Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Tzav

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Tzav 5760/2000

Hametz on Passover and Leaven in the Temple

Raphael B. Shohat

In this week's portion we read, "And this is the ritual of the meal offering: Aaron's sons shall present it... What is left of it ... shall be eaten as unleavened cakes, in the sacred precinct... It shall not be baked with leaven" (Lev. 6:7-10). This text does not concern the laws of Passover, rather the laws of the meal offering - an offering made of choice flour and burned on the altar, its remains after burning to be eaten as unleavened cakes. The proscription here is not against seeing or possessing leavened bread, as on Passover, but only against eating leaven.

The meal offering and the offering of two loaves on the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) are the only offerings made of flour. (The shewbread may only be eaten after it has ceased being of use in the Temple, and it is not given as an offering.) In the previous weekly portion we read, "When a person presents an offering of meal to the Lord, ... unleavened cakes with oil mixed in" (Lev. 2:1,4) and "No meal offering that you offer to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for no leaven or honey may be turned into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord. You may bring them to the Lord as an offering of choice products; but they shall not be offered up on the altar for a pleasing odor" (Lev. 2:11-12). In other words, leaven and honey are generally forbidden to be eaten as sacrifices in the Temple, with the exception of korban reshit, the offering of choice products/first fruits known as bikkurim. Rashi interprets korban reshit as the two loaves of leavened bread, shtei halehem, brought as an offering on the Feast of Weeks. Honey (meaning fruit nectar, such as from dates, not from the hive) may be brought as an offering along with the first fruits, or bikkurim, called "the choice first fruits of your soil" (Ex. 23:19; 34:26.

The Kli Yakar commentary (R. Shlomo Efraim Lunschitz) comments on Leviticus 2:11, that leaven or hametz alludes to the evil inclination and desires that are in a person, as expressed in the prayer of R. Alexander, cited in Tractate Berakhot 17a: "Master of the Universe, it is clearly known to You that it is our will to do Your bidding; so what prevents this from being done? The leaven that is in the dough and our subservience to foreign kingdoms." Honey, on the other hand, alludes to craving for food. These two things are essential for human survival, for without appetite a person would not eat properly and would become ill, and without physical desires or "the evil inclination" people would not seek out wives nor strive to build homes. Nevertheless, these desires in themselves can ensnare a person in sin and they need to be given direction; their symbols--hametz and honey-- are therefore forbidden in the Temple.

Leaven and honey, however, are permitted on the Feast of Weeks, the festival of receiving the Torah, for the Torah harnesses and directs human desires. When the two loaves and choice first fruits are brought to the Temple on that holiday and presented to the Priest in spiritual elation, then the appetites are directed towards Heaven and therefore on this occasion honey is permitted in the Temple. I shall embellish on the Kli Yakar's interpretation with further comments of my own.

Leaven and honey are not forbidden in everyday life, even though they allude to lust for food and human desires. Since this is the way of the world, these two things are needed for the world to exist; however they must be directed towards the good. Once a year, on the Festival of Unleavened Bread, we are required to set ourselves apart from leaven, just as we set ourselves apart from the lust for food on the Day of Atonement, as a temporary measure and an educational means to sanctity, showing us that we can transcend nature when necessary and be in command regarding these desires.

In the Temple, however, which is the permanent meeting place of human beings with G-d, a person must continually transcend the level of natural existence and put aside daily life; there is no room in the Temple for human appetites and desires, and therefore leaven and honey are forbidden there throughout the entire year.

The only exceptions are the two loaves of bread brought on the Feast of Weeks and korban reshit, the offering of choice first fruits. These are symbolic of the idea that on certain occasions human beings experience such great spiritual elation, that Divinity may be revealed to them even in the profane, everyday activities and in the mundane human desires.

In the light of the above we can explain the connection between Passover and Shavuot. Human beings must sanctify themselves through actions, words, and thought. On the eve and first day of Passover we observe commandments that involve action, such as slaughtering the pascal lamb and offering it as a sacrifice. In our day, on the evening of the Seder the Rabbis added many other rituals: kadesh (blessing the wine and the day), u-rehatz (washing hands), karpas (eating greens), yahatz (splitting the center matzah), etc. all of which involve performance.

During Passover we distance ourselves from our evil inclination by keeping away from leaven, an act that symbolizes controlling the lust for food (bread being tastier than matzah). From the second day of Passover until the eve of the Feast of Weeks we sanctify our words by observing the commandment of counting the omer, whose mitzvah is recitation. On the night of the Feast of Weeks we sanctify our thoughts by studying Torah all through the night until the day breaks and we reach the awaited hour, the time of receiving the Torah. Thus the period from Passover to Shavuot is one of preparation --preparing our bodies, mouths, and minds--to receive Divinity and the Torah.

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