JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review April 27, 2002 / 14 Nisan, 5762


Burning of the Chometz: A different sort of 'Scorched Earth Policy'


By Rabbi Yaakov Polskin


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | If you happen to find yourself this morning in or around an Orthodox neighborhood and see fire engines zooming down the street, don't be worried. It's not likely what you think. It's just overly-cautious fire-fighters on the way to observe Jews fulfilling an annual Passover ritual.

Pity the rookie who has never witnessed the rite before.

"What are you people doing!?" he will no doubt ask, as he watches fathers and sons stand before small blazes and recite the Kol Chamira, a declaration which renders any leavened product in one's possession, whether one is aware of it or not, "nullified and ownerless, like the dust of the earth."

Why do Jews burn the last of their leavened products completely?

The Sages compare chometz, leavened products, to man's materialistic and ephemeral pursuits; obstacles that impede spiritual growth. Leaven, explains the Talmud, represents the Evil Inclination, a spiritual pathogen, that stands in the way of one serving the Creator. Evil in any small dose is anathema to Mitzvos --- Judaism's religious precepts.

In contrast, matza consists of a dough made merely of flour and water. One that hasn't had the time to rise and has no additives. The unleavened cakes look simplistic, yet it is in essence, they are symbolic of the manna --- the heavenly sustenance that the Creator provided for the Jewish People during their 40-year odyssey in the desert. Matza represents spirituality in its purest, unadulterated form. Thus, the matza, bereft of materialism, represents the sophistication of simplicity.

By eating matza throughout the weeklong Passover holiday, we are tasting, to some extent, from worlds beyond --- where spirituality is free from impurities and is all natural. Or supernatural, so to speak.

The retelling of the Exodus narrative opens with this declaration, "This is the bread of affliction that our forebears ate in the land of Egypt. Whomever is hungry, let him come and eat." The sages observe that this verse alludes to the future, of which the Prophets described as a period when the masses "won't be hungry for bread or thirsty for water but to listen to the word of the Divine."

At the End of Days, when the Messiah arrives, the world will cast away materialism and worldly pursuits. People will see the ultimate truth and thirst for the real Real Thing.

We conclude the Seder by saying in unison, "Next year in Jerusalem" --- a wish and a hope that the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily.

So should it be.


JWR contributor Rabbi Yaakov Polskin is a lecturer with the Gesher outreach group. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Rabbi Yaakov Polskin