Korbanot and Chag Hamatzot – Rav Yonatan Horovitz
As we begin once again reading the book of Vayikra we are overwhelmed by the intricate detail with which the Torah describes the procedure of bringing korbanot. As a result of this we often glance over small details which can convey to us important ideas about the sacrificial worship in particular and Judaism in general. An example of such is the prohibition of the Torah against allowing chametz (se’or) or honey to be brought on the mizbeach.
“No meal offering that you offer to Hashem shall be made with leaven, for you must not sacrifice any leaven or honey as an offering to Hashem.” (Vayikra 2:11) What is the reason for this injunction? Many suggestions have been offered to answer this question; we will quote a selection of the commentaries.
Ramban quotes the Rambam who writes in Moreh Nevuchim that it was the custom of idol worshippers to bring gifts and sacrifices to their gods which consisted of leaven and honey. The reason for this was probably because these two elements would deem the offering more expensive and therefore demonstrate a greater sacrifice on the part of the one bringing the gift. It is worth noting that Rambam believes that the entire system of sacrificial worship was commanded as a result of this being a crucial component of all religions at that time. In order that Am Yisrael would accept the Torah and treat it with respect, it was deemed necessary to include physical and ritual worship. However, while this seems a somewhat less than ideal reason for korbanot, Rambam explains that because Hashem tells us exactly how each sacrifice is to be performed, the system of korbanot is in essence teaching us to follow His word down to the last detail. (This may be the reason for the intricate description of the system found in these parshiot.) We can thus understand why Rambam would be opposed to using leaven and honey if this was common in idolatrous practice. Yes, Am Yisrael were commanded to bring korbanot because such was the accepted practice at the time. Specifically because of this the type of offering brought to Hashem had to be very different from that used in idol worship; hence the prohibition against the use of chametz and honey in our sacrifices.
A different interpretation is offered by Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. He maintains that leaven represents independence and sovereignty over oneself. To a large extent it symbolizes freedom in the sense that it is the bread of the wealthy man, the person who lives in abundance. On the other hand, matza, the unleavened bread is the food of the poor, unsophisticated man, “lechem oni”. We might find this strange based on the fact that on Pesach we eat matza to remind us of our redemption from Egypt, as a symbol of redemption. However, the truth is that matza has a twofold role in the Pesach seder. It reminds as at once of both the bread of affliction, “ha lachma anya” and of the bread of freedom. Rav Hirsch claims that the matza itself is a sign of a lack of national independence. It conveys an idea of being controlled by something else, some higher authority. On Pesach we have to remind ourselves of our dependence on Hashem. We are to recall the fact that our new found freedom on our departure from Mitzrayim did not mean that we are entirely independent; we were and still are very much subservient to God.
In a similar vein, it is therefore inappropriate for chametz to be brought as a sacrifice which is meant to express our subservience to God. The unleavened bread symbolizes our dependence on God; an idea that we wish to convey as we bring our offering to Hashem. Rav Hirsch continues to explain that honey too is a symbol of abundance. It is the sweetest form of the fruit, the choicest product of the fruit trees. As such, honey is a symbol of our conquering of the Land of Israel and our successful use of its bounty. In this area too, says Rav Hirsch we must recall that we were only able to conquer the land with Hashem’s help and that this we must remember as we bring our sacrifice. It would be incorrect for us to incorporate into our offering elements which demonstrate man’s wealth and comfort as oppose to those which denote our dependence on God.
Rav Yoel Bin Nun, in an article in Megadim 13, relates to all instances of chametz and matza in the Torah. In a wide ranging and fascinating study he suggests a surprisingly simple explanation of the difference between the two. Matza represents a process which was interrupted before completion. It is an unfinished product; it was not allowed to rise and reach its full potential. Chametz, on the other hand symbolizes the completion of the process, the end product. The dough has risen and is now bread, the finest result that can be achieved from the original raw materials.
We can now understand why chametz should not be brought as a korban. The sacrifices we bring represent the beginning of a process; they convey an expression of closeness to God. The offering is only a means to an end; it is not to be viewed as an end in itself. The Nevi’im tell us time and again that korbanot are not worthwhile unless they represent a certain intention of the owner. Hashem is not interested in receiving sacrifices from those who in their own lives do not abide by His laws. In particular, offerings from persons who sin in the realm of interpersonal relations and social justice are considered inappropriate. (An example of such is found in Yirmiyahu, Chapter 7 which is the haftara for Parshat Tzav, though often not read, as is the case this year.)
Matza, which, as Rav Bin Nun states, denotes an unfinished process, is the suitable choice to constitute a korban. The parsha begins “adam ki yakriv, a man who chooses to bring a sacrifice”. The word “yakriv” also means to come close. The “korban” allows man to get close to God but it is only part of a larger process which man must undertake in order that his sacrifice should have the desired affect. To use chametz in conjunction with our korbanot would suggest that the sacrifice is the completion of the process and that no further effort is needed on our part. The same idea, based on Rav Bin Nun’s theory, applies to honey. As stated above, honey is the finest product to be drawn from fruit and so too implies the end of a process.
The connection to Pesach is now quite simple. Our departure from mitzrayim was only the beginning of the redemption. The exodus was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Only when we reach Har Sinai and receive the Torah do we complete the process which we began in Egypt. For this reason, one of the few times when chametz is allowed on the mizbeach is on Chag Hashavuot as we celebrate the culmination of the process which began with yetziat mitzrayim.
[Rav Yoel Bin Nun applies this final idea to honey too, explaining that it represents the completion of the other purpose of yetziat mitzrayim, the entering into and settling of, the land of Israel. He also explains the reasoning behind the other instances when chametz is found in conjunction with korbanot. An English summary of his article can be found here: http://www.vbm-torah.org/pesach/chametz.htm ]
Although we do not bring korbanot today, we do daven on a regular basis. We should understand that like a sacrifice, tefillah is only part of a process, one aspect of our relationship with God. And on Pesach too, we must appreciate the reasons for yetziat mitzrayim. As we commemorate that incredible occasion we should recall that by doing so we are enjoined to make every effort to realize its two aims – Matan Torah and Yishuv Ha’aretz.
Shabbat shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach Vekasher,