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What Do We Have Against Chametz?

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

With less than a month before Pesach, in most Jewish homes the cleaning preparations for Pesach have already begun. Though Pesach is "Chag  Cherutenu" -  the celebration of our freedom – we seem to begin a month of slavery devoted to ridding our homes of chametz. Even though the efforts invested in this are sometimes beyond the requirements of the Halacha - dust and dirt are not chametz - this obsession with chametz is something that the Torah itself presents.

The Rambam, in his introduction to the laws of Chametz and Matzah, enumerates the Mitzvot of the Torah covered in these laws. Out of the eight listed, the five negative Mitzvot all relate to the prohibition of Chametz:

  1. Not to eat chametz from noon of the 14th of Nissan.
  2. Not to eat chametz all seven days of Pesach.
  3. Not to eat mixtures containing chametz all seven days of Pesach.
  4. Chametz should not be seen in your possession the entire Pesach.
  5. Chametz should not be found in your possession the entire Pesach.

Of the positive Mitzvot as well, two of them also relate to Chametz:

  1. To dispose of chametz on the 14th of Nissan.
  2. To eat Matzah on the first night of Pesach (and not chametz).[1]

It is interesting to note, that not only on Pesach is Chametz prohibited, but in this week's Parsha the Torah forbids Chametz to be brought on the alter in Meal Offerings:

"No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made [out of anything] leavened."[2]

What is the message behind the Torah's apparent fixation on Chametz?

The first thing that comes to mind is that the prohibition of Chametz stems from the fact that on Pesach we have a Mitzvah to eat Matza. Since Matza is defined as not being Chametz, it therefore follows that Chametz is forbidden.

Against this one could argue the opposite: Since we are forbidden to eat Chametz, therefore we eat only Matza. Merely from the list of Mitzvot mentioned above, it would seem that the latter is correct.

At the outset of the Haggada, before we start the Magid, we say the short piece: "Ha Lachma Anya etc." – "This is the bread of poverty that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt etc."

The commentators all ask, “why is the Matza called the ‘bread of our poverty’"? The usual answer is that our forefathers ate Matza as slaves in Egypt as the Matza is difficult to digest and remains in the digestive system longer.

The Maharal, however, says that this explanation is contradicted by the Torah and by truth. Firstly, he claims that nowhere does the Torah, the Mishna or the Talmud say that Bnei Yisrael ate Matza in Egypt. Secondly, the Torah clearly says that we are commanded to eat Matza as a result of the fact that we left Egypt "be'chipazon" – in a hurry – before the dough had time to leaven:

"You shall not eat leaven with it; for seven days you shall eat with it matzoth, the bread of poverty, for in haste you went out of the land of Egypt..."[3]

Therefore, asks the Maharal, if the Matza is a sign of our slavery, why would we eat it at the moment of our redemption?

According to the Maharal, "lechem oni" – the bread of poverty – is a reference to the poverty of the bread itself! Matza is called the bread of poverty because it is "poor" bread. The matzah is composed of the minimum basics of flour and water, with nothing more added, unlike "matzah ashira," – rich matza – which has special liquids added, beyond the basics needed for the dough.

Why is it appropriate to eat "poor bread" on Pesach? A poor person, who has nothing but himself, no money, no possessions, only himself, is the paradigm of the essence of freedom and redemption as it sets the person on his own. They are not defined by their belongings, masters or owners, society or friends but rather stand completely bare of exterior definitions. In the words of the Maharal:

"Since poverty itself teaches about redemption – for redemption is achievable only by one who goes out without any attachments to any other. This is in contrast to the slave, who is not independent, but is attached to his master; and so it is with one who has wealth – he is not independent, but is attached to his belongings, and in this there is no redemption. But one who is poor and has no belongings, but stands alone, himself (in his essential state), for him redemption is present. Thus the matza, which is lechem oni, teaches about people who are free people…about the very essence of the going out to freedom (which) is none other than the getting rid of all attachment… When there is no attachment, then is redemption present."[4]

Indeed, Pesach being the Chag of our freedom, both individual and national freedom, it is incumbent upon us to get rid of the Chametz, all those external things in our lives which we cling to and use to define us, shape us and more often, control us.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach.


[1] The eighth mitzvah is to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt on the night of Pesach. Interestingly, the Rambam lists this Mitzva in the laws of Chametz and Matza, even though it appears to be a mitzvah not directly related, but rather another mitzvah on the night of Pesach. One could argue : "Where else could the Rambam put this mitzvah?", however the Rambam could have headed these  laws differently. The fact that this mitzvah is included under the heading: "The laws of Chametz and Matza", suggests that it is also inherently connected to the issue of Chametz and Matza. If any of the readers have any ideas on this, please share them with me, although the answer might lie in the following shiur.

[2] Vayikra 2; 11. There are exceptions to this in some other offerings.

[3] Devarim 16;3.

[4] Maharal, Gevurot Hashem 51. The Maharal there also connects this theme of redemption to the idea of "chipazon" the speed with which Hashem redeemed us from Egypt - detaching us from the limits of time itself.


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