Times are turbulent – war in Ukraine, riots in Jerusalem; a sense of anarchy in the economy and uncertainty with the stability of our government in Israel. It is a holiday season where peace and tranquility seem to be a commodity in rare supply. Is there any message found in Pesach and Shavuot that can help us find perspective? Allow me to share the following thought:
The prohibition on Pesach of consuming or benefitting from Chametz is also found all year around with sacrifices in the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple. As we are told (Vayikra 2:11), “No korban mincha that you offer to God shall be made with Chametz (should be allowed to rise and become chametz).”
There is only one exception to this Temple rule, during the holiday which we begin counting towards on the second day of Pesach: Shavuot. We are told (Vayikra 23:17): “You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread …. They should be baked to leaven as first fruits to God”.
From Pesach to Shavuot there is movement from Matza to Chametz, manifested in Sefirat haOmer – the bridge between Pesach and Shavuot.
Matza, unleavened bread – in which we cease the process of fermentation – is dough that we do not allow to fully transform and whose state we do not allow to alter. It is dough which has not been allowed to reach its potential growth.
This limitation, as well as the prohibition from inserting a leavening agent into the baking process, reflects the withdrawal of humankind from contributing over Pesach to the activity of baking, this most fundamental, core and ancient technology in the food industry.
The same limitation is found in the Beit haMikdash, where humankind is dwarfed by God. When humankind stands in front of God, we must acknowledge and realize that we are limited. Therefore, any form of leavening process in the Beit haMikdash, especially on the altar; any human ingenuity in front of God is an act of hubris.
With Pesach, we begin the redemptive process which demands of us to ask the question: How do we use our freedom and what role does it empower us to play in society? What role can I play as an agent of change? This question is so important when we see around us how nations, despots, religious/political leaders can use their strength to harm others. These days we live in show us that with freedom must come reflection, for without reflection, freedom can create anarchy and abuse.
The first step in becoming productive masters of our own destiny is to evaluate our environment and reflect upon where our creativity can play a significant positive role. Where must I be a leavening agent? How must I use my talents and ingenuity to give rise to change – whether in my personal life, my family life, my community life or the life of society?
With this first stage of the redemptive process, found on Pesach, we are asked to step back and evaluate the shackles that still enslave us and modern society. We are required to put a hold on the creative act of leavening or consuming Chametz, until we can actively reflect on how to use the creative process to the benefit ourselves and society instead of creating additional anarchy.
With Pesach, the journey of Sefirat ha’Omer begins, in which every single day of counting asks us to evaluate where the balance is missing in our lives, a counting which must be verbally enunciated – in order to highlight that the crux is about the Omer journey, and not just the destination. A counting that is endowed by the Kabbalists with special symbols for each day, focusing on the need to evaluate every aspect of our life to ensure we are using our freedom effectively and responsibly.
As we count the Omer, we focus on the redemptive process until we reach the festival of Shavuot, which concludes with the receiving of the Torah, a journey which began on Pesach, 49 days prior.
On Shavuot we prepare a mincha offering in the Temple that has Chametz, inserting human ingenuity into the process of serving God. For if we have utilized the days of Sefira, the counting, properly; if we have evaluated the gift of creativity and freedom with which we have all been endowed; then we can begin to use that gift to advance our own lives as well as the lives of people around us through the prism of Jewish values.
Perhaps there has been no time more in need of the messages found in these holidays.
Chag Sameach. With some reflection, we can really make this a meaningful holiday experience.