding us each year of the moment we attained independence, so that we never forget how we attained it. The day of our rise to freedom introduces a cycle of days, featuring not the symbol of independence, but its removal.For seven days we refrain from nourishing ourselves with the bread of independence. Moreover, on the anniversary of attaining independent personalities and homes of our own—seh l’bayis—we clear out from our homes the symbol of social independence. In this way we remind ourselves that, at the time that we rose to freedom, our personalities and our possessions bore not the slightest trace of independence, or even the ability to achieve it. We were sunk in servitude, and it was only the omnipotence of G-d that brought us out.

Therefore, if anyone, during the seven days of Pesach, partakes of bread, he denies the Divine origin of our freedom and declares it a human achievement; he abandons the basis of our past and cuts himself off from our future.

The prohibition of bread during Pesach means there was no independent human contribution to our freedom. Eating matzah combines the idea of freedom with the idea of our complete subordination to Hashem, through which we became free. The emancipated Jewish people must always stand before God with matzah in their hands. We moved from serving man to serving God.

When freedom came, the Jewish people were driven out so hurriedly that they could not even prepare bread for the journey. The fact that their actual departure was under pressure is what defines yetzias Mitzrayim as purely an act of G-d. This is what transforms the prohibition of chametz and the mitzvah to eat matzah into such significant symbols.

Were it not for these mitzvos, we would have eventually come to regard yetzias Mitzrayim as nothing more than a successful uprising by our ancestors, like so many others in world history. After all, we were just told that the nation included 600,000 able-bodied men—their liberation should not have been considered a miracle; on the contrary, we would wonder why they tolerated such oppression for so long.

The matzah, however tells us that our forefathers were driven out of Egypt, chased out in such haste that they had no time to even bake proper bread. The nation would have liked to delay at least as long as it would have taken for their dough to rise, but even this they could not do; their Egyptian masters would not let them. Even at the very moment that the nation went free, they were still in the power of their oppressors.

Klal Yisrael’s original bread was matzah. Had they been left to their own devices, we would still be eating the “bread of servitude.” Each year, when we celebrate the Yom Tov commemorating our freedom from Egypt, the matzah reminds us that we obtained freedom and independence not by our own hands, but through Hashem’s chesed.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Moshe Pogrow,

Director, Ani Maamin Foundation

Please note: The “Gem of the Week,” is based on excerpts from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s commentary on Chumash, with permission from the publisher.